9.2 The TRIPS agreement

One man I met in Addis Ababa said that MS Window was open source because you could get it for free. He meant he could get a pirated binary copy of Windows free of charge. This man had not really understood what FLOSS is, but he had a point. As a rule software in Ethiopia are pirated. I can’t blame them. Why should a poor country like Ethiopia give money to already far to wealthy western companies? It is not like the companies are actually loosing money, they just receive less profit.

Many companies do argue that they loose money, and based on the assumption that everyone1 would buy the software if they had to pay, they calculate the loss. Many of those who obtain pirated software would never buy the software for the real price. This estimated loss is part of the reason the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) (World Trade Organisation 1994) have been made. The TRIPS agreement was made through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and took effect in 1995. This agreement was made in order to get laws about IP more similar between countries. The least developed countries were given 11 years to implement the agreement, meaning that Ethiopia should have implemented it by now. Software piracy in Ethiopia are epidemic, so I wonder how Ethiopia are going to enforce IP laws concerning software.

I find it hard to be very sympathetic towards the TRIPS agreement. After all, who have the most intellectual property to protect, the developed or the developing world? No matter what you may think of it, however, it creates an even better incentive for Ethiopia to start using FLOSS. There is reason to believe that software piracy can strengthen Microsoft’s position in the developing world. Through software piracy Microsoft’s products get into widespread use, and thereby familiarising people with its products.