Science: Russian piracy in a sea of software: Illegal copying of programs has long been accepted in Russia, but that may change with the growth of private business, says Robert Farish - Science - News - The Independent

Science: Russian piracy in a sea of software: Illegal copying of programs has long been accepted in Russia, but that may change with the growth of private business, says Robert Farish

IN THE West, most computer-users buy software. But in Russia most popular PC programs are in wide circulation as pirated copies.

Software piracy was institutional in the Soviet Union. The Ministry of Radio Production decided to copy the IBM 360 range of mainframe computers in the late Sixties, partly because there was a wealth of ready-written Western software for it to plunder. With the advent of the IBM PC, the Soviet state established a modern software production plant in Kazan, Tatarstan, mainly to publish unlicensed versions of mainstream Western programs.

Today, entire government ministries use thousands of copies of unlicensed Western products. The Ministry of Railways recently signed an amnesty agreement with a Computer Associates agent over its use of a localised (Cyrillic) version of the company's spreadsheet product, Supercalc.

Copying software is second nature. One of the single most popular PC applications in Russia is a Symantec product called Norton Commander. So common are copies of the program that most users believe it comes with every computer. The computing departments of large state enterprises still freely incorporate pirated software in their systems.

Ural System, a systems programming house based in Ekaterinburg, supplies contract services to many of the enterprises in the Urals region in central Russia. Edward Nistratov, the general director, admits that his organisation provides computer services for factories based on pirated copies of text editors, spreadsheets and databases.

Most companies do not regard copying software as wrong, but few know what the laws are. In 1992 the Russian parliament passed a law on intellectual property with a section on computer programs that provides some copyright protection and allows for the registration of computer programs by their author. However, there have yet to be any significant test cases.

For Western software companies, selling in Russia is part opportunity, part endurance test. Although the Russian currency is becoming easier to exchange, there are still two economies: one based on the rouble and the other on the US dollar. Software vendors do not sell primarily to wealthy customers holding hard currency, which means they must form a Russian company and sell for roubles.

Lotus Development launched the Russian version of the spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3 in January 1991. Since then the company has sold more than 6,000 copies; Lotus Russia is a self-sufficient, rouble-only, Russian business.

The company has made unlicensed copying a sackable offence. Unlike most other businesses, it also copy- protects its disks so users have only three attempts at installing the program. Jane Kitson, the company president, says the decision has been criticised, but usually not by dealers and normally on the grounds that users buy a legal copy in order to make illegal copies from it.

Of the 10,000 PCs now sold in Moscow every month, relatively few come without an operating system. Unlike in Europe, where a large proportion of software is bought in bulk or pre- loaded on machines, Western package software has yet to establish itself with these new buyers. This may be to the advantage of local software publishers. Realising that Russia will not be affecting the corporate balance sheet for a while, many of the world's largest software vendors put products in Russian a long way down their list of priorities. (More than 15 million people use Microsoft Windows, but until last April there was no Russian version.)

Microinform, based in Moscow, has made substantial progress with the Russian/English word processor Lexicon and the integrated package Master (which includes Lexicon). Lexicon is the most widely used (although not the most widely bought) word processor in the former Soviet Union. Last April the company signed an agreement with IBM Russia to preload Master on some of the company's PCs. Microinform has released a Ukrainian version of Lexicon, and versions for Windows will be ready by the end of 1993.

An even more striking example of Russian success is the software manufacturer and distributor 1C. It is the publisher of the country's best-selling bookkeeping product and is selling more business software than any other company in Russia, with average sales of about pounds 26,000 a month.

The head of 1C, Boris Nuraliev, says his company has capitalised on the boom in new small businesses that understand the value of supported, well-documented and virus- free products. 1C's most popular product, a bookkeeping application called 1C Bulgaltier, sells more than 2,000 copies a month.

Huge numbers of people in Russia are grappling with bookkeeping and business planning for the first time. As large state bodies disintegrate, hundreds of thousands of small ventures are being established inside them. By law, all must submit accounts and pay taxes.

So far the only Western package that is able to handle Russian bookkeeping procedures is Scala, a multilingual accounting system favoured by multinational companies and costing several thousand pounds. The mass market for bookkeeping products is the domain of Russian companies. Russian enterprises are now buying bookkeeping software because an important element in the sale of each copy is the support that comes with it.

When a customer decides to buy a copy of 1C Bulgaltier, they cross the important divide into the world of legal software. Having made this mental leap, Mr Nuraliev says, the customer is then offered 'instant legality' in a bargain office set that includes 1C Bulgaltier, Lotus 1-2-3, Lexicon and Norton Commander.

The company's other major application is also a peculiarly Russian one. As the state distribution systems collapsed, Russian producers found themselves without customers, and buyers had no idea where to turn for most products. To meet this need many companies operate database services listings of products offered for sale. 1C has developed a DIY on-line database for companies to set up themselves (a kind of start-your-own business kit). It is simple enough for anyone to convert an existing database and will run on a simple personal computer.

The incentive to buy it is that the product is just complex enough to need skilled installation and support. Additionally, 1C will administer a customer's database system for a small commission. Mr Nuraliev says that in the past year there has been progress in the attitudes of many Russian computer-users, related to the expansion in the number of private companies.

Many of these, however, are still experimenting. Unsure of the future, many employees divide their time between a new venture and their old state sector job. The turning point will come when the country fully accepts private business and these new companies start to generate revenue worth protecting. Suddenly there will be a financial risk attached to using corrupted or virus-infected copies. At that point, Russian users will stop making do and start paying up for software.

The writer is editor of 'Computer Business Russia', a monthly newsletter for suppliers of information technology to the former Soviet Union: Krasnokazarmennaya 9, PO Box 59, 111250 Moscow. Tel: (7095) 265 4214; Fax: (7095) 261 7910; e-mail: farish@glas. apc. org.

Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'I felt like that was the lowest I’d ever felt'
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
A plane flies close to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano
newsAnd yes, it's quite something
Tito Vilanova passed away aged just 45
footballThe club's former manager died in April, less than a year after he stood down
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch
artAnd it's even for a good cause
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Life and Style
techCriminals are targeting an e-reader security flaw
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
newsBut just how much does a 122-carat coloured diamond go for these days?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Retail Business Analyst - Retail-J

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Head of Marketing - London

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketing Manager / Dig...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week