Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Piracy and the Underground Economy

Ryan Sumo | 15 Jul 2008 08:38
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In many malls in the Philippines, you can still find rows upon rows of stalls hawking pirated games. Plenty of them are sold in generic DVD cases and sport shoddy Photoshopped covers drawn by 5-year-old children, but a few have decided that a more subtle approach is best - they'll wait for customers to inquire about their selection before taking out a folder of pirated games. The popularity of the PSP and the DS has also introduced an even more subtle method of piracy: ROMs. Side by side with these pirate stalls are cellphone repairmen with computers that hold the latest wallpapers, mobile apps, ringtones and, more often than not, entire libraries of DS and PSP games in what is probably the most cost efficient way to do business ever.

These people make no effort to hide their wares, nor do they make any bones about the fact that these games are "copies," the more politically correct term for pirated material. You might think they're criminals, or that they shouldn't be taking jobs that steal from other people, but the fact of the matter is it's business as usual to them. Like me, they grew up in an environment where piracy is the norm; telling them that what they're doing is wrong or illegal just doesn't resonate as much as you'd hope it would. And when you attack the source of their livelihood, well, let's just say you won't find many sympathetic ears.

Doing the numbers
Let's do a little math. Let's say there are 50 malls and commercial centers in Metro Manila (a very conservative estimate, as we seem to be on track for the record for the number of shopping malls built annually), and that each mall, on average, contains 20 stalls selling pirated games. Each stall employs around three people: one to man the register and two to entice and deal with customers. Let's include the owner of the stall into the equation, since he also depends on piracy for his livelihood. That means in Metro Manila alone there are at least 4000 people (50 * 20 * 4 = 4000) who rely on piracy for their livelihoods. These people also have families, and Filipino families, alongside those of other Asian nations like India, rarely have less than five children. That brings the total to roughly 20,000 people in Metro Manila alone whose lives are partially, if not totally, dependent on money earned from selling pirated materials.

Now I'm going to take a huge leap and multiply that number by 10 to account for all the urban areas around the Philippines. That makes 200,000 people who directly benefit from piracy or rely on it to make a living. It may not sound like a huge number to you, but consider that the Philippines is a country of 91 million people, roughly 30 percent (27 million) of whom are below the poverty line. Employment isn't easy to come by, either, with the latest unemployment rates at 8 percent and underemployment at 20 percent. This is also a country where the per capita income is roughly $3400. For comparison's sake, an entry level game programmer in the United States earns an average of $60,000 a year.

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