In my four years in China I’ve yet to see a legitimate version of any software here. Generally when purchasing apps and games in the Middle Kingdom you have two choices – pirated software that looks pirated, and pirated software that looks real.
Like pretty much every other media, most notably DVDs, the software industry suffers greatly from the blatant distribution of pirated products in China – and most Chinese don’t give a damn.
Scratch that, most Chinese likely don’t have any real concept of what the difference is between paying for legitimate software or pirated software.
Don’t believe me? Check out a recent article in the China Daily, Microsoft accused of hacking attack, in which a Dong Zhengwei, a lawyer in Beijing, has lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Public Security, which accuses Microsoft of invading personal computers without user permission.
What is Microsoft’s invasion? The infamous Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) – a bit of code that checks to see if your PC’s OS is legit, which for the majority of users in China, it isn’t.
The WGA will then force you to suffer some popups indicating your criminal behaviour and periodical desktop “blackouts”.
Now, I am an unabashed critic of Microsoft and avoid their products whenever possible, however (ding) Dong is a dork if he thinks he can steal software and then complain when it doesn’t work properly. It’s a bit like a robber returning to the bank and asking for a bag of money that isn’t covered in dye.
The article says, “Chinese law stipulates that a party will be considered guilty of illegal intrusion if it disrupts the normal functioning of computers by altering their operating systems.” But it’s not hard to see the grey area here in that the operating system is not really “theirs” if it is stolen.
Now WGA is nothing new, and WGA cracks (sources tell me) are about as easy to download as last night’s Daily Show. However, it says a lot of how entrenched pirated goods are in China when a man, a lawyer no less, will stand up and accuse the company protecting their product as criminal for catching him.
Obviously if Microsoft wants to make inroads for legitimate software purchases, they’re going to have to make concessions – much like the movie studios have with their 20RMB ($3) DVDs for the Chinese market. But more than anything else, they’re going to have to work extremely hard at changing the Chinese consumer’s perception of “fair value”.
My wife, who’s Chinese, rather succinctly summed up the problems software companies face in China. After explaining what Microsoft is doing she said, “How is it wrong, he paid the software shop [pirate] for it.”