Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Microsoft: Fighting piracy through enlightenment

FOR a first time visitor to the popular Computer Village, Ikeja in Lagos, a cursory look at the rowdy nature of the environment makes it appear like a huge unorganized market for petty traders, reports CHARLES OKOH.

But the very opposite is the situation of the place, as the market remains the single largest assemblage of dealers of computer and its accessories in the West African sub region. It is a market that attracts patrons from far and near as hundreds of thousands of people visit there on daily basis.

For many this market has attracted for itself the notoriety as a hub for dealers of fake and pirated items. From hardware to software the story is the same.

A minute stay at the police post right in the market would expose one to a graphical detail of what obtains in the market. It is either a customer has dragged a trader to the police for selling fake items or for swindling them out-rightly.

Again the case of the market is another example of lack of effective monitoring and supervision on the part of the regulatory authorities. From whichever gate one enters the market what confronts a potential customer first are traders who openly offer to sell to you all kinds of pirated software at ridiculous prices.

Half-hearted measures by regulatory agencies aimed at tracking the activities of these dealers have not yielded any dividend. Investigations have shown that it is the market unions and association leaders who actually pay and organize efforts at arresting some of these traders.

Aside the vendors who form human walls as you walk in there is a huge industry of piracy going on underground. For genuine manufacturers, the Computer Village remains a graveyard for intellectual property.

It is against this backdrop that Microsoft initiated its Clean Dealer Programme two years ago to address the problem of lack of information on the part of the end users.

Going a step further, the multinational company has concluded arrangement to establish an information centre at the market where its partners as well as members of the public seeking information could access them either on the internet or through its staff at no cost to the consumer.

Addressing the media last week, its Channel Distribution Manager, Mrs. Uzo Okpaka said the company has introduced three categories of partners namely, registered or transactional, certified as well as gold certified partners.

Mrs. Okpaka who was speaking alongside the company’s System Builder Channel Partner Account Manager, Mr. Sam Adeyemi, said the partnership is graduated depending on the level of interest of the dealers.

“The transactional partners are those who just want to buy and sell for instance, Windows 07 and nothing more but when they begin to invest in resources and training people for competencies, they move up to the other levels and they have dedicated resource from Microsoft just as we give them as much information on our business because they form a significant part of our business” she said.

She said currently about 83 per cent of software are pirated in the country, and Microsoft, with this effort is driving genuine software into the Nigerian market as some of these dealers are not aware that they stand to gain more selling genuine products.

“We are thinking of ways of assisting and rewarding customers who are ready to go all the way with us. These partners are ready to sign legal documents to deal with genuine and we reward them for this,” she said.

Mrs. Okpaka said, so far, 20 partners have signed just as she called on those who have not to do so.

She said the measure is also aimed at increasing visibility and accessibility to the end users who, according to her, do not really intend to buy counterfeit but because they lack the necessary information and education on how to go for genuine products.
On how the company monitors the activities of these clean dealers, she said the agreement signed with them allows Microsoft access to their shops for auditing without prior notice.

“We do not have to go there physically, we can send somebody to go there and buy a copy and bring to us to test and see if it is genuine, these are some of the things we do to ensure that they keep to the agreement,” she said.

Lamenting the impact of the unwholesome practice of piracy, she said it has telling effects as it has denied the nation employment opportunity for its teeming youths as well as depriving her of a huge income by way of tax.

She said the company has also introduced free anti-virus for consumers to download online, provided the software is genuine Microsoft product.

On his part, Mr. Adeyemi said there are several engineers at the village who have not used genuine software, saying doing this exposes the hardware to severe damage in the long run.

“Where there is no appropriate information the wrong information will spread very fast and if you look at the cost of buying a pirated copy it could be N200 today but the effect in six months would be very high. If you load your PC with pirated copies you are open to a lot of high cut out period,” he said.

He also said the company has made its products cheap for the Nigerian market so as to encourage the people saying that with fake software the effect is too devastating to contemplate.

“Why would a person invest so much on a computer only to risk it with fake software? Most of those who patronize these people really do not know the difference because if they do they would definitely not want to risk their computers,” he said.

Some of the partners present pledged their preparedness to maintain their relationship with Microsoft because for them it has been of huge benefit to their companies.

On his part, Mr. Rotimi Adepoju of Jetlink Limited, said they do not deal in pirated products, adding that as a company policy, the management is determined to graduate their rating with Microsoft.

For Daniel Nwankwo of Headstone Technologies Limited, using pirated copy is like introducing a virus into one’s system, warning that that the effect can be fatal.

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