Why do people pirate software? You might think it would be because they can't afford it. To test this theory, I did a little research and found that cost of software did have a lot to do with it -- but that was not the whole story.
In a study done of several countries*, the relative cost of software is compared to the piracy rate in that country. Relative cost is defined as the cost relative to monthly earnings (gross domestic product per capita, to be more exact). In Vietnam (which has the highest piracy rate of any country at 94%), that's the same as spending 16 months of gross domestic product/capita -- in other words, it would be like an American spending over $48,000 for Office and Windows XP!
Piracy rate is based on data by the Business Software Alliance (BSA).
Curious to see if there was a relationship beyond that example, I plotted the data from the report:
While in general the lower the relative cost, the less the incidence of piracy, this is not always the case. It's true that in the well-off US, where software costs little compared to what people earn, piracy rates stand low at 25%. In poor Nigeria, the same software purchase feels like over $60,000 and the piracy rate shoots up to 71%. But drawing a straight line between the two ignores significant exceptions that suggest other factors at play. For example, in oil-rich Bahrain and Kuwait, the same software feels like a mere (!) $1,621 and $1,231 respectively but the piracy rates are still among the highest (over 75%). Could it be that in some countries piracy laws, if they even they exist, are not enforced? This could lead to a culture of piracy where the norm is pirated software and someone who pays full price is seen as a sucker.
*Ghosh, Rishab Aiyer, License Fees and GDP per Capita: the Case for Open Source in Developing Countries, First Monday, November 2003