Black target

Monopolies hunting down the “modern Robin Hoods”

I encountered this article on The Register back in February, 2000. To summarize it, Microsoft has been demanding the imprisonment of Mohamed Suleiman, managing director of a Kenyan PC OEM called Microskills. Why? Because his company has been loading pirate copies of MS products on PCs it shipped. MS demanded besides the imprisonment – of course – $$$, in this case some half a million USD.

In Kenya, 9 out of 10 software packages are pirated (BSA estimation). Why? Not only do people have a ten times lower income as in Western countries, the software itself costs more in absolute terms than in the US. Would someone demand $700 from you for an MS Office 97 Standard, you’d probably hold off on purchasing the software. Add the factor 10 for comparison to see what this price really means for the average Kenyan, and ask yourself if you’d ever pay US$ 7’000 for any office package. Especially if the average computer (once again taking the same factor 10) would make your purse lighter by some US$ 20’000.

In my opinion, not the Kenyans are the unlawful pirates but the company pushing such prices upon them is the bandit itself. While the average Kenyan software pirate might break the precious Western laws (made by Western people for Western people), the Western company robbing the already poor people blind is breaking the greater laws of ethics.


Robbing the robbed

For me, this ruthless business practice of an already rich company taken against an essentially poor country (made poor in the first place by the same Western society) is simply unacceptable.

Visualize following: there’s a fat man sitting at a table, stuffing himself like an animal from half a dozen large bowls simultaneously, shoveling the food into his mouth with both hands like an excavator. Then suddenly a small piece of food is falling out of one of the bowls, upon the floor. A skeletonlike man who has felt Famine’s hand for too long happens to come by, picks up the food and eats it. The fat man is jumping up from the table, kicks the starving man’s head several times and shouts for the police. You pass the scene at this moment, what would you do? Especially if you consider that there has been a lot of well-fed men dropping by earlier on and taking out large pieces of food from the bowls on the table?

Because software piracy is something that occurs more often in Western society, if you take the absolute numbers instead of misleading percents. Even if 90% of all users have a pirate copy in Kenya, their total number is but a small percentage of the number of users owning a pirate copy in any single Western European country, or, for that case, in the US. And piracy in the Western countries isn’t just done by end users. No, big OEMs have been doing it for years as well.


What about the real culprits?

I bought a PC back in 1994 from one of the largest Western European manufacturers and it came with three Microsoft software packages. Although there have been certificates, there weren’t any manuals nor any media included. I first contacted the reseller but they couldn’t help me at all as they got the PCs from the manufacturer with the programs preinstalled. I then contacted the local MS office. Do you know what Microsoft Switzerland told me? They can’t help me and it doesn’t concern them at all! The same reckless company who is hunting down “pirates” in the already stripped-to-the-bone third world, doesn’t care about the same piracy if it’s done in one of the wealthiest countries of this planet!

I can’t help but fully symphathize with the decision of the Nairobi Commercial Court, whose extraordinary dismissal decision put MS on the losing side this time. Suleiman called the ruling “a victory for morality against the unethical mercenary tendencies of a greedy multinational that thrives on bullying tactics.”

Just this one time, the story had a happy end. But it was sadly the exception, not the rule.

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