Software Pirates No Longer Safe in Brazil, say Lawmakers

February 20---Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Brazil's president, has signed into law two bills intended to rein in that nation's widespread abuse of intellectual properties and bring Brazil into compliance with worldwide copyright law. One covers software piracy; the other, authorship rights.

Brazil has a long tradition of pirating recorded music and computer software, and is widely believed to be the world's second-largest wholesale pirate. China, which enjoys most-favored-nation trading status with the United States, is number one in the illegal copying and selling of copyrighted material. According to some sources, over a billion pieces of pirated music, movies, and software come out of China every year.

Brazil's reputation is almost as bad. The Brazilian Association of Software Companies estimates that 68% of software sold in the country is pirated. The new law specifies jail terms of up to four years and fines of up to 3000 times the value of each piece of illegal software.

The International Federation of Phonographic Industries claims that Brazil, the world's sixth-largest music market, is also the world's second-largest market for illegally copied audio cassettes. As many as 95% of all music cassettes sold in Brazil are pirated, according to the London-based organization.

Piracy is an enormous and enormously profitable business, and Brazil's new laws, which relate piracy to tax fraud, are the first of their kind in South America. They demonstrate good intentions on the part of lawmakers, but may be difficult to enforce. According to Brazilian cultural policy secretary Ottaviano de Flore, a new government agency will collect and redistribute royalties under the authorship rights law.

Without a serious regulatory force in place, the potential for bribery appears as large as the potential for profits from piracy. As in the United States' long and nonproductive "War on Drugs," small-scale operators will likely feel most of the heat while large corporate enterprises will continue business as usual.