Thursday, August 07, 2008


By Muthoga Kioni (Published in the EAStandard 7th August 2008)

Last week I delved into the shadowy world of cyber crime. We shall continue this theme by examining in detail one of the most overlooked digital crimes in Kenya - Intellectual Property Theft.

The most prevalent and pervasive cyber crime is economic fraud. This crime has various appendages, for example identity theft, credit card account theft and con frauds like the infamous Nigerian 411/419 email scam.

Intellectual property theft, within the ICT context, can be arguably classified as an economic crime that is committed with the computer as the object of the crime. This is because the motives of the perpetuators and resultant benefits are usually economic in nature.

Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind such as musical, literary, and artistic works; inventions; and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce, including copyrights, trademarks, patents, and related rights. Intellectual property rights are a bundle of exclusive rights over creative works such as software, books, moves, music, paintings and photographs.

These rights stipulate that the holder of one of these intellectual properties is entitled to exclusive rights and can therefore control reproduction or adaptation of such works for a certain period of time.

We shall restrict ourselves to the ICT intellectual property and none is more obvious that the software program.

The computer program is a set of instruction (code) that is used in the computer to achieve a function. It also causes the computer to behave in a predetermined manner. Microsoft products, like MS Word and Excel, are examples of programs that took considerable effort and cost to produce. These programs are the intellectual property of Microsoft.

It is therefore apparent that the programs we use in our computers are intellectual properties and are owned by the companies or individuals who created or developed them. That is until we legally purchase them.

When we install software programs that have not been legally sourced and duly paid for, we are committing intellectual property theft. We are denying the creators of these programs their right to gain or profit from their work.

This is akin to embarking on a shopping spree in a supermarket and nonchalantly walking out with a fully laden trolley - without paying. We find it easier to perceive this instance as outright theft.

We have conversely found it hard to distinguish the fact that we are stealing by using pirated software and that we are cyber criminals.

Our propensity for “swapping” or “borrowing” installation CD’s from our friends knows no limits. We have as a result earned notoriety as a software piracy haven.

Apart from denting our reputation, this high rate of software piracy has resulted in immense financial losses in terms of lost government revenues. It has also hampered the development of locally developed software products.

This state of affairs has necessitated an aggressive anti software piracy campaign that is aimed at protecting the interests of consumers, business partners and the local software industry as a whole. This recent effort, initiated by Microsoft Kenya, is laudable.

On the legal front we have The Kenya Copyright Board. It is the statutory body mandated to administer and enforce copyright and related rights in Kenya. These include intellectual property rights. It has within it seven members representing software, publishers, performers, broadcasting stations and the audio visual industry.

It is therefore important that we appreciate the creative effort of others that results in the production of computer software. We should desist from intellectual thievery and instead purchase software from legal outlets.

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