Windhoek — One of your favourite pieces of merchandise may be counterfeit, robbing trademark owners and governments of millions of dollars.
For example, according to Microsoft Namibia, less than 20 percent of computers run on genuine software in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA). The commercial value of unlicensed software installed on personal computers in these parts of the continent, which excludes South Africa, was estimated to be US$108 million in 2011.
In Namibia, according to Microsoft, 87 percent of software used is counterfeit, and the most pirated are Windows and Office software. A visit to China Town revealed popular brands such as Nike, Adidas, Puma and Levi's, which were seized by the police during a major raid about two years ago, are back on the shelves.
"Counterfeiters are producing fake food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, electronics and electrical supplies, auto parts and everyday household products," said Stanley Simataa, the Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology at a recent intellectual property awareness week event.
Simataa said that due to piracy, millions of consumers are at risk of buying unsafe and ineffective products, while governments, businesses and society consistently lose billions in tax revenue.
According to Simataa, even though it is hard to solve copyright problems due to the proliferation of sophisticated information communication technology, there is a need to redouble efforts to counter the problem.
"A continental and extensive global approach is needed to arrest the debilitating net effect of these activities on the loss of economic development, as well as the harm to health and safety," he said. The piracy of computer software has been attributed chiefly to escalating prices, which many people find unaffordable, given the already high prices of personal computers.
However, officials of Microsoft Namibia insist that their products are affordable to anyone. "We have products and services to suit every lifestyle and wallet," said Lavinniah Muthoni of human capital synergies at Microsoft.
She said by using fully licensed, genuine Microsoft Windows and Office software, customers can be confident that they will have access to the latest features and support that will help to improve their productivity and expand the capabilities of the technology.
She added that the company is busy investing heavily in technologies and programmes to make software counterfeiting more difficult, while making it easier for customers to recognize and avoid counterfeit software.
Muthoni said Namibia Microsoft has partnered with the Namibian Police (Nampol) to combat the scourge of counterfeiting.
Globally Microsoft is also growing its technological sophistication in combating counterfeit software with an investment in its nine forensic crime Labs around the world to assist law enforcement officials as they seek to uncover and prosecute software counterfeiters.
The general manager of the Namibian Society of Composers and Authors of Music (NASCAM) John Max says piracy is killing the Namibian music industry in general and hurting artists in particular, since people do not buy CDs anymore, but only copy the music.
"Because of new technologies and the sharing of CDs, the industry has been going down very hard," he said. Max further said artists suffer in the long run, because they spend more money in the recording of CDs, but hardly get anything out of it. "Some totally drop out because they can no longer make an income, while others only make an income from shows and live performances.
"There is a need for a strong active law to deal with those violating copyright." Counterfeiting or piracy is the practice of manufacturing goods, or copying origional products, and selling or using them without the brand owner's authorisation. It is estimated that counterfeiting is a $600 billion a year problem and has grown over 10 000 percent in the past two decades. Piracy is also said to be one of the fastest growing economic crimes worldwide.