The Business Software Association of Australia (BSAA) is anxiously awaiting the results of a two-year comparative study into the price of software in Australia. With this report, the BSAA hopes to reverse the Federal Government's intention to lift parallel importing regulations by the end of the year.
Australia's piracy watchdog is vehemently opposed to attempts to amend legislation which, it claims, will leave Australia's software market open to a flood of pirated and illegal software, according to Jim Macnamara, BSAA chairman.
Senator Richard Alston, Federal Minister for IT, Communications and the Arts, signalled the intention to amend copyright legislation to allow the unfettered importation and distribution of bona fide software throughout Australia in August last year. Legislation is currently being drafted and David Quilty, chief of staff for Senator Alston's office, claims the Government is optimistic about the Bill passing in the first parliamentary session of this year, beginning in February.
The Government believes that by lifting import regulations, it will lower the average price of software and ensure Australian businesses have access to cutting-edge software at the same time as the US or Europe.
The BSAA doesn't agree, however, and has embarked on a study which it hopes will prove Australian software prices are equivalent to most major world markets. The BSAA commissioned the report in 1999 to compare the advertised price of a range of software products in Australia with that of corresponding software in the US, UK and New Zealand. The report covered a three-month period in 1999, October 1 to December 31, and a subsequent period in 2000. The report looks at a range of mediums from catalogues and newspapers to trade magazines and broadcast media, and compares prices against a standardised currency.
Central to the BSAA's concerns are the lifting of import regulations, which places Australia at risk of increased piracy and subsequently impacts the channel due to lost licence sales.
"The Government doesn't recognise the pirated software implications of lifting regulations," claims Macnamara. "And we believe it won't bring prices down. The most recent global software piracy report estimates that the Australian software industry lost $264 million to software theft in 1999 alone. Additionally, software resellers and retailers lose income through sales, income estimated at $286 million by a 1998 PriceWaterhouseCoopers study," the BSAA states on its Web site.
The Government began campaigning to drop import regulations after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a damning report claiming that over a 10-year period Australian consumers were paying on average 27 per cent more for packaged business software than their US counterparts.
The Government prompted an industry backlash when it successfully passed similar legislation for music CDs in 1997. A spokesperson for Senator Alston's office claims the success of the Government's dropping of parallel import regulations for music CDs will be replicated with software. Music CD prices have dropped on average from $30 per CD in 1997 to $24-$30 now, claims the spokesperson, representing a "significant" saving considering general inflation over the past four years.
If the Government is successful, Macnamara will lobby Parliament to ensure the Government increases its efforts to prevent large-scale pirated software imports entering Australia.
However, Alston's office hit back at allegations that freeing up imports will result in increased software pirating. A spokesperson for the office claims there has been no documented increase of music piracy since the amended legislation and will therefore not happen with software.
In related news, New Zealand is reportedly considering reversing its decision to lift parallel importing legislation undertaken three years ago.
For a detailed analysis on parallel importing in Australia, see our lead feature starting on page 39 - The scourge of parallel importing.
Photograph: BSAA chairman Jim Mcnamara