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The Nature and Incidence of Software Piracy: Evidence from Windows


  • Susan Athey
  • Scott Stern


This paper evaluates the nature, relative incidence and drivers of software piracy. In contrast to prior studies, we analyze data that allows us to measure piracy for a specific product - Windows 7 - which was associated with a significant level of private sector investment. Using anonymized telemetry data, we are able to characterize the ways in which piracy occurs, the relative incidence of piracy across different economic and institutional environments, and the impact of enforcement efforts on choices to install pirated versus paid software. We find that: (a) the vast majority of "retail piracy" can be attributed to a small number of widely distributed "hacks" that are available through the Internet, (b) the incidence of piracy varies significantly with the microeconomic and institutional environment, and (c) software piracy primarily focuses on the most "advanced" version of Windows (Windows Ultimate). After controlling for a small number of measures of institutional quality and broadband infrastructure, one important candidate driver of piracy - GDP per capita - has no significant impact on the observed piracy rate, while the innovation orientation of an economy is associated with a lower rate of piracy. Finally, we are able to evaluate how piracy changes in response to country-specific anti-piracy enforcement efforts against specific peer-to-peer websites; overall, we find no systematic evidence that such enforcement efforts have had an impact on the incidence of software piracy.

Suggested Citation

  • Susan Athey & Scott Stern, 2013. "The Nature and Incidence of Software Piracy: Evidence from Windows," NBER Working Papers 19755, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19755
    Note: IO PR

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Andrew Burke, 1996. "How effective are international copyright conventions in the music industry?," Journal of Cultural Economics, Springer;The Association for Cultural Economics International, vol. 20(1), pages 51-66, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bastiaan Overvest & Bas Straathof, 2015. "What drives cybercrime? Empirical evidence from DDoS attacks," CPB Discussion Paper 306, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L86 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Information and Internet Services; Computer Software
    • O34 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Intellectual Property and Intellectual Capital

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