Software Piracy in Pakistan

A few days ago I was at the local computer store to buy some hardware, when I noticed that all the software shops were absent any software. It turned out that Microsoft and their local lackeys are back on the warpath chasing after software piracy. *Again*. This has happened so many times in the past that it’s laughable. Still, maybe because of these constant raids, software piracy has slowed down to some extent. We no longer have the latest and greatest software’s available here soon as they get released for manufacturing abroad. Often times, one has to wait for months before software is finally available over here. Still, with the advent of Windows XP and Office XP, people are basically satisfied with what they have, and there are no longer hordes of people looking for the latest software releases. Games of course are available here well before their release dates abroad.

For those who shudder in horror at all the rampant piracy around here, please take note that it is *impossible* to actually buy a legal copy of any software around here. I have tried over the years, but I have never been able to track down anyplace which sells legal copies of Windows and Office. When it comes to digging out computer stuff in Karachi, I consider myself quite resourceful, so if I (and a large number of other people and hardware retailers) can’t find a legal copy even after a good ten years of effort, I have to conclude that Microsoft doesn’t care about this market and so can’t be bothered to actually sell any copies.

The most likely explanation is that whoever it is whom Microsoft has authorized to look after the Pakistan market is happy making money by raiding small offices and slapping hefty fines on them. I have gotten a number of threatening faxes from this (Dubai based) organization over the years, and while most have gone into the dustbin straightaway, I did contact them a number of times about acquiring/purchasing Windows. Each time they said they’re in the business of stopping software piracy, not selling software. And no, they did not send along any contact numbers/places where I could purchase the software from.

There are a few legal copies of Windows floating around in the market which have come in with laptops and branded computers, but it’s illegal to buy them according to the Microsoft license. Somewhere in the “End-User License Agreement”: legalese it says “you may not sell or rent”: your copy of Windows. While a Californian court ruled you can sell purchased software no matter what the License says, I doubt that applies outside California. Most geek lawyers in America/Europe think that most EULA’s cannot hold up in court, but this theory hasn’t been tested yet. It makes sense though, as current EULA’s basically make you sign away your first child and just about everything else too.

So when it’s impossible to buy a legal copy, what is a computer user in this country to do? Regardless of the extreme price differential, there are people in this country who want to own a licensed legal copy of the software they use. This is mostly due to a common misconception that the original version will somehow run better than the pirated version. In the case of small business, they don’t want to go through the hassle of fighting with the local Microsoft dogs about ‘pirated’ software, so they want to acquire legal versions.

The problems of windows licenses are quite interesting. Many people in this country have second-hand machines which have been disposed of in the west. Most of these machines come with Windows already installed, along with a sticker of the original product key. They sometimes even have the cubicle number and the company they were in. So when the machine running a pirated version of a operating system already has a license, the piracy issue is no longer so clear cut. We have tons of licenses sitting there in the form of old computers rotting away in containers and dumps. Most of them should still be valid, as the operating system along with the computer was thrown away. Shoot, some of these computers haven’t even been formatted, and all sorts of interesting information can be pulled out from them. Legally, it’s an interesting issue. Maybe an enterprising shopkeeper can buy a thousand of these pc’s, and claim to have acquired valid licenses for Windows 98 (which most of these old pcs have). We recycle a whole lot of junk from the West, why not software also? Microsoft can claim that these licenses have ‘expired’, and cannot be transferred, again this would have to go though the courts. By the time a decision is reached in the Pakistani courts, this entire decision will be moot as by then (after a decade or so) we will all be running Linux.

Sadly, no “computer shop”: in Pakistan seems to comprehend that there is such a thing as free software which they can sell with impunity. On the other hand, I doubt that the Microsoft and the BSA representatives understand either. They are completely capable of hauling up someone on charges of selling ‘pirated’ versions of RedHat Linux and OpenOffice! Currently up-to-date Linux distros are harder to find than just about anything else in the world. And no, its almost impossible to download ISO’s over a modem connection which keeps disconnecting coupled with electricity which fluctuates and dies every so often. Broadband is slowly creeping into the country, so it would be nice if one of the broadband companies could mirror one of the linux ftp servers which contain the popular distros.

Microsoft Windows and Office together are available for “40 dollars in Thailand”: However, the Pakistan government shows no sign or realization that they can bargain with Microsoft. So sooner or later, things are going to come to a head. Nobody here is going to buy software for a hundred dollars a pop here.

As Pakistan cracks down on software piracy, free software is going to become more and more important. Excepting the larger corporations and multinationals, every single computer in Pakistan runs pirated software. It will be interesting to see whether people will end up buying software, or switching to free alternatives. Even if the government starts jailing people, my guess is that about 2-4 percent of home users will pay western prices for software. There are “ongoing efforts”: to convert to Linux by the government. While techies/geeks are switching, the normal user is going to avoid it like the plague. See “”: for more about Linux usage in Pakistan.

From Microsoft: “What should I do if I suspect I have unknowingly purchased illegal Microsoft software products?”:

bq. The first thing to do is to return the product to your place of purchase and ask for a legitimate replacement product or verification that the product you purchased is legal. If the vendor refuses to help you, ask for your money back, and find a legitimate dealer who will sell you legally licensed Microsoft products.

All very nice, but around here there are no legitimate dealers! _And no, dealers hidden away in a dark alleyway somewhere don’t count_

bq. If the vendor refuses to give you a refund, report their actions to your local Consumer Affairs office. You should also call your local Microsoft subsidiary or a regional Business Software Alliance (BSA) ant piracy hotline to report your concerns.

Well, the vendor will happily give you the 30 rupee refund for the cd. There is no local Consumers Affair office to call here. The local Microsoft office is more akin to Al Capone’s gang than a legitimate business office. People are well advised to steer clear from them. I mean, why would one report a theft to a crook? So pretty much everything is ruled out. I did once email the Microsoft sales office in Seattle about buying a legal copy of Windows, but haven’t received a response yet. It’s only been five years. I expect it’ll take at least a couple more before they around to really cracking the third world market.

*Update:* It seems Microsoft is trying to get a firm grip on the third world market. They’re working on cut down versions of Windows and Office which they’ll sell at supposedly _reasonable_ prices.

*Update:* Vendor support will be a big selling point, for most users need serious help with their PC’s. Every single local vendor I’ve seen or heard of in Karachi goes about support the absolute wrong way (as written above). People would pay hefty sums for proper support from trained personnel. That would most likely require a local call center for basic support, and for a additional premium there could be on-site support. Bill Gates “told”: Musharraf that Microsoft is considering investment in Pakistan. I doubt they’re going to be opening up a high tech R&D center here, so the only other option is a low tech support center, along with some giveaways to educational institutes. So far the only industry MS is supporting here is the police whom they pay for all those incessant raids.

Another interesting aspect could be that Microsft could arrange with some local ISP to have windowsupdates servers running locally which provide fast updates for registered users. There are lots off financially cheap incentives which MS can use to easily grow the local market. What is really annoying is the BSA’s non stop crying about piracy when they’re not providing any feasible alternatives.

*Update:* Increasingly, many shops in Karachi are selling original software. What most people are unaware of, is that while the software is the real deal, with the original box complete with manuals and a working serial, it is still illegal. One of the computer retailers I know, who is now selling a lot of ‘orignal’ software buys them from Dubai and Singapore in bulk, and resells them here. As explained above, this is highly illegal.

*2011 Update:* OEM versions of Windows are finally available in Pakistan, but once again they are being sold illegally by a few local software vendors, generally smuggled in from Dubai. As per Microsoft, OEM licences are to be sold only with new pc’s by a system builder, in the region for which they were provided for. Far as I know, hardly any software used in Pakistan is still not available to buy anywhere. This is true for just about all western content.

32 thoughts on “Software Piracy in Pakistan”

  1. that is some pickle pakistan is in. honestly speaking i find so many ppl crying themself hoarse abt Pakistan being the hub of piracy but not enuff work being done to curtail the pratcice. hefty fines will only increase clandestine operations, not root out piracy.

    and if u really want to bother MicroSoft, try their Dubai office which covers the MENA region. dunno where Pk might fit in, but u can get the info from them. and sleep in peace that u have a licenced OS.

  2. Well, this is not the first time Bill Gates is trying to do this. There is simply NO way that we could and infact should use legal licenced software (At least not of Microsoft’s :-)). Let us hope that all settles down. Let me get my hands on that !@#$

  3. Relax guys. Pirated cds are going nowhere, anyone remember pulse global. The also caused this big mayhem when they entered the market, paying the cops to conduct raids on video shops. Behold the video shops today with thriving businesses. Piracy cannot be curbed while there is still a huge demand for it. And the demand will stay because we simply cannot pay the US prices for software sitting here. Besides microsoft is not interested enough in our market to provide us with cheap alternatives(whole issue of movement of legal cd’s at pakistan prices to US). They just want to stop the export of pirated cd’s from pakistan. Yes we r replacing china as a major supplier of pirated cds.

  4. As a professional software developer and aspiring entrepeneur, I am more interested in how we can shield local industry from piracy. The bottom line is this:

    I will not invest capital/time/effort in a product geared towards local market because I know the day I launch the software, a pirated copy will be available the next week. I’ve seen it happening with a local software house that failed miserably at an otherwise excellent and very innovative product.

    Continuing on the same note, our local software industry will not be able to thrive in true meanings of the world unless it has a local clientele. Pakistan needs companies that can not just handle outsourced work but also develop their own product-line as well as compete with big-shots like Oracle, Nortel, Siemens, NCR etc. on enterprise-level projects.

    … And, frankly, I don’t see all that happening unless we put a lid on software piracy

  5. The time for shrink wrapped software has come and gone… if you think you can become another Adobe or Macromedia you think wrong… especially in this country. Piracy is a lost cause here,

    What is possible though is providing custom solutions built on open source software, customized for that particular company. There is huge money in that, and it is only going to get bigger.

  6. I have read few lines from your comments and do agree that acquiring a licenced Micro soft is headache. I had read somewhere about a year or so that the Japanese Governemt has planned to sift from Microsoft to Linus to save on enomerous licence fees etc. When linux is free why people like you dont try to convince people to change to Linux and save themselves from legalities and harassment.

  7. Assalam walekum,

    All humans. I want purchase legal cd of microsoft corpuration,norton antivirus 2005 and spyware doctor in pakistan/karachi.plz help me.if any my friend know legal software shop in karachi plz must reple me.All phone no ,shop address and url provide me.


    muhammad musharraf

  8. i am looking for licensenced ms office and autocad software cds in pakistan.plz help me if anyone knows from where i can get it in pakistan and especially in lahore.

    plz send me email

    thanx and regards

  9. Hi All of You,

    I personally feel that Microsoft need ages to prevent software piracy in Pakistan. Countless copies of pirated software are installed in home user computers. Why these home users will switch to licensed products as they are already using it.

    What if the Microsoft will succeed in preventing people to use pirated software? Then,

    the user will have an option to switch to Linux or other products.

    I think monopoly of the Microsoft has been affected since Linux came in the market.

  10. All those raids will discourage whatsoever business we are having. Why don’t microsoft first provide discounted software then do the anti-piracy raids? This wil also shift the trend heavily towards open source and businesses will surely move to linux.

  11. I had bought NEC versa premium laptop with origional win xp prof in August 2004, but I could not creat a master disk and the Combo went out of order, now I cant get the origional xp cd though I have the product key pasted at bottom of laptop. pls let me know how to get my win xp preinsatlled back

  12. if any one rquires licensenced Win 98 or Win 2000 at a cheap price plz do contact us

    We Are Authorized Microsoft refurbisher in Pakistan

    with the name ISSD

    ph 051-4449747


  13. I am a student of B.B.A Final Semester. I would like to make a project on Software Priacy, Friend’s if you have more websites which i will get information please provide.

    Thanking you…

  14. I think original softwares are expensinve so the pakistanis are forced to use piratic software due to heavy prices I think Windows xp+Office xp in pakistan should be in Rs600 or 10 US$

  15. “I think original softwares are expensinve so the pakistanis are forced to use piratic software due to heavy prices I think Windows xp+Office xp in pakistan should be in Rs600 or 10 US$”

    Even if it was for $10, you’d probably not pay for it. People will still scream bloody murder. No matter what you do to pricing. I’ll cite a very real example. A certain antivirus (whom we represent) was sold world-wide for US$ 60. People in Pakistan wanted to but it – how do we know that, we can check cracked serial numbers getting updates from the global servers, and using Geo-IP to trace the origin. The numbers from Pakistan were astonishing. More than 150,000 computers updating themselves – all pirated.

    We conducted a survey and talked to many people. Unanimoulsly, people wanted to pay something like Rs. 900-950 for the software. Considering the software was selling for Rs. 4,200 internationally, asking our principals to bring it down to Rs. 995 as retail price was a big big undertaking.

    Once done….. guess what – no one bought the software. Answer: We can get the cracked version – so why should I pay!

    Unless and until home/end users don’t feel threatened that they are breaking the law and could end up in jail/pay-fine for it… piracy in this country will be rampant.

    Comments like reduce Office/XP down to $10 are merely that – hot-air comments. Bring it down to the line and people tuck tails between their legs and scramble – Pay you say!?!?!? why should I is the reasoning.

    Take care of prosecuting first and then piracy numbers will come down. Its all hog-wash otherwise.


  16. Faisal, at work every other month we get faxes, letters, emails and even letters by courier from the “BSA”:, threatening to shut us down for using pirated software. Other small enterprises receive the same crap, with letters assuming the company is guilt and has to prove it’s innocence. Their practices in Pakistan are more akin to the Mafia than a legitimate business practice. These led us to consider open source solutions like “”:, which in its current incarnation is a suitable replacement for Office, and Linux desktops running Red Hat and Ubuntu.

    Targetting end users is not the solution – targetting the thousands of small computer assemblers is. Provide them with software at decent prices and support, and people would buy legal software.

    Faisal, I applaud your effort in getting your principal to lower the price to a more reasonable level, but not to target you per se, but too many software resellers open up shop here and expect customers to flock to them. You have to go out and sell software. I’ve been going to computer shops in Karachi for over a decade now, and have never seen a legal software being sold in the market. At best, I’ve seen a few copies of Windows and Norton AntiVirus software, which are sumuggled in and resold, which is illegal.

    How do you expect people to buy software when it’s not for sale? The BSA is far more interested in extorting money then selling software. I am pretty computer litereate, but as of Nov 2005 I still don’t know where to purchase a legal copy of windows or any other software for that matter.

  17. if there is a dealer in pakistan who can be trusted, please email me the address and phone number. i want to buy a xp pro cd. and i`ll look b4 i leap//right


  18. you know the per capita incom eof united states of America and compare it with per capirta inocme of pakistan i am against the piracy and i am in favour of the licensed software but how can the poor eople afford the the softtware Cd licenced which is quite expensive i am also using the licencened Xp cd but most of he people cannot afford the expensive cd , not only the cd aslo the pirice of the Computer so it becmes difficult to meet the expenses of the computer for the poor people otherwise there is also the option availabe the price of the software licenced software shopuld be reduce to that level where the ordinary people can buy it esaily so it only reduces the piracy rate of the Software Cds


    Forgive me if u minded it

    Abdul HAseeb Khan

  19. I am quite distressed about the whole issue . If M$ is not interested in investment here , if it is not wanting to give us genuine stuff then why all the bullying ? They should take notice of the fact that India where they have got a proper R&D centre too and which they keep praising dawn till dusk , though a thriving economy , is also one of those places where poverty far exceeds Pakistan . Why don’t they offer the oppourtunity to Pakistan , where people are already overspending on luxuries of life ranging from Branded PCs to Honda Civics ? Pakistani people will love to get genuine Windows if they can but what can they do , if it is not available here ? By comparison Indian people will have some trouble buying genuine stuff , they live a lower standard of life than us , don’t they ? I don’t see sparkling Hondas there….yet.

  20. Faisal, I can assure you that if genuine MS Windows+Office XP was available for Rs.600, I would instantly buy it. At least, it wil save me the headache of the WGA protection and all that crap. Which antivirus were you selling? I doubt anyone would buy anything other than Symantec/Norton or Mcafee because they are simply more popular.

    KO, nice work with the whole entry. I am impressed. You get very few people reasoning out piracy and it’s reasons and possible solutions. I applaud your effort. I may even put it up on my blog if I find some spare time (you know how hectic university-life can be).

    Our government should show some backbone and force Microsoft to reduce the prices which it has he power to do with the huge Pakistani potential market behind them. Bill Gates will bend over backwards and if he doesn’t, we can always go the Linux route.

    Even companies like Inbox, etc who build and sell PCs can give Linux pre-installed for it to spread.

  21. I stumbled onto this thread by accident. After reading it I am not surprised however. I am from India and have been trying to locate a authorised reseller in india for the past 3 years with 0 sucess rate. But now-a-days M$ has started an ad-campaign about piracy. I ask to check whether the software I am using is Genuine or not. The kicker is how can i use genuine software if i cannot find a place to buy it?

    Recently I purchased a laptop with bundled Windows XP Home. I have been trying to get t upgraded to prof. Still TRYING 😉

  22. Srikant, the situation is still very much the same here – the BSA just kicked off another anti-piracy campaign and is going around arresting people and stealing their computers, but legal copies of windows are still not readily available in Karachi, over 3 years after I wrote the above post.

  23. hi computers dealers ,,

    i m looking for “dead hard drives ” to parchase in scrap rate …

    any dealer is interested to sale their scrap hard drive ..

    plz contact me .. adeel 03002806035

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