Kenya’s Copyright Board Takes Piracy War to Cyber Cafes


Cyber café operators within Nairobi are torn between legalising their Microsoft software operating system, shifting to Open Source Code or closing shop all together following the crack down on illegal software.

Most cyber cafes in Kenya use Microsoft software but with no valid licences. Jet Cyber and Dagit Cyber Café in Nairobi are the latest companies to be raided on the suspicion of copyright infringement.

The raids on the cyber cafes come after the expiry of the October 30th deadline set by the Kenya Copyright Board.

During the raid, 50 computers containing unlicensed versions of Microsoft Windows Office 2003 edition were confiscated. Also impounded were Windows 200 and Microsoft 2003 counterfeit installer CD. The computers were valued at Sh1.5 million while the cost of Windows Os and Office are estimated at Sh1.4 million.

Edward Segei, a State counsel seconded to the Copyright body, said the owners of the raided Internet Cafes will face charges of copyright infringement.

These latest moves have thrown a number of cyber café operators into a tight spot. While some of the operators have got genuine Office operating system and Microsoft Windows, others shifted their operation to the Open source Code system.

Irene Wambui, a unit manager at Wang' Point Telecenter attributed use of pirated software to ignorance. "We bought the entire business plus the computers from the previous owner without knowing that the software was not genuine" said Wambui. Wang' Point Telecenter recently decided to buy genuine software.

"The shift however came at a cost. While the value of our previous machines were Sh10, 000 we had to spend Sh60, 000 for each of our 17 machines," said Wambui.

Another cyber owner operating along Kimathi street who wished to remain anonymous until he installed the Open source software, contemplated between closing the business altogether. "At first when Microsoft officers visited us, they convinced us on the importance of operating on genuine software which we didn't object to, but the manner they are doing it cannot let us sustain our businesses," he said.

His dilemma started when Microsoft sent him a letter stating that they would want him to legalise his operating system. However , he says that his business is operating on Windows 2000, but then Microsoft asked them to upgrade to Windows XP. "After testing the Windows XP, we found that it was not suitable for us but they insisted that we must go that way," he claimed.

He welcomed legalising software on Windows 2000, to which Microsoft says they did not want to license what they don't support.

So, he embraced Open Source. "At first I was hesitant but with what am experiencing, I wish I had gone Open Source long time ago. It did not cost me anything. I closed for two days and installed all the machines with the Open Source software" he says.

He adds that if he was to go the Microsoft way he could be forced to increase his charges from 50 cents to Sh5 per minute of surfing "to recover his costs." A Kenyan Open Source Code group Skunkworks led by Ken Kasani are now championing more cyber café to go to Open Source.

According to Mr Kasani, the software will manage all aspects of cyber café billing such as Internet time, printing, items, accounts, discounts, the programme will be across platform , it will be possible to run it on both Linux and Windows computers connected on the same cyber works.

The package is being developed using FOSS development tools and platform and, therefore, will be released worldwide to other developers who wish to collaborate.

Sunkworks are selling software at three points to serve businesses.

On pricing, FOSS will be available be free of charge, where the only charges are for installation and improvements .

Mr Kasani also says the use of FOSS enhances the PC speed. Using Open Source, one would not need to install an antivirus gadget, making it cheaper.

On the other hand, Microsoft Initiative is stemmed from the fact that software piracy and counterfeiting in Kenya has up to recent years been widespread yet discreet.

Abednego Hlatshwayo, Microsoft Anti-Piracy Manager for East and Southern Africa says, locally, a significant number of PCs running on counterfeit/pirated software are found in cyber cafés spread out in urban centres and, increasingly, in rural areas, a situation whose ripple effect heavily contributes to poor quality software.

This increases information risks, leads to massive unemployment, and loss of revenue to government.

"Our Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) programme provides a platform for consumers to validate their Microsoft Windows software as well as provide notifications to consumers using non-genuine Microsoft Windows XP. Customers using genuine software have access to Microsoft download centre for latest features, updates, and support.

"Many customers do not know whether they are running a genuine copy of Windows software, and the WGA notifications feature is a simple and effective way to help them know the status of their software," says Mr Hlatshwayo.

Business Daily