In Soviet Russia, Piracy Finds You

[image:6655 left hspace=5 vspace=5 border=0]The 'net has been all abuzz of late about the so-called "release" of Half-Life 2 in parts of the former Soviet Union; it has been spotted for sale in Ukraine and Siberia. Most of these reports have drawn attention because Half-Life 2 is hotly anticipated, and because this game is not yet near an official release, and the source of these copies for sale is a leaked beta.

However, the average gamer may or may not be aware that piracy of computer software, music and movies isn't limited to Internet-based peer-to-peer schemes and shady chat rooms in CIS countries; it's right out there on apparently legitimate store shelves for everyone to see.

Case in point: Halo for the PC. Shortly after the release of PC Halo in the US (and long before we got our copies here at Rampancy, which arrived in a package with Mac Halo and First Strike) there were CDs on store shelves in former Soviet countries that purported to be Halo for the PC-- version 1.5, no less. (Perhaps that's where the rumors came from.) This applies not just to games, but operating systems, application suites like Microsoft Office, even enterprise level software like Oracle 8i.

The jewel case art itself is an interesting study; while the cover art appears to be based on screenshots from the shipping game, the back of the box features screens as old as E3 2000 and older.

Of course, trends are in place to reverse this state of affairs. Microsoft has opened representative offices in some (not all) former Soviet countries, and has been lobbying their governments to enact (and enforce) protection for intellectual property rights, as well as urging local computer resellers to cease practices like selling cracked copies of Microsoft operating systems and applications with new computers, or selling OEM copies over the counter that are clearly marked "for sale only with a new PC".

However, the real "gotcha" for anyone who plonked down hard currency (or its nearest equivalent) for "Halo 1.5" in any of the CIS countries-- and the going price is about two U.S. dollars-- is the system requirements. The only words in English on the back of the CD case are for the system requirements, and they read:

Pentium-2 233 Mhz, 64 MB RAM, 4 MB 3D Card

If anyone actually tried to play Halo on that system, that's almost punishment enough for warezing the game... almost.

In summary, piracy is something that affects not only Half-Life 2, or even just Halo-- but just about every piece of software you can imagine. And before anybody asks, no, I am not going to tell you exactly where you can get this. Buy Halo.



Hey guys relax on this Soviet part I know you did say 'Former Soviet Union' . But the countries has names

While it's true that the Soviet Union collapsed more than ten years ago, there are important reasons why many people who talk about issues in the region still refer to it as the "former Soviet Union".

There are many economic, political, and cultural differences between Caucasian, Eastern European, and Central Asian countries. However, one thing they all share is the legacy of Soviet bureaucraric and legal systems. The lack of proper intellectual property laws, as well as the lax enforcement of laws that do exist, and the general economic conditions that encourage piracy, exist in nearly all former Soviet countries, and in many cases this piracy is a direct result of the Soviet legacy (although it is also widespread in other areas, specifically some of the less-developed countries in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and northern Africa).

Secondly, one of the reasons I put the story together was that all the recent stories seemed to be giving the impression that this one case of piracy-- leaked versions of Half Life 2-- were somehow particular to that game and to the country in which it was first noticed (Ukraine). I wanted to point out that it affects other games (like our own beloved Halo) as well as many other countries.

Many who read this site regularly know that I live in one such country. But I was not out to point a finger at any one country in particular, and referring to the region as Central Asia is rarely helpful as many simply don't know where it is or what countries it comprises.

Sure, I could have rattled off a list-- Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia...

.... it quickly becomes easier to refer to them all as FSU nations, which not only is shorter but also categorizes them as sharing the attributes that lead to piracy-- namely the legal and economic consequences of the Soviet system, which still survive to a surprising degree.

I lived in Saudi Arabia for 3 years, back in the '80s, and the music store down the block had any tape (remember, it was the '80s) you could get in a reputable music shop in the UK or US, but theirs cost $1 instead of $10 -- and as an added bonus, the bootlegs had some of the funniest stuff written on 'em (they had obviously been translated several times to and from English).

I'll never forget the lyrics to one of my favorite ZZ Top tunes: "I got a give it up. Like a boomer on a needle reepete (sic)."