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Pattaya Daily News

25 October 2007 :: 20:10:16 pm 6118

The Software Scam in Pattaya

My name is Wipa, I am a 52-year-old school teacher and have been living in Pattaya for 12 years as a single parent, trying to survive in this town by holding down a decent job and bringing up a child alone.
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I had been running three internet shops in Pattaya for more than 5 years; two of which were in a quiet road in Jomtien, on opposite sides of the road, but under different names.

In 2003, we had a lot of customers, mainly tourists and local expats. Being the only ones in the road, we were busy all the time, but still could hardly make enough money to survive, without doing other things like translations and teaching. We kept a log of users, had a membership system and therefore knew who used the computers. One day, a Thai man came into the shop before and used a specific computer, let’s say no.2, for about 15 minutes.

Two days after, when I was away from the Internet shop, and my 20-year-old son was looking after it, three Thai men had come in, two of whom started using a computer. However, the other one, who we’ll call Mr. A, didn’t use any of the machines that were available, as directed, but insisted on waiting till no.2 was free. Then he called my son over, pointed out ‘Sor Setabuth’, an English-Thai dictionary program, and complained it was pirate software. My son innocently explained that the software was already pre-installed, just like Microsoft Office, when we had bought the computer from Tuk Com. The Thai man said he didn’t care how we’d got it, using very bad language, telling another, obviously a policeman, to arrest my son. They pushed him against the wall, twisted his hands behind his back and tried to put handcuffs on him. Then they packed up 5 of our computers even though they didn’t even bother checking any of them.

My son called me around 5pm and said the police were arresting him. I rushed back to the shop to find my son trying to explain politely to the police that they didn’t have to use handcuffs to arrest him, since this was not a criminal case. I was really shocked, especially as my son is a polite and well-educated young man, with a degree in computer science and a very good web designer.

Our Internet shop had a little coffee corner in the front, and the customers were looking at us strangely, wondering what was happening. One of my staff was using her mobile phone-camera, taking a video of the incident especially of the big fat policeman, who was still shouting at my son just as I was arriving, calling him a pimp, though I had no idea why, just supposed that the police assume if you are a young Thai man in Pattaya, you must be either a pimp or a gangster.

When I introduced myself as the shop owner, they called my son a liar because he hadn’t told them that he was my son. So they decided they had to take us both to the police station, treating us like two common criminals!

At the police station, more and more people from Internet shops started arriving as the ‘snatch team’ had been doing the rounds. More computers were brought into the room, where everyone started to chat. We were all sitting around listening to all kinds of stories. But I hadn’t seen the Thai men and the fat policeman who arrested us yet, so we had to wait until they arrived at around 9 pm.

It was really interesting to see how they operated their business that night. The police questioned us separately, one by one, each Internet shop owner in turn. They eventually said we had to pay 60,000 baht per shop, in our case double because they’d arrested my son and me. It didn’t matter how many computers you had, or whether you were a small or large Internet shop owner.

Some shop owners with Farang husbands paid their fines within 10 minutes, others called friends to borrow the money to pay the fines. Most of them agreed to pay. Strangely enough, there were some guys hanging around, chatting with us, very friendly, helpful, and acting like lawyers. They tried to convince us to pay so we could take the computers back and carry on with our businesses straight away and not have a criminal record as a software thief. They argued if we didn’t pay the fine, but chose to fight in court, even if we won, we’d still have to pay for the lawyers, the time, all kinds of fees and normally the case would take years to finalize, meaning we couldn’t carry on with our businesses. Alternatively, if we thought we could win, we’d still have to pay the bail fee, which would cost us more than the fine. After listening to all the advice, most of the victims paid their fine quickly.

My son and I were questioned separately, but our answers were the same. We didn’t think we were guilty and the way they’d treated us was terrible, plus we had a great deal of evidence of their appalling behaviour recorded on photos, video and tape. I was personally very angry and upset by their attitudes towards women in Pattaya; they treated us as if we were criminals or prostitutes.

We were insistent and refused to pay the fine and so they agreed to us paying 100,000 baht bail each, which we had to borrow from customers and friends. We were determined to fight for our rights, no matter how much time or trouble it took. The police must have collected about 1,200,000 baht that night. We finally got out of the police station at 2 am.!!

It strikes me the software piracy identification operation is a complete scam, and a big money earner! Why, for instance, don’t Thai Soft, the makers, tackle the problem at root, namely by stopping the computer shops from pre-loading their software without licensing it? Or in the case of Internet cafes, it’s quite easy to restrict access to programs and prevent downloads. I think it’s because they make far more money from initially letting people pirate their software and then working through an enforcement company, in this case the ASC Company, who in turn co-operate with the police to identify and then arrest offenders. Just imagine with 200+ Internet cafes in Pattaya and Chonburi, at 60,000 baht a time, that’s 12 million baht in fines; even split three ways that’s far more than Thai Soft would make selling their programs alone.

Why involve the police? Because software piracy is a crime; a copyright infraction. An enforcement company alone can only use their ‘hard boys’ (who can often make big commissions from such work) to sneak round and eventually find and identify offenders, as they did on the first occasion in our Internet cafe , then they call in the police to make the arrest. In the same way, the police haven’t got enough manpower to check every Internet cafe, office and private home for pirate software, they depend on the leads they get from an enforcement company. A very nice and highly lucrative three-way racket!

As for the fines, compared to the amount of pornography and illegal music downloads, most software piracy is peanuts, (except for the big, expensive programs like Microsoft or Adobe that is) and shouldn’t be given such large fines, don’t you think?.

I went to the police station a couple of times to follow my case and so learnt the inside story. Oh and the ASC Company also tried to make some quick ‘bucks’ instead of waiting for my case to go through the courts. They wanted 30,000 baht, then I could have my computers back and they would drop the case; “no way!” said I. Then they rang up saying they’d noticed my son, who has his father’s surname, had a highly respected family name (they’d confused the pronunciation, but I wasn’t going to tell them that!) so I went along with it and, to cut a long story short, I eventually ended up only paying 10,000 baht for their inconvenience. As they say in tennis: game, set and match! Next time I’ll tell you how I recovered the 200,000 baht.

Thank you for following my story. I hope it’s useful info.

Wipa Rattanachai

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Editorial

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