THERE was a time when the US-published Wired magazine was the coolest magazine on the planet. Exploring the digital frontiers of the information revolution, Wired was like no other, pushing boundaries that most of the world did not even know existed. The magazine garnered a reputation for not doing things in half measures. So the remarks it has made in its October issue come as something of a surprise. Anyone in Asia who saw the story headlined 'Information Wants To Be Free - But This Is Ridiculous' could be forgiven for thinking that it was a misguided attempt aimed at a high-school reader. Or maybe it was just an ill-conceived idea that slipped into the magazine by mistake. The central theme of this investigative report was piracy in Asia. Its author, A. Lin Neumann, paints a picture of Asia as a haven for software piracy and a software shoppers paradise. There is little talk of intellectual property rights here. But there are endless laments about the cost of the legitimate stuff. The article suggests that a well-informed software shopper in any of the four Asia countries Mr Neumann 'investigated' could easily fly to Asia, buy the pirate gear, and fly back to the US. He could still save money on the cost of the plane tickets and accommodation by what he saves on his software purchases. Mr Neumann has done his 'research' well, telling readers precisely where to go and approximately how much to pay for these new-found cheapies. There was no suggestion that piracy might be a blight on the local industry or a criminal embarrassment. There were numerous references to the 'whopping' prices charged for the legitimate product and there were also references to the 'lofty price tags' attached to the real thing. When he was assured by a local shopper that the stuff works, Mr Neumann said: 'That's enough recommendation for me.' Wired might like to think of itself as a counter-culture magazine. But this article reads like some kind of shoppers guide to destroying your country's software industry, complete with addresses of where to buy pirated material. In between lunches at the super-expensive Grand Hyatt Hotel in Hong Kong, and the top of the line Shangri-La in Shenzhen, Mr Neumann discusses the wherefores of ripping off the US software industry. Obviously unimpressed by what he describes as the Microsoft-led Business Software Alliances (BSA), which seemed to provide much of the detail as to how pirated software might be found, the reader gets the impression that the author looks at each of these little shoebox-sized stores as the product of entrepreneurialism. Though the BSA describes in the article software piracy as a 'regional criminal enterprise' with 'octopus-like tentacles', the author points out that the sentiment of buyers, sellers and just about everybody else is substantially different. But the sad fact is that software piracy is very much an organised crime. The volume of pirated CD-ROM's being produced and distributed does not get disseminated through some kind of can-do attitude of young entrepreneurs. It is big business, and the death-threats against several BSA investigators and lawyers (in this case in Indonesia) do nothing for the pirates' public relations. Apart from lost revenue worldwide these operations hurt US software developers and they destroy any hope Asian countries have in fostering domestic software industries. Even China is slowly, but quite realistically, cottoning on to this fact. For a country that possesses immense software development talent, how many genuine entrepreneurs are going to get into the software business. What would be the incentive to create software in the local language while organised crime mercilessly steals intellectual property? Local software development in China is stagnant as a direct result of piracy. And who can blame local developers, frustrating for them as it might be. For a magazine like Wired to provide a shoppers-guide to stolen intellectual property is itself bordering on a criminal act. It is short-sighted, to say the least. It is difficult to work out what possible motive there might be in promoting the interests of internationally organised criminal syndicates. Even less apparent is the motivation for working against the American software industry, where the US has a clear lead on its global competitors. It is difficult to understand what motivations lay behind A. Lin Neumann's article. The postscript says he was 'a foreign correspondent in Asia', though no further details were given.