Half the software installed in Hong Kong personal computers in 2004 was pirated, according to a study released yesterday that ranks the city among the worst culprits in the region. New Zealand, Japan and Australia had the lowest software piracy rates of 23 per cent, 28 per cent and 32 per cent respectively. Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea also scored lower than Hong Kong's 52 per cent. Only less-developed nations like the mainland, India and the Philippines fared worse than Hong Kong. The study was commissioned by the Business Software Alliance, a Singapore-based software industry group that includes among its members international software providers such as Adobe, Apple, Dell, Microsoft and IBM. Revealing the findings, vice-president Jeffrey Hardee said the results showed Hong Kong had a long way to go in controlling piracy. 'The piracy rate of Hong Kong is just below the average for the whole region [53 per cent],' he said. 'Given the level of development in Hong Kong, we believe its rate could be lowered.' Mr Hardee said effective protection of intellectual property rights was vital to Hong Kong's long-term economic development. 'The study found that a 10 percentage point reduction in the current piracy rate over four years would increase the size of Hong Kong's IT sector by over US$1 billion, add 4,600 jobs and increase industry revenue by US$576 million. 'This would in turn generate an additional US$149 million in new tax revenues.' Mr Hardee urged local authorities to pay more attention to curbing corporate software piracy and internet piracy. The group has joined the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department and six other copyright associations in renewing the Anti-Piracy Reward Scheme. The scheme, launched in 1998, offers cash to informants who submit information about certain forms of piracy, such as the manufacturing, storage and sales of pirated discs as well as the uploading of pirated copies of intellectually protected products for downloading online. According to customs figures, investigations conducted to follow up information received through the reward scheme since its inception have yielded a total of 56 cases, with 142 people being arrested and more than 2 million pirated discs seized. Some $1.76 million was paid out as rewards. Lui Kin-hung, senior superintendent of the department's Intellectual Property Investigation Bureau, said the major change in the relaunched scheme was a reduction in the minimum number of pirated discs that need to be seized at border checkpoints from 2,000 to 300 to qualify for the rewards.