Software piracy is a curse, not only because morally software should not be stolen, but also because of the damage it does to the global software industry. In 2003, the global software industry made $51 billion. That's no small number, but do you know how much was stolen from the software industry through the pirating of products? The answer is $29 billion - a whacking share of the market.

What a shame that this figure of $29 billion is contrived. It was concocted by Business Software Alliance (BSA), a non-profit organization established in 1998 by companies like Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Symantec, and others. BSA commissioned a study on the subject from IDC, a market research organization.

In an interview in the New York Times, John Gantz, the head of research at IDC, who headed the study, said he did not understand why BSA had claimed that every pirate program installed represents lost income for the software companies. In reality, only 10 percent of pirated software are programs that someone loses money over. Why?

Here's just one explanation. In developing countries, not only can consumers not afford to buy software at full price, they would not buy these programs even if every one-eyed pirate in the world disappeared. Gantz stressed this to BSA, but they still quoted the sum of $29 billion as income they were being denied. A senior official at BSA responded to Gantz by saying that even if the amount is a little less than $29 billion, it was still a major problem.

About a year and a half ago, IDC stated in a study for BSA that if software piracy were reduced in Israel by 2.5 percent in the following four years, 2,500 new jobs would be created. Propaganda disguised as science, said senior research scientists, who dismissed the claim that piracy could be isolated as a statistical variable and dubbed pivotal in the technical growth sector.

But forget about the software market for a moment. Piracy in films really is a curse - not only because morally speaking films should not be stolen, but because of the huge damage it does to the global film industry. Here are some numbers. A survey published this month by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) concluded that one out of every four web surfers around the globe downloads a movie from the internet, and 17 percent of downloaders reported that they went to the movies less often.

Now back from the world of fantasy. Online Testing Exchange (OTX) the market research firm that ran the study for the MPAA - and almost all of whose senior staff are connected to the motion picture industry - said it sampled 3,600 people in 8 states, which means about 450 people per state.

The company noted that it was careful to include at least 100 respondents in each state that admitted to downloading movies. One hundred out of 450. How very interesting that they were able to conclude that one out of every four web surfers downloads movies. OTX did not ask what movies the surfers downloaded - they could be home movies - and if they downloaded whole movies, or just promos. As if that was not enough, the company checked only wide-band surfers, who certainly do not represent all web surfers.

The MPAA's terrifying finding, as noted, was that 17 percent of those who download movies from the web go less often to the movies than they once did. But there is no study anywhere that relates to the other 83 percent. Could it be possible most of them said they go to the movies as often as they always have? Is is possible that some responded that downloading a film from the web and watching it on a poor little 17-inch monitor with lousy speakers actually spurred them into going to a movie theater to see the film properly?

We cannot know. The hysterical studies released on a regular basis by organizations like MPAA, BSA, and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) bring a foreboding of the end of human culture. They do it by playing with figures they obtain.

Yes. Piracy is disturbing. Yes, it hurts the artists, the creators, the companies that want to make a living and have to watch the fruits of their labors taken from them with no recompense. But it is not clear why various associations and organizations publish groundless data with a flimsy connection to reality at best. Even more worrisome is the fact that in many countries, problematic and aggressive laws are pushed through to address that same unreliable data and fight a practice whose true dimensions are different from and concealed from the "official" ones.