Software that is illegally copied and distributed is declining as a worldwide problem for the computer industry but remains a serious issue in many countries, according to the latest survey by the Software & Information Industry Association.

In 1998, the latest year for which complete figures are available, 38 percent of the business software applications loaded onto PCs worldwide was pirated, at an estimated revenue loss of $11 billion. It was the first time the piracy rate had dropped below 40 percent; it had been 49 percent as recently as 1994.

The software association said the decline in piracy is the result of several factors, including high-profile legal proceedings against companies using illegal software, falling prices for many software applications and educational campaigns about intellectual property rights.

Eastern Europe has the highest piracy rate of any region in the world, followed by the Middle East and Latin America. The United States had a rate of 25 percent in 1998--the lowest pace in the world--but the software group said that still translated into a $2.9 billion loss for the industry.

JOLLY ROGERS IN SOFTWARE

These are the countries where the most software piracy takes place:

Percentage of business software applications loaded onto PCs in 1998 that were pirated

Vietnam: 97%

China: 95

Oman: 93

Lebanon: 93

C.I.S.*: 93

Russia: 92

Indonesia: 92

Bulgaria: 90

Bahrain: 89

Kuwait: 88

*Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union) not including Russia

SOURCE: 1999 Global Software Piracy Report, Software & Infomation Industry Association