Bhutan has emerged as one of the few countries to implement a National Digital Identity, a gesture from the throne—radical digital transformation, coinciding with the Twelfth Royal Wedding Anniversary yesterday. However, the recent discussions on Audit Reports during the parliamentary joint sitting this week have uncovered the continued use of pirated software and the utilization of assembled or non-authentic hardware, including among the members of parliament.

Software piracy is an “unauthorized copying, distribution, or use of copyrighted software without permission from the creator/publisher. Forms of piracy include making copies for others, downloading cracked software, and improperly using a single license on multiple devices.”

Article 7, Section 13 of the Constitution of Bhutan grants authors and creators intellectual property rights to their original scientific, literary, and artistic works. Specifically, it states that every person in Bhutan has the right to material interests resulting from any scientific, literary, or artistic production they authored or created.

The Copyright Act of Bhutan 2001 explicitly recognizes computer programs as artistic and literary works under Section 5 of the Act. Section 5 categorizes computer programs as original intellectual creations in the literary and artistic domain along with other works such as books, pamphlets, and articles.

Violation of copyright is both a civil wrong and a criminal offense in Bhutan. Further, Sections 474 and 475 of the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 make it an offense to unlawfully possess any copied, reproduced, or duplicated computer data that was procured by someone else with the intent to benefit the possessor or another person rather than the actual owner.

Bhutan became a party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 2005 by accession. The signatory states to the agreement commit to national treatment, meaning we agree to give foreign works the same protection as works originating in our own country. Bhutan is on the path to joining the WTO. TRIPS is an important treaty under the WTO. The TRIPS Agreement represented a major expansion in the scope of copyright protection for computer software. TRIPS brought software under the purview of the Berne Convention by defining it as a literary work. Copyright Act of Bhutan 2001 provides copyright protections regardless of an author’s nationality or residence. The Act’s coverage extends to any works that deserve protection in Bhutan under international conventions or agreements that the country has signed. Article 10, Section 25 of our Constitution recognizes that any international conventions, covenants, treaties, protocols, or agreements are considered national law once ratified by the Parliament.

Besides infringing on numerous Intellectual Property laws both at home and abroad, the use of pirated software by state agencies poses significant cybersecurity risks, according to experts. Experts warn that “pirated cybersecurity software threatens business security and reputation. Without support from the software provider, issues cannot be resolved, leaving businesses vulnerable to cyberattacks. Pirated software often contains malware, which can lead to data breaches, financial loss, and reputational damage. The financial impact of a cyberattack using pirated software can be devastating for a business. Costs from system repairs, data recovery, and customer compensation can add up quickly.”

To safeguard national security and integrity, the government must swiftly act to eliminate non-genuine hardware and software in use. His Majesty has consistently underscored integrity as the cornerstone of the country. The use of pirated software is against the visions of His Majesty and against “Bhutan Believe”.


Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.