Microsoft steps up piracy fight

Microsoft Corp. said this month that it has joined with law enforcement and several software companies to fight software piracy and on-line fraud around the world.

In a statement, the company said that it has assisted enforcement agencies that have taken action against organized criminal counterfeiters in 22 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Colombia and Germany.

In addition, Microsoft has sought the immediate removal of alleged counterfeit and illegal software offerings from Internet sites and auctions, bringing the number of takedowns to more than 47,000 over the past six months and 88,000 in the past two years, according to the statement.

Launched six months ago, Microsoft’s Internet Scanning Tool, which runs around the clock to identify illegal on-line offerings, has allowed Microsoft to find Web pirates faster than was previously possible, the company said.

“The explosive growth of Internet users has spawned an equally explosive growth of Internet abusers,” said John Varrone, assistant commissioner in the office of investigations at the U.S. Customs Service, in the statement. “Cybersavvy criminals increasingly use the speed and anonymity of the Internet to sell and distribute counterfeit software, music and videos worldwide. The potential revenue losses to legitimate businesses are enormous.”

According to Microsoft, nearly 5 million units of the company’s software and hardware were seized worldwide.

“Microsoft has put significant resources behind its global anti-counterfeiting efforts,” Tim Cranton, Internet anti-piracy attorney for Microsoft, said in the statement. “We’re also working cooperatively with law enforcement agencies, industry partners and business organizations to help protect consumers and bring counterfeiters to justice.”

Since January 2000, 73 civil cases involving Internet piracy were settled in North America. Microsoft said it was awarded US$17.7 million in settlements from those cases.

Recently, Microsoft said it filed five Internet piracy civil cases against companies in the U.S., including: Bi-Rite Computers in Riverside, Calif., for the alleged distribution of counterfeit Microsoft Office 2000 Professional, Office 97 Professional and Windows NT Server; and in Los Angeles, for allegedly distributing counterfeit Office 2000 Professional and Office 2000 Premium.

Some recent criminal cases include an investigation in China. Chinese officials raided a factory in Shenzhen and seized 2,600 pieces of high-quality counterfeit software, together with loose counterfeit manuals and related documentation. In a separate raid of a Shenzhen warehouse, officials seized more than 5,000 counterfeit Microsoft keyboards.