US Best Buy ‘Geeks’ directed to ‘stop pirating’

A U.S. federal judge has ordered Minneapolis–based electronics retailer Best Buy Co., and its computer support subsidiary Geek Squad to “immediately stop pirating and using” unlicensed versions of a copyrighted system repair software.The infringement could not be discounted as the action of a few rogue employees.Winternals SoftwareText

The temporary restraining order (TRO) against Best Buy and the Geek Squad, stemmed from a law suit filed April 11 by Winternals Software, a systems recovery and data protection firm in Austin, Texas.

In documents filed before the court, Winternals alleged that in a series of sting operations across the U.S., it caught Geek Squad personnel “red-handed” using pirated copies of its software including the ERD Commander 2005. This usage, alleged Winternals, infringed its copyrights.

ERD Commander 2005 boots a “dead’ computer into a Windows-like, point and click environment for rapid system recovery. It helps users recover deleted data, reset passwords, copy files to and from unbootable systems; edit registry and access restore point.

Best Buy describes the Geek Squad as an “elite tactical unit of highly trained agents” who focus solely on computer and network support. The electronics retailer has an estimated 12,000 “agents” in the U.S.

Best Buy, a Fortune 100 company, reported earnings of US$644 million as of February this year. There are 733 Best Buy store in the U.S. and 33 in Canada. Future Shop, an electronics retailer and Best Buy affiliate, has 119 stores in Canada. The Geek Squad has 13 stand alone locations in the U.S. and four in Canada.

IT World Canada contacted Best Buy, but as of press time the company was not available for comment, nor has it issued any statement about the law suit.

Winternals said they have “no control” over where pirated copies of their software could turn up.

Judge Sam Parks of the U.S. District Court in Austin gave Best Buy until May 1, to deliver to the Court for confiscation all unlicensed copies of Winternal’s software in its possession.

Best Buy initially contacted Winternals sometime in October of 2005 and expressed interest in securing a license to use its software, according to David Weaver, lawyer for the plaintiff.

He said Winternals offered Best Buy a US$7million-licensing deal that would cover the 12,000-strong Geek Squad force. The following month, he said, test trials began with Geek Squad “agents” using special test versions of the software.

The trials were to end December 16 last year, but were extended until February 1 this year – after which the test software was supposed to be rendered inoperable.

“We got favourable reviews about our product from the Geek Squad. We were surprised when Best Buy indicated, in February, that they were no longer interested in the software,” Weaver said, adding that Winternals also received reports that “agents” were using their software well after the test period.

According to Weaver, Winternals set-up a series of sting operations and on five out of 12 occasions the “agents” called to service a malfunctioning computer “were observed” to have used ERD Commander 2005. “They were using a version that had its copyright protection features defeated.”

He said in one instance, an “agent” was video-taped booting up a pirated Winternals software disk and then charging $214.34 for his services.

In its complaint, Winternal said the incidents occurred in Austin, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Vista, Mission Viejo and Petaluma all in California.

Given its widespread and geographically diverse nature “the infringement could not be discounted as the results of the action of a few rogue employees,” the Winternals complaint stated.

Weaver said the software retails at around US$1,200 per copy and damages will be sought based on how many pirated copies are found.

Winternal said it sustained loses not only from the use of pirated software “but also the ability to control the use and dissemination of the product extended to countless unknown third parties.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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