Microsoft takes legal moves against auction pirates

Microsoft said it is taking legal action against 55 resellers whom the company says sold pirated software on auction sites such as eBay

Microsoft is preparing 55 legal actions worldwide against sellers on auction sites who are hawking illegal copies of the company's software, the company said.

The actions are a mix of lawsuits and criminal complaints, said Jean-Christophe Le Toquin, a Microsoft attorney for Europe, the Middle East and Africa region. Microsoft has or will file 34 actions in Europe including Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, the U.K. and the Netherlands.

The company will seek prison terms for high-volume sellers and fines for less flagrant violations, Le Toquin said.

Microsoft has stepped up its anti-piracy campaign through legal suits. The company also sent out a program, Windows Genuine Advantage, to Windows computers that verifies whether the OS is a genuine, licensed copy.

Microsoft said it has received tips from consumers who have been notified that their OS is not legitimate, and those customers have informed the company where they bought the software. In the U.K., teams have visited software resellers to remind them of the legal consequences of piracy.

The new legal measures could take one to two years to wind through courts, depending on how quickly local police cooperate, Le Toquin said. Microsoft investigators purchased most of the fraudulent software through the eBay Inc. auction site, which hosts an estimated 50,000 pieces of pirated Microsoft software a year, he said.

Some fakes are of such high-quality that the compact discs and packaging are sent to a special Microsoft lab in Ireland for confirmation, Le Toquin said. Sellers draw buyers with prices well below market.

"It can be from a few euros to half the price," Le Toquin said.

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Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service

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