The company is using software that searches the Internet nonstop for words such as "warez," a term used to describe illegally copied software, and "crackz," which refers to programs that enable the circumvention of copy protection that is built into digital content such as games.
Microsoft's efforts have led to the removal of more than 7,500 illegal postings that resided on servers in 33 countries. The company's anti-piracy campaign, coordinated with the aid of the trade group Business Software Alliance, has also led to 64 criminal raids and 17 civil lawsuits in 15 countries. In the U.S. alone, more than 3,000 online auctions were taken down in July.
The Web-crawler software checks Web and auction sites, download or FTP (file transfer protocol) sites, newsgroups, chat areas, classified ads and peer-to-peer networks, according to Tim Cranton, a corporate attorney at Microsoft. Microsoft buys a copy of the suspect product, and if the software proves to be counterfeit, notifies the vendor that it will take action.
The Web-crawler software significantly speeds the process that used to be done manually. "We were able to send 686 takedown notices [to Internet service providers] today, where that used to take us like a month to do," Cranton says.
Microsoft worked with an outside vendor to create the program and is licensing it from them. "We are not identifying the company at their request and to protect the security of the server itself," Cranton says.
Microsoft first used the software to detect pirated Windows 2000 in November and expanded it to search for all counterfeit Windows software in February, when Windows 2000 was launched. The software can also be used to search for illegal distribution of other copyrighted content such as music and movies, and it is being developed to cover all of the major languages.