Stolen 'Halo 2' hits pirate sites

Microsoft vows to punish whoever stole the hotly anticipated Xbox game, due for release next month.

Microsoft threatened severe penalties Thursday for those who circulate a stolen copy of "Halo 2," the hotly anticipated Xbox game set to go on sale next month.

Microsoft representatives confirmed that a pirated copy of "Halo 2"--in the French language and the PAL video format used by European television sets--began circulating on the Internet late Wednesday via newsgroups and "warez" sites for swapping pirated software.

"We consider downloading this code, or making it available for others to download, as theft," the company said in a statement. "We are currently investigating the source of this leak with the appropriate authorities. Microsoft takes the integrity of its intellectual property extremely seriously, and we are aggressively pursuing the source of this illegal act."

The original "Halo"--created by Microsoft acquisition Bungie Studios--has been by far the biggest-selling title for the company's Xbox video game console. The sequel to the shooting game is one of the most anticipated game releases of the year and is expected to help cement customer loyalty to the Xbox as Microsoft prepares a new version of the game machine.

Microsoft announced earlier this week that "Halo 2" had "gone gold," meaning the final code was ready to ship to disc manufacturers in advance of the game's scheduled .

Microsoft representatives said the emergence of a pirated copy would not change the release date.

Media giant Vivendi Universal was forced to delay release of its highly anticipated PC game "Half-Life 2" last year, after the source code was stolen.

The "Halo 2" theft--which likely occurred at the European manufacturing plant used to press game discs--is considered far less serious, as security systems built into the Xbox prevent loading of unauthorized software. Pirates would need to have an Xbox outfitted with a grey-market "mod chip" to load a copy of the stolen game.

A Microsoft representative urged anyone with information on the source of the pirated game to contact the company's antipiracy division at 800-RULEGIT or

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