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Everyone wants 'free' Windows...

Microsoft is the main target as entertainment media and software piracy tops $90 million worldwide, according to a consultancy.

Software ranks among the most popular categories of counterfeited goods, and the Internet is only contributing to the rise in intellectual property violations, according to research by a piracy-prevention consultancy.

During the month of June, $91 million worth of entertainment media and software was pirated worldwide, up 13 per cent from December 2004, according to research from Canada's Gieschen Consultancy.

That's second only to counterfeited financial instruments--currency, checks, credit cards, treasury bonds and money orders--which had a total value of $509 million in June.

Microsoft earned the dubious honor of becoming the top IT brand to be pirated. Among all categories of pirated brands, Microsoft came in second behind Nike. The rest of the names in the top 10 were retail fashion brands such as Adidas and Prada.

Microsoft has just announced a plan to crack down on Windows piracy by forbidding users to download updates unless they can prove their copy is legitimate.

The Internet, meanwhile, is only exacerbating the piracy problem, with 13 percent of counterfeiters using spam, online auctions, retail Web sites and other Internet tools to sell or distribute their wares, Gieschen said.

File-sharing technologies such as BitTorrent also play a "significant" role in the piracy of software, music, films and books, according to the consultancy.

While counterfeit software is on the rise, pirating of computer hardware has declined in the past six months, said Gieschen. In December 2004, for example, it reported $11.4 million worth of counterfeit computer equipment and supplies, while in June there were only two hardware-theft incidents, both with no dollar value.

The U.S. leads the world in documented intellectual property theft violations with $87 million in seizures and losses over the past month, followed by South Korea with a comparatively low $8 million in seizures and losses. The U.K. ranks fifth with $3 million worth of IP theft.

Sylvia Carr of Silicon.com reported from London.