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Raid uncovers counterfeit Office 97 software

Software pirates in Europe have a bum holiday season when their plans to sell 55,000 counterfeit Microsoft Office 97 CD-ROMS are crushed during a raid.

Software pirates in Europe had a bum holiday season when their plans to sell 55,000 counterfeit Microsoft Office 97 CD-ROMS were crushed during a raid in Berkshire, England, the software giant said today.

Had the software been genuine, it would have had a total street value of approximately $33 million. The company is calling the raid the largest haul of counterfeit Office 97 software in the United Kingdom.

Sting operations, lawsuits, and better packaging appear to be putting a dent into piracy. The Business Software Alliance, (BSA) the software industry's piracy watchdog body, announced today at a press conference in Copenhagen, that it had shut down the largest software counterfeit and Internet sales operation that is has found to date in the European Union. This operation, based in Denmark, had produced 125,000 CD-ROMs containing $237 million worth of several BSA members' software.

During the past four months, Microsoft, a BSA member, has recovered approximately $115.5 million in counterfeit software in the United Kingdom. The latest recovery of software is believed to be a portion of the 100,000 counterfeit copies of Microsoft Office 97 that Microsoft warned United Kingdom customers and retailers about before the holidays.

Counterfeit products often lack key elements, such as user manuals and product identifications, Certificates of Authenticity, or software code. Microsoft further cautions that counterfeit software has the potential to carry harmful viruses.

"If this software had reached the market, it could have damaged customers and seriously eroded sales of legitimate distributors and retailers," Mark Lange, corporate attorney for Microsoft, said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, large quantities of this counterfeit product may still be on the market, and there is widespread illegal distribution of software on the Internet and in the channel. To avoid being duped, we recommend that our customers acquire software from reputable outlets and become familiar with the warning signs that can help them identify counterfeit or illegal software."

Telltale signs of fraud
The bogus CDs in the most recent raid were packaged in jewel cases without the necessary End User License Agreement and Certificate of Authenticity. Packages of as many as 40 of these jewel cases were allegedly being sold to resellers inside brown boxes falsely stamped with "Rejected by EOC" stickers.

Part of the scam was to convince customers that the CDs were genuine Microsoft products that were rejected for quality reasons by the European Operations Center, the operations division of Microsoft that manages the distribution of retail software throughout Europe.

Customers should also look for warning signs of pirated software, such as "too good to be true" prices, said Microsoft. These may indicate counterfeit products or products that have been misdirected, such as products authorized for distribution only to educational institutions but offered to the general public.

Other warning signs are back up CDs with handwritten labels, components that appear to be inferior quality, manuals that appear to be photocopied or are of inferior quality, or products marked with a phrase, such as "For distribution with a new PC only," or "Special CD for licensed customers only."

Lawsuits and packages deter
Along with assisting local authorities in cracking down on software piracy, Microsoft is including a number of antipiracy features within products.

As reported earlier, with the release of Microsoft Office 2000, Microsoft is expanding its antisoftware piracy program to several countries to help reduce theft and simplify registration of the popular desktop productivity suite.

Microsoft will include the Registration Wizard in Office 2000, a new technology to discourage piracy.

The Registration Wizard makes registration a part of installing the product and helps prevent illegal installations. Customers can use the product 50 times before registration is required.

Microsoft has recently been stepping up efforts against software piracy in the court room as well. This year, the company has sued many computer resellers across the country for allegedly selling pirated versions of the Windows 95 operating system and Office 97 Professional software, among other products.

Last year, software piracy around the world totaled $11.4 billion, with Asia contributing $3.9 billion in sales of illegal software, according to the BSA.