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Survey finds pirates rule online auctions

Online auctions have become a virtual pirates' lair, a survey planned for release tomorrow from the Software and Information Industry Association says.

Online auctions have become a virtual pirates' lair, a new survey indicates.

In a study it will release tomorrow, the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) found that more than 90 percent of the software auctions it surveyed were offering pirated products. The trade group surveyed more than 1,500 software auctions on the leading auction sites: eBay, Yahoo, Amazon.com and FairMarket auction network member Excite@Home.

"The percentage (of pirated software auctions) was far higher than what we expected it to be," said Peter Beruk, SIIA's vice president in charge of anti-piracy programs. "This is nothing more than a pirate's haven at this point."

But representatives for eBay said the top auction site is already working with software companies and other owners of intellectual property to halt the sale of pirated items.

"If any of these folks at SIIA had given us a call, we would have removed the items (they found)," eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said.

The study comes two weeks after Sega, Nintendo and Electronic Arts sued Yahoo over the alleged sale of pirated goods on its auction and store sites. The video game manufacturers charged that Yahoo refused to take down the illegal auctions and benefited from them by selling ads on the auction pages.

Representatives for Yahoo and Excite@Home were not available for comment.

SIIA conducted its study from March 31 to April 3. The trade group, which represents about 1,100 software and a broad range of other companies, looked at auctions involving Adobe, Corel, FileMaker and Macromedia software. Although the survey focused on those publishers, the SIIA believes the results are representative of software piracy as a whole.

Despite the general criticism of online auctions, the trade group praised Amazon for the efforts it has taken to crack down on software piracy. Unlike other online auction companies, Amazon actively monitors its auctions for infringing software. The company usually removes such items within 24 hours of their being listed, said Tom Holland, Amazon's director of fraud detection and prevention.

In the SIIA report, software is considered pirated if it is stored on a recordable CD or if it is a copy distributed for academic purposes.

Of the more than 1,300 pirated items SIIA found in its survey, only one came from Amazon. "SIIA considers this clear evidence that a proactive approach is an effective way to respect copyright holders and to protect buyers," the organization said in a statement.

In contrast to Amazon, SIIA found 544 auctions involving pirated software on eBay, 343 on Excite@Home and 478 on Yahoo.

Despite the illegal software found by SIIA on eBay, Pursglove said the company's anti-piracy program was one of the best in the industry. San Jose, Calif.-based eBay has worked with more than 800 intellectual property rights holders to monitor the sales of pirated goods. Those rights holders can contact eBay directly to ask them to remove items.

Pursglove said that the property rights holders themselves often have a better idea than eBay of what constitutes infringement.

"We recognize that the software industry does indeed have a very big concern about the piracy issue," eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said. "We have a really solid track record of cooperating with companies and law enforcement."

SIIA's Beruk said the piracy being conducted via online auctions was unacceptable and could lead to more lawsuits similar to the one filed against Yahoo.

"The industry can't sit back and watch this much theft going on without doing something about it," Beruk said.

The report is the second such study by the SIIA. In a study last August, the organization found that some 60 percent of the software auctions it surveyed involved pirated products.

The results of the studies cannot be directly compared because they looked at different auction sites and different software products on them.