Microsoft targets auctioneers of pirated software

Software giant plans to file more than 50 lawsuits worldwide against online merchants who allegedly peddle counterfeit software.

Joris Evers Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Joris Evers covers security.
Joris Evers
2 min read
Microsoft plans to file more than 50 lawsuits worldwide against online merchants who allegedly peddle counterfeit software on popular auction sites, the software giant said Monday.

The actions include 15 lawsuits in the U.S., 10 in Germany, 10 in the Netherlands, and five each in France and the United Kingdom, Microsoft said. Additional cases are being filed in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Korea and Poland, the company said.

"This is a worldwide enforcement against sellers of counterfeit software on online auction sites," said Matt Lundy, a senior attorney at Microsoft. "We're finding more and more that auction sites are becoming a popular way for counterfeiters to distribute counterfeit software to consumers."

The lawsuits are part of Microsoft's continued crackdown on software piracy, which the company acknowledges cuts into its earnings. According to the Business Software Alliance, about a third of all the software installed on personal computers worldwide in 2005 was pirated, a multibillion-dollar loss for the software industry.

"Piracy is a huge problem worldwide," Lundy said. "The goal of our enforcement is to target enterprises that traffic counterfeit software." Microsoft has filed similar suits in the past. Typically these cases end in a settlement that precludes the defendants from selling counterfeit software, he said.

The new cases are against sellers who allegedly misused their eBay or other auction-site accounts to sell counterfeit software to consumers and businesses. Microsoft and eBay together intervene in about 50,000 software auctions a year that are deemed to be infringing copyright, Microsoft said.

Many of the alleged infringing sellers were identified through tips submitted by consumers through Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage, or WGA, program, the company said. WGA requires people to validate their version of Windows as properly licensed before allowing access to additional Microsoft software downloads.

In tests conducted by Microsoft of 115 software products bought on eBay, more than half were found to be counterfeit or had been tampered with. The chances of purchasing genuine, legally licensed Microsoft software on eBay is less than 50 percent, the company said.

In its analysis of counterfeit software, Microsoft found that software pirates actually meddle with the product and, in some cases, add malicious code, Lundy said. "(The practice) leaves the door open for security issues such as identity theft," he said.

More than 500 million unique PC users have run the WGA program since July 2005. Of those, 21 percent were found to be running illegitimate versions of Windows. Microsoft will help people who unknowingly acquired pirated software with free or discounted genuine software.