Microsoft claims success against unlicensed software

Software giant has doubled the average settlement from rogue traders of counterfeit and unlicensed software, but is steeled for an assault once Vista ships

Microsoft says it is forcing more rogue dealers and traders to pay up for selling or handling counterfeit and unlicensed software and has doubled the amount of money it recovers from each one. But the company is also steeling itself for a renewed barrage of unlicenced XP software in the wake of the Vista launch later this year.

On Thursday, Microsoft's UK anti-piracy unit announced that its "Keep IT Real" and "Feet on the Street" initiatives were delivering results. Since ''Keep IT Real" was launched in February 2006, the Windows XP piracy rate in the UK has dropped by over 4 percentage points, according to Michala Alexander, Microsoft’s head of anti-piracy in the UK.

"Overall the rate has been reduced by 4.3 percent to 12.4 percent in just eight months," she said. Microsoft is now just 0.7 percent away from reaching the three year "Keep IT Real" target to bring the rate to 11.7 percent, she said.

'Keep IT Real" is Microsoft's initiative to raise awareness among business and the public of the work Microsoft [is doing] this year to combat software piracy."

"Feet on the Street" is a strategy where Microsoft looks for irregular use of software and licensing patterns by large users, dealers and distributors. This can lead to a follow-up talk with them about their use of Microsoft software and whether they are using it according to the licensing conditions.

According to Alexander, Microsoft has so far unearthed some 13 illegal users under the initiatives involving more than 5,000 units of counterfeit or unlicensed software. In all cases, Microsoft had warned the customers that they were, perhaps unknowingly, using counterfeit or unlicensed Microsoft software. "These are people who just refused to co-operate with us," she said.

Through "Feet on the Street", Microsoft also unearthed seven illegal traders in Microsoft software. "What we are finding is that we are seeing fewer illegal traders but the average size of catch is bigger," Alexander said. "The amount of illegal software we are finding has doubled, so we are talking about fewer, more sophisticated incidents."

Alexander would not go into detail on the customers involved or name them. Microsoft is still attempting to persuade many of them to make their software legal. She did say that some were surprising. "We gave one company that had unknowingly bought counterfeit software and had paid over the list price for it," she said.

But while Alexander was able to talk about success with cutting down on rogue traders she admitted that the pending launch of Vista posed problems for her unit, as traders will no longer be able to sell licensed copies of XP.

"We expect a flood of counterfeit XP software to come on the market then," she said. "That's my problem for the next eight months."

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