Microsoft loads up for pirate raids

A new search engine has helped the software giant begin actions against 7,500 listings for allegedly pirated products in 33 countries.

Microsoft Corp. said it has stepped up its crackdown on software piracy in recent months and announced actions against 7,500 Internet listings for allegedly pirated products in 33 countries.

The crackdown, aided by a new Web search engine that looks for offers to sell counterfeit or illegally copied software, includes 17 civil lawsuits filed in 15 countries and 64 raids against suspected pirates. Six suits were filed in the U.S. this week. Tim Cranton, a Microsoft Corp. (msft) lawyer who specializes in the area, said the actions represent the company's biggest, global antipiracy campaign to date.

Microsoft said it was responding to a surge in illegal activity on the Web, which continues to present software pirates with new ways to distribute unauthorized copies. "What we're seeing is that counterfeiters are more effective in distributing their software globally and anonymously using the Internet," Cranton said.

The new piracy tools range from the sort of file-sharing technology used by the Napster Inc. ( music service to Web auctions, where Microsoft found that many people have been selling bogus software to the highest bidder. Some consumers received counterfeit software, while others received nothing at all, the Redmond, Wash., company said.

In one such case, Microsoft targeted a Brooklyn, N.Y., company called Copy USA Technologies that Microsoft says was running online auctions for its products such as Windows 2000 Professional and Office 2000 Premium, according to a lawsuit Microsoft filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. The suit names as defendants Copy USA and its owner, whom Microsoft hasn't yet identified. There is no phone listing in Brooklyn for Copy USA.

In March, a Microsoft investigator posted the winning bid for three Copy USA auctions, the suit said, and then sent a money order to the company as payment. He then received three homemade compilations of Microsoft products on CD-ROM disks, Microsoft said. At least 425 similar Copy USA postings have been removed by the auction site, run by Yahoo! Inc., Microsoft said, adding that it is working with Yahoo to try to stop piracy.

Another incident, settled out of court, involved an unidentified 17-year-old student from the Chicago area who the company said would go to auction sites and watch people bid on Microsoft products. Then, "he would e-mail them and say, 'I've got a really cheap version of Windows if you want,' " Cranton said.

Microsoft said it talked to the student's parents to alert them of their son's activities. The family also made a charitable donation to a local community organization. "Our primary goal here is to get people to stop doing this," Cranton said.

In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the company said it has taken action in 2,274 instances of suspected piracy, sending notices to Web-site owners asking them to remove products listed for sale. It has filed four lawsuits and taken part in 56 raids with law-enforcement officials in that region; in Croatia alone, police in late March simultaneously raided the premises of 52 alleged pirates.

The company found that about 90% of Microsoft products listed on auction sites in the Europe-Mideast-Africa region were illegal copies, said Sharon Golec-Keniger, another Microsoft lawyer. The company says more than 132 auctions offering suspected counterfeit Windows 2000 software CD-ROMS were located on the German site of eBay Inc. alone in the days prior to the official launch of the operating system. EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said it has worked closely with Microsoft for the past two years to combat piracy through an eBay program called Vero.

A key tool in Microsoft's efforts has been a new search engine developed by a company that trolls the Web around the clock, looking for suspect site names and other buzz words indicating piracy.

Separately, Microsoft said it was slashing the price for upgrades to its newest consumer operating system, Windows Me, which will hit stores Sept. 14. The special promotion, which runs through Jan. 15, allows customers to upgrade to the new system from Windows 98 or Windows 98 Second Edition for $59.95, instead of the normal upgrade price of $89.95. A new copy of the software still costs $209.

-- Kevin Delaney in Paris contributed to this article.


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