Redmond proposes piracy amnesty

Microsoft has offered to exchange people's counterfeit copies of Windows XP for the real thing in an attempt to reduce piracy

Microsoft has announced what it hopes will be a new attack on piracy -- the Redmond-based giant has decided to give away free software to those who bought machines with fake copies pre-installed.

Microsoft will be offering anyone who's "unsure" about whether they've got dodgy software the chance to have it checked out by Microsoft, with the promise that if it does turn out to be counterfeit, they'll replace it.

The deal only covers Windows XP and only five copies per person can be swapped. It's all free, bar the initial postage and packing. The offer only applies to pre-installed home or professional Windows XP bought before 1 November.

Alex Hilton, Microsoft's licence compliance manager, said the bulk of piracy seen by Microsoft was in the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) sector.

"Some examples we're seeing from the Far East and eastern Europe... are very high quality", Hilton said, and are aimed at the high-end user. "That's the sector we're trying to address."

Hilton also said that anyone found with the pirate programme won't suffer legal repercussions but their suppliers might. "Our goal is not to prosecute the individual, our goal is to get to the source," he said, adding that a decision on prosecution would be made on a case by case basis.

While Microsoft is hoping to get some idea of the extent of piracy in the UK with the programme, it seems consumers' might be even more interested.

When Redmond launched its Windows Genuine Advantage program to let its customers check if they'd bought genuine software, it thought only 20,000 people would take it up on its offer. After a month, more that 800,000 had.

To get a replacement copy of Windows XP, PC users will need to send off their receipt and complete a witness statement, revealing where they bought their knock-off software. More information can be found here.

Around 29 per cent of software applications in use in the UK are thought to be pirated, according to analyst group IDC.

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