Exclusive: Microsoft accused of apathy over piracy

A Microsoft reseller has accused the software titan of apathy and neglect in dealing with software piracy and the so called ‘grey market'.

Gerard Hough, MD of MultiMedia Networks Ltd., a reseller based in Essex, was accused of "ripping off" one of his regular customers after selling a copy of Microsoft Visual Basic (Professional) 5.0 to a local IT consultant for £389 (incl. VAT). Hough bought the software from a Microsoft distributor at a trade price of £310 (excl. VAT and delivery).

Soon after purchasing the software, the consultant contacted Hough saying he had found a source selling the same package for £139 (incl. VAT) - 55 percent cheaper than Hough buys it for resale. Hough said: "I have been calling Microsoft regularly for three years [regarding piracy issues]. They're not doing their job properly; it doesn't take three years [to investigate]. As far as I'm concerned, Microsoft is not doing enough."

David Gregory, anti-piracy manager at Microsoft warned of unusual product pricing. "I am extremely concerned when I see a price that is lower then the distributors buy price. If a price is too good to be true - it probably is. If the software has ‘only for use in USA and Canada', printed on it, it should only be used in USA and Canada. If the terms of the license are broken, it is software theft."

But despite Microsoft's concerned response, Hough claims the company "is not interested in the problem". He explained: "When I rang up on the piracy line [to complain about the cheap software on sale], Microsoft couldn't tell me if the copy was illegal or not. They asked me to get hold of a copy of it and post it to them. But that's Microsoft's job."

Both the British Software Alliance (BSA) and Adobe agree that Microsoft could have done more following Hough's complaint. Andrew Robinson, European anti-piracy manager at BSA said: "If someone gives us reliable information, we will go and investigate it. Callers shouldn't be left hanging on the hook they should be dealt with immediately." Ricky Liversedge, marketing director at Adobe agreed: "You cannot compromise a reseller or customer [like Microsoft has]. We at Adobe appreciate that and would certainly follow the case up ourselves."

Gregory admitted there is a "serious problem" with software piracy but claimed it is not confined to the UK. "Over 50 percent of the world's software is likely to be pirated." He added: "Because of the legal process, we can't come back and give feedback but we do take definite tough action against persistent offenders."

Hough faxed some of the offers he has received to ZDNet News. They include special trade offers from all over the country with one advertising the full version (not upgrade) of Microsoft Office 97 (Small Business Edition) for £88 (excl. VAT), the average advertised price is around £340 (excl. VAT). Another company advertised a copy of Office 97 professional OEM for £127, Microsoft claims it hasn't issued an OEM version of Office 97 since February and believes the advertised copy is illegal.

Gregory assured ZDNet News that Mr Hough's claims are being investigated.