Microsoft has caught 25 UK-based firms that have confessed to selling pirated copies of Windows software pre-installed on new computers since the beginning of 2010.
Based on tip-offs from wary consumers, the company's investigators found 21 businesses based in metropolitan areas that were selling machines pre-loaded with non-genuine Windows software, a spokesperson for Microsoft UK said on Tuesday. Four eBay-based sellers were also identified in the crackdown.
Customers thought they were getting a bargain on genuine pre-loaded Windows and Office software, but were unaware they had paid for pirated copies of software downloaded from the internet, as well as locally-made illegal copies of genuine Microsoft software.
"At a time when UK resellers are looking to expand their business post-recession, piracy not only impedes growth, but puts local hard-working computer shops out of business," said Michala Wardell, head of anti-piracy at Microsoft UK, said in a statement.
Counterfeiting cost the software industry more than $51bn (£33.5bn) in profits in 2009, according to a report released by the Business Software Alliance and IDC that was released in May. The study estimated that for every $100 of legal software bought, another $75 of pirated software made its way into buyers' hands.
The companies identified by Microsoft were scattered throughout the UK and include areas such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Huddersfield, Leeds, Kent, Warrington, Sheffield and Swansea. Each paid Microsoft an undisclosed amount and agreed to stop selling the pirated software as part of a settlement with the company, which said it would go to court if they did not comply.
Of the 25 resellers contacted by the software giant, Microsoft says most admitted the mistake openly, although many blamed wayward employee behaviour or said that they were not aware of the illegality of the practice.
The Microsoft UK spokesperson said that the majority of the companies involved have agreed to work with it on software procurement and resale in the future.