US Report: Microsoft wizards to thwart pirates...

Microsoft and other developers are turning to technology to combat those who illegally distribute their software.
Written by John G.Spooner, Contributor

Microsoft last week unveiled a Registration Wizard for Office 2000 Premium Edition, which the company claims will help keep pirates at bay. The wizard lets customers use the software 50 times before requiring them to register it. On the 51st time, the wizard pops up and instructs the user to register "in order to continue using the product," said John Duncan, a product manager for Office at Microsoft.

Up to now, users have not been required to continue to register to use Office. Corporate customers with volume license agreements will not receive the wizard. The wizard, in tests now with Office 2000 Beta 1 and Office 97 Small Business Edition in Brazil, will be used in packaged versions of Office 2000, which is due in the second quarter of next year and will ship into the North American education market with the wizard.

The wizard will also ship with Office 2000 in Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. "We see this as a new technology in addressing the problem [of piracy]," Duncan said. Microsoft may make the wizard available to the software industry as a whole as an anti-piracy aid, he said. The wizard is part of the company's three-pronged effort to fight piracy. Microsoft is focusing on education, litigation and technology development.

Microsoft isn't alone. In October, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which implements the World Intellectual Property Organisation Copyright Treaty for protecting intellectual property issues on an international basis, and the No Electronic Theft Act, for preventing individuals from posting third-party software to the Internet for download, even if they don't gain from it.

The legislation will give companies more power to prosecute pirates next year, said Sarah Alexander, Microsoft's corporate issues manager. On the litigation front, Microsoft, under its anti-piracy program, has also begun pursuing computer resellers that it says are illegally bundling unlicensed software with new PCs. More recently, the company sued six San Francisco Bay area resellers.

Despite such efforts, piracy rates still average 40 percent worldwide, according to the latest numbers published in a study commissioned by the Business Software Association and the Software Publishers Association.

The study found that piracy rates declined from 46 percent to 40 percent between 1995 and 1997. But while worldwide losses from piracy dipped from $13.3bn (£8bn) to $11.2bn (£6.8bn) between 1995 and 1996, they rose slightly in 1997 to $11.4bn (6.95bn). Results from 1998 aren't expected for several months.

Some losses, however, have been recouped from offenders that Microsoft or the BSA has taken action against. For example, Budget Rent A Car Corp., after an investigation by the BSA, agreed to pay damages exceeding $400,000 (£244,000) for use of unlicensed software in three of its corporate offices, said BSA officials.

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