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SA computer dealers caught in global anti-piracy net

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Microsoft SA has reached settlements totaling hundreds of thousands of rands with 21 South African computer dealers as part of a global crackdown on counterfeit and illegal software.
Microsoft SA has reached settlements with 21 local computer dealers, based in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Pretoria and a number of smaller regional locations, after they were found to be selling computers to customers loaded with unlicensed Microsoft software.

The action forms part of the company’s worldwide efforts to protect itself and its partners from the impact of counterfeit software. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced its second Fair Play Day in the Latin America region, where investigations led to the seizure of more than 160 000 counterfeit copies of Microsoft software – with an estimated street value of US$18.2 million – in collaboration with INTERPOL and national law enforcement agencies in 14 Latin American countries.

“The crackdowns are part of Microsoft’s global Genuine Software Initiative, which aims to help protect legitimate distributors and customers from the effects of software piracy,” said Microsoft SA partner executive Mark Reynolds.

“The criminals behind software counterfeiting networks are organised, shrewd and willing to spend large amounts of money to develop counterfeit products and introduce them onto the world markets,” said John Newton, director of the Intellectual Property Rights Program at INTERPOL. “First and foremost, piracy is a criminal offense, and it is of the utmost importance that we coordinate our efforts on an international scale in order to dismantle these criminal networks and put an end to their illegal activities.”

The counterfeit and pre-installed software found in the Latin American countries where raids were carried out included some of Microsoft’s most popular products, including Windows Vista and Microsoft Office. The investigations also uncovered and raided CD replication facilities in Colombia, Paraguay and Peru used to counterfeit Microsoft products, including high-quality counterfeits in some cases, which were then sold to unsuspecting customers.

As a result of the investigations, authorities were also able to identify numerous manufacturers that were pre-installing unlicensed Microsoft products on assembled computers. In one case in Mexico, authorities sentenced a computer assembler to three years in prison for illegally installing Microsoft products without the necessary license.

“Microsoft’s actions, in coordination with law enforcement agencies and other associations, represent an important effort in our ongoing effort to protect customers, partners and our intellectual property from dishonest dealers,” said Reynolds.

“We want to protect legitimate computer businesses and resellers who do the right thing in selling genuine software. Microsoft won’t stand by and allow their businesses and employees to be undermined by unscrupulous vendors.”

The Real Thing …

Every year, millions of consumers and businesses are hurt by counterfeit software that they have acquired unwittingly, and many companies that offer legitimate software have difficulty competing with low prices offered by software pirates. Microsoft’s Genuine Software Initiative is advancing education among the software ecosystem about piracy and will continue to invest in engineering technologies to protect its intellectual property and support enforcement of anti-piracy policies and laws.

“Piracy remains one of the major hurdles to realising the potential of the information economy in South Africa and on the continent,” said Alastair De Wet, the chairman of the Business Software Alliance in South Africa. “There is great concern for our local economy that over a third of software in use is illegal.”

Reynolds warned consumers to be sure that the new computers they buy are not loaded with pirated software. “Hard-disk loading is one of the most common forms of piracy,” said Reynolds. “What might be seen initially by consumers as a saving is actually a loss in the long run. Illegally loaded software is not upgradeable, users will not receive support and there is always a threat of a virus wiping out their computer’s hard drive.”

Genuine software users enjoy a range of benefits, including access to greater capabilities and easy integration with a variety of hardware, software, and services. Genuine, licensed users of software are able to access the latest product features, updates, and ongoing improvements to keep their PCs performing better. They also get access to additional add-ons and tools that make their computers run better and do more things, including useful downloads, add-ins, templates, learning tools and more.

In 2006, Microsoft launched the Genuine Software Initiative, which focuses the company’s many activities and investments directed at combating software counterfeiting and other forms of software piracy on three areas: education, engineering and enforcement. Within each area, Microsoft is investing in activities that inform and protect customers and partners from counterfeit software and other forms of software piracy.

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