When it comes to nabbing software pirates, 1997 has been a gangbuster year for Microsoft Corp. in Europe.
Throughout the year, Microsoft worked with vendor-backed organization the Business Software Alliance (BSA) to take legal action in more than 3,000 cases of European software piracy, the company said. The legal actions -- including civil lawsuits, police-led raids and the filing of criminal charges -- were taken against businesses, individuals and resellers.
The European software industry stands to lose this year at least as much as it did in 1996 -- some US$3.5 billion, according to the BSA. With Europe having one of the largest software piracy problems in the world, Microsoft and the BSA cracked down on illegal sales, installation, and production of Microsoft software, and uncovered some fairly strange piracy cases in the process.
One case, which the BSA cracked in September, involved a prison inmate in Iceland who was manufacturing illegal copies of Microsoft's Windows 95 operating system and the company's Office desktop applications suite using CD-ROM duplication equipment in his cell, according to Greg Levin, a Paris-based anti-piracy manager for Microsoft. The inmate, Engilbert Runolfsson, even produced a pamphlet detailing his wares, which he then had distributed both inside and outside of the prison, Microsoft said.
In Europe, 50 percent of software is pirated, compared with 27 percent in the U.S., Levin said. In Eastern Europe, where countries such as Poland, Latvia, Romania, Hungary and Russia have very high piracy rates, the overall figure climbs to 70 percent, he said. Russia has the most pirated software of any country in Europe, with 94 percent of software being illegally copied, Levin said. Rates are slightly lower in Western Europe, where only about 40 percent of software in use is illegally obtained, he added.
There are generally three kinds of European piracy cases: the illegal installation of software by resellers; end-user copying in companies; and counterfeiting, Levin said. The last is the most worrisome because users may think they are buying a Microsoft product, but instead they are getting sub-standard copies and unknowingly contributing to criminal activity, he said.
"When you find a deal that is too good to be true, you are getting fake goods and are supporting organized crime," Levin said.
Other high-profile cases that sprung up in 1997 included the armed robbery of an authorized manufacturer of Microsoft products in Scotland where the robbers got away with 100,000 CDs, including copies of Encarta and Office 97 worth approximately $16 million, and 200,000 certificates of authenticity. Microsoft is working with the BSA to solve the case, but only part of the stolen goods have been recovered.
In another case, the BSA won a case against a Russian company that was illegally installing Microsoft software on computers in Moscow city schools. Avers, the Russian company, was found guilty of scheming with Department of Education officials to siphon off public funds that were meant for software purchases, Microsoft said. Avers was fined $90,000, Microsoft added.
Microsoft plans to step up its efforts to go after European software pirates in 1998 by soliciting more help from national governments, Levin said. In order to fight the problem, governments need to cooperate by passing tougher laws against the illegal use of software, he said. Microsoft will also work with the BSA to train local police on copyright infringement law and how to spot the difference between authentic and pirated versions of software.