In the past eight weeks, Microsoft has ordered 7500 Web sites and Internet auctions to stop selling counterfeit Microsoft software. Another 600 notices were sent out Tuesday. The software giant's secret weapon in combating piracy? An Internet monitoring tool which, according to the vendor, sniffs out Net fraud 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"(Microsoft has seen an) increasing volume of complaints related to fraudulent materials and both the distributing and posting of illegal downloads, Tim Cranton, a corporate attorney with Microsoft's antipiracy group, said. "Customers are getting ripped off, paying good money for bad products."
Microsoft is leasing the tool, an intelligent Web crawler, from the software's developer, a third-party vendor which Cranton didn't identify. Microsoft has been using the tool to detect counterfeit versions of its Windows 2000 operating systems since November of last year, he added.
Since February of this year, the tool has been programmed to search for all counterfeit versions of Microsoft products, resulting in the discoveries that spurred Tuesday's announcement of both the software vendor's campaign to fight fraud on the Net and Microsoft's subsequent filing of several lawsuits in the US.
The tool is capable of detecting the illegal distribution of all copyrighted material, including books, movies, and music, and is able of doing so in different languages, Microsoft said. The automated online scanning tool simulates a search that someone looking for fraudulent material would run. The software is capable of searching the content of every Web site and each site's links.
"It is a solution for all content creators, because it can protect all sorts of content online... (Microsoft's) goal is to create an honest marketplace where (customers) can get trusted Microsoft content online, Cranton said.
So far, Microsoft's campaign has generated 64 criminal raids and resulted in 17 civil lawsuits being filed in 15 countries. In the U.S., where over 3000 Internet auction postings were taken down in July, Microsoft recently announced five lawsuits and two settlements. One of the lawsuits is against Copy USA -- to date, Microsoft has shut down 600 postings on the New York company's auction site.
The settlements relate to college students who had been selling illegal copies of Microsoft's software through auction sites out of California and Illinois.
The Business Software Alliance (BSA), a nonprofit trade group of which Microsoft is a key member, said it supports the actions which the software giant is taking. However, the BSA is not using its power of attorney to take legal action against fraudulent parties.
"This is Microsoft's own action," said Karine Elsen, director of marketing at BSA.
Many of the raids have been led or supported by the BSA, whose involvement Cranton said is instrumental to Microsoft's success, yet varies from case to case. The industry body has drawn criticism in the past for its overly close relationship with Microsoft.