Microsoft is sending a clear message to would-be software pirates by launching more than 1,000 legal cases against UK resellers.
The software giant, which set up a special piracy hotline in April 2000, has said the cases, which all hinge on the use of unlicensed or counterfeit software, could take from a few months to three years to complete, depending on the size of the company being prosecuted.
Caroline Smith, UK channel anti-piracy manager at Microsoft, said: "A lot of customers are being ripped off. Piracy is a very big issue for us, which is why we have made this huge decision to pursue so many cases at once."
She said that every channel partner should buy from one of the firm's authorised distributors. "Then they would not have to worry about legal repercussions, because the software would be genuine," she said.
"We really want a level playing field for all our resellers, because these counterfeiters are taking business away from our genuine channel partners. We need a clean, legitimate channel and this is the best way to go about it."
Reseller Taran Microsystems has become the first victim of this crackdown. The firm agreed to pay Microsoft an undisclosed out-of-court settlement after being caught selling counterfeit copies of Windows 98 and Office Professional 97, and counterfeit certificates of authenticity.
Andrew Miles, director at Taran, said: "We would never buy software unless we thought it was genuine and legitimate. On this occasion it seems that, even though we made extensive checks, we still got caught out."
Mark Johnson, software general manager at authorised Microsoft distributor Ideal Hardware, said using the authorised distribution route was easier in the long run for resellers.
"We have people who have the correct licensing knowledge and who are specially trained to support the channel. Resellers know they are buying the genuine product," he said.
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