Tip-offs from UK dealers have helped Microsoft bust an international ring of software pirates which involved distributors in the US, Canada, the Bahamas and the UK. When the case against one of the UK distributors is heard in court, it could have a profound impact on grey importing. The operation was obtaining discounted versions of Microsoft Office and Office Pro Educational Edition, bound for US educational institutions, and importing them into the UK. When they arrived they were stripped of their original identity, repackaged and then passed off as full, legitimate retail copies. Microsoft?s software theft team investigated complaints from UK dealers about suspect copies of Office bought from Surrey-based Q&M Technology. Following the investigation, Q&M settled with Microsoft, handing over about #20,000 of stock and paying ?substantial damages and costs?, said Microsoft. Q&M co-operated with Microsoft, which led the investigation into Q&M?s supplier, Multimicro Distribution in Essex. Microsoft served a writ and obtained an emergency injunction seizing Multimicro?s stock of suspect software. Multimicro was supplied by Softek International, based in Canada, and Softek Bahamas. Softek was in turn obtaining the product from a legitimate authorised academic reseller in the US, which had reneged on Microsoft?s contract restricting it from selling software to non-academic organisations outside the US. The authorities in Canada are still investigating Softek and the case against Multimicro will be heard shortly in the UK. Passing off US educational product as UK retail packages is illegal, but if the court rules that Multimicro was acting illegally it could be interpreted as outlawing all grey importing in the future. ?This is significant because of its international nature,? said Sharon Baylay, marketing manager of Microsoft?s software theft team. The US academic software distributor is now under investigation by the Business Software Alliance.
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