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October 20, 2008 9:01 PM

Microsoft highlights global anti-piracy effort

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Five years ago, Microsoft could not have trotted out examples of its wide-ranging anti-piracy efforts from 49 countries, as it's doing Tuesday. The announcements are a testament to the company's effort to build expertise and partnerships in a multi-front battle against piracy. But five years ago, global software piracy was less pervasive and less financially damaging than it is now.

The company is marking a "Global Anti Piracy Day" Tuesday to focus on those efforts. (The point is not, as far as I can tell, to counter International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is Sept. 19.)

"Addressing piracy and bringing the piracy rate down requires a long-term commitment," said David Finn, a Microsoft associate general counsel focused on piracy and counterfeiting. "... We have surely matured in our own ability to be more expansive and cover more ground in addressing software piracy over the last five years."

The company had to develop expertise in forensics to link counterfeit products that show up in markets around the globe and are often linked to the same criminal organizations. Microsoft has taken an engineering approach to the problem, making its software harder to copy and developing online validation tools. It has also refined how it talks about piracy and spread its efforts to countries around the world.

Finn said Microsoft has multiplied its efforts by alerting governments, law enforcement agencies and business people around the world that piracy is bad for local economies.

"Economic experts increasingly recognize that intellectual property value and protection is critical for economic growth and prosperity," he said.

Despite these efforts, the annual software piracy study published by the Business Software Alliance (of which Microsoft is a member) shows the problem is still growing.

Total piracy rates increased from 36 percent in 2003 to 38 percent in 2007, according to the May report, summarized in this two-page PDF. Financial losses attributed to software piracy increased 66 percent in the same period to $47.8 billion last year.

Progress has been made in some geographies. The large, fast-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China saw their combined software piracy rate decrease from 87 percent to 75 percent, but financial losses more than doubled to $14.4 billion.

This is not lost on Finn.

"We cannot stand still because of the sophistcation of the criminals involved. To just stay in place would require us to be increasingly skilled and have increased geographic coverage," Finn said. "... To make the kinds of inroads we're hoping to make requires us to stay ever ahead of a problem that is itself expanding."

Microsoft created an interactive map to highlight representative anti-piracy efforts, including education, enforcement training and prosecutions, in 49 countries.

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