-- Two computer dealers who settled out of court with Microsoft after being caught pirating software, claim they were set up by the software giant in an underhand manner. One says he was then bullied into a settlement.
But Microsoft's South Asia-Pacific corporate attorney, Ron Eckstrom, says Microsoft does not randomly pursue dealers. He says dealers are investigated only after Microsoft has received confirmed reports from customers who have made purchases in those shops.
"The way they caught me was bloody underhand. They sent in an undercover agent to buy a computer off me and enticed me to load a copy of my own software," said one of the dealers, neither of whom wish to be named.
But Eckstrom has no sympathy for the dealers. He says the people concerned were stealing and they were caught.
"I can assure you that we've never sent an investigator to purchase a computer unless we'd already received two or three complaints through our hotline or customer support from customers who've made purchases from that dealer. There are so many cases of piracy that we don't have to go and roam the streets looking for dealers trying to convince them to load software," he said.
Dealer one claims a man came into his shop saying he needed a computer for a new branch of a well-known real estate agency. After making arrangements for the computer, the man later confirmed his order by fax on paper with the real estate company's letter head.
Three weeks later a younger man came to collect the computer. He asked if he could unpack it to make sure it worked. He then asked for Microsoft Office to be included. It had not previously been asked for.
"I told him I had no copies of Microsoft Office in stock. He then pointed to my personal copy on the shelf. I told him it was my copy. He said install that and we'll order one. And I did. That's where I made the mistake. I should have said no but the guy was really aggro and I thought I was dealing with the real estate company and in property you get clients like this," the dealer said.
The man paid by cheque for the ordered copy which arrived within a few days. However, the dealer says he did not hear from either men again.
"About three months later a letter came in the mail charging me with 23 counts of piracy, parallel importing, copyright infringement -- you name it, it was on there. They charged me with everything hoping something would stick," he said.
The case did not go to court because the dealer was advised by his lawyer that he did not have the resources to fight Microsoft. He says Microsoft wanted $5000.
"I refused to pay. I fought it for nine months and it cost me a hell of a lot of money. I couldn't sell any Microsoft products for six months because of an injunction. Eventually I had to pay $3000," he says.
The second dealer claims he was caught in similar fashion.
"They got an undercover agent to come in and buy a computer off me and they found some software on it that shouldn't have been there. It was a year later when they approached me about it," he saidDealer two claims the man asked for Windows 95 but it was in short supply because it was only a month after Windows 95 had been released.
"My supplier could not supply the product so I loaded on an earlier copy of Windows 3.11 and Microsoft Works temporarily, while waiting for 95 to arrive," he said.
"He asked, ordered and paid for Windows 95, but when 95 arrived within a week, I couldn't contact the guy. He'd given me a false number and address," the second dealer said.
He claims he received a telephone call from Microsoft's lawyers telling him to be at a local hotel by three o'clock the next day or they would take action.
Eckstrom says Microsoft usually sends a letter a week before a proposed meeting advising the accused.
"I got fined $10,000. People have gone out and murdered people and been fined less. All I did was give away a copy of Microsoft Works, a $50 product," the dealer said.
Eckstrom says the company's solicitors have 45 cases pending against alleged software pirates in New Zealand. He says 60 per cent involve computer dealers.