Despite an ongoing highly public war against software piracy, Microsoft has refused to comment on the potential extent of reseller involvement.
The vendor recently wheeled out a senior Hong Kong-based investigator for the company, Brian Williams, and its director of intellectual property, Vanessa Hutley, to promote adherence to its "genuine Microsoft software" practices and compliance with laws against copyright infringement.
The pair said Microsoft had successfully prosecuted 17 cases of copyright infringement against its own software rights in Australia in the last financial year, and "four or five" in the previous financial year. However, Hutley would not speculate on the extent of channel involvement.
Citing a study sponsored by the Business Software Alliance of Australia (BSAA) - the local arm of an international lobby group mainly comprising large software vendors, including Microsoft - Hutley said 29 per cent of software loaded on Australian computers may have been illegally obtained. The BSAA estimated this represented a loss of $622 million to the Australian software industry.
She also cited a 2007 global study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which reported losses from counterfeiting and piracy globally hit $US200 billion in 2007.
However, that study, by the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry, includes counterfeiting of all kinds of products and makes almost no mention of business software piracy. Similarly, the BSAA's figures on software piracy have often been criticised.
IDC itself - the research firm paid to carry out the BSAA study - claimed in 2005 that it was probable that just one out of 10 unauthorised copies might result in a lost sale for the copyright owner.
Hutley said Microsoft did not claim every counterfeit copy represented a lost sale.
Microsoft's Williams said the 75-person team he worked with had this year helped crack a software counterfeiting ring operating out of China. The Chinese crime syndicate had been distributing about $US2 billion worth of software to 27 countries on five continents - including Australia. BSAA spokesman, Jim Macnamara, said in a statement that software piracy was down two per cent in Australia this year.
"It is clear that unlicensed software use is still a weakness and risk exposure for many businesses and corporations," he said.
Express Data director of marketing and operations, Peter Masters, agreed piracy was a never-ending battle but said the partner community was working together to alleviate it.
"Our partners are quite proactive in working to achieve greater levels of compliance," he said. "Microsoft for
example, has just released a program called Get Genuine Windows Advantage which helps customers with issues of non-compliance get genuine. A number of our other vendors are also working along similar lines."
For City Software managing director, Lorenzo Coppa, piracy is less of an issue now than it was 10 years ago.
"A lot of people pirated software when they couldn't afford to pay $500-$600 for a copy of Microsoft Office," he said. "The pricing model back then was aimed more at the commercial rather than the home market. Now you can buy a home version around the $200 mark, which better suits that market."
Coppa said software vendors were also providing cheaper versions of software for educational institutions.
Axxis Technology managing director, Mathew Dickerson, said activation methodologies were one of the best practices to prevent software piracy.
"Once the activation process was introduced, we found people were less likely to lend their copies of Office if they thought they would get in trouble," he said.
While the consumer problem is being controlled, more work needed to be done at the corporate level, Dickerson said. He suggested the industry take a technical approach rather than a legal one.