In an effort to cleanse the Web of pirated products, Microsoft announced recently that it has launched "a second global Internet sweep".
Since the start of the first operation last August, nearly 5 million units of counterfeit Microsoft hardware and software with an estimated retail value of over $US1.7 billion were seized worldwide, according to a company statement.
"We are concentrating all our resources and coordinating with national enforcement agencies to fight Internet software piracy," said Debbie Walsh, antipiracy manager for Microsoft EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), in an interview.
Microsoft has about 350 staff in the US and EMEA on the case, according to Walsh. The software giant continuously scans the Web for illegal offerings of its products. In the last eight months this has led to 38,065 "Web takedowns", according to Microsoft.
Criminal action was taken in 22 countries. Microsoft said it won $17.7 million in settlements and judgments since January 2000.
Pirates are increasingly using the Internet to distribute their wares. Using the anonymity of the Web, career criminals and organised gangs use piracy to fund drug running and terrorism, working out of sight of law enforcement officials, according to Microsoft.
"In the past months, we saw a massive increase in pirated products being offered online," said Walsh, noting that the company is also working with Internet service providers to set up guidelines.
Most pirated products are operating system software and applications. Hardware cases mostly involve mice.
"But the cloned mice are small fry compared to the amount of counterfeit software," said Walsh.
Fighting online software piracy also helps rid the Web of all kinds of smut, said Walsh. "Often times Web sites offering pirated software also advertise things as child pornography. These criminals are involved in all sorts of dealings."