SEATTLE -- Microsoft is telling the tale of a major software piracy investigation that weaved through 22 countries, hoping would-be pirates will think twice if they know how far the company will go to protect its computer code worth billions in revenue each quarter.Quote has been trimmed
Near-perfect knockoffs of 21 different Microsoft programs began surfacing around the world just over a decade ago. Soon, PCs in more than a dozen countries were running illegal copies of Windows and Office, turning unwitting consumers into criminals and, Microsoft says, exposing them to increased risk of malicious viruses and spyware.
The case began to turn in 2001 when U.S. Customs officers seized a shipping container in Los Angeles filled with $100 million in fake software, including 31,000 copies of the Windows operating system.
From there, Microsoft pushed the investigation through 22 countries. Local law enforcement officials seized software, equipment and records, and made arrests. A court in Taiwan handed down the last of the major sentences in December. Microsoft estimates the retail value of the software the operation generated at $900 million.
"That is a tremendous accomplishment," said James Spertus, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who later led anti-piracy efforts for the Motion Picture Association of America. "There are only going to be a few cases like this a decade."