Microsoft was sending around news yesterday about a huge bust of software counterfeiters in China made in conjunction with the FBI. 25 people were arrested in the two-year running operation “Summer Solstice”, seizures of 290,000 counterfeit CDs and Certificates of Authenticity and $7 million in assets in China, as well as $2 million in assets and $700,000 in software in the U.S.. All told, if the fake software seized were sold as retail copies of Windows, it would have been worth half a billion dollars, and the syndicate shut down was responsible for over $2 billion worth of pirated software.
As Microsoft explains, it was able to catch these companies thanks to customers who notified them under the Windows Genuine Advantage program. Under the program, if PC makers install pirated copies of Windows on new PCs or sell fake CDs, the customer will be notified by WGA, and given the opportunity to report where they bought the PC or CD, and get a free copy of the real thing. The customer gets a Genuine copy of Windows, and Microsoft gets evidence towards arresting those who counterfeit Windows by the thousands.
Microsoft isn’t waging a war on users who pirate Windows. In fact, in China, Microsoft encourages piracy, which has led to Windows being installed on 90% of China’s 120 million PCs. Rather, Microsoft wants companies who mass-pirate Windows to be shut down, and I don’t see a problem with that. I want the ability to pirate Windows to be availble to anyone who needs it, but I firmly believe that any company setting up factories to create fake hologrammed Windows Vista DVDs is run by the kind of people I’d like to see behind bars.
The official Windows Vista blog has some stuff on this, including this photo of a Genuine copy of Windows and a fake version:
Which one is the fake one?
It’s the one on the right.
Any company that goes to that length to pirate Windows is deceiving their customers. Those phony holograms aren’t there to fool Microsoft or the authorities; they are there to fool the people who purchase the software. Those people are going to get home, happy they could buy the real thing, try to install it, and run into all sorts of problems, with no way to get a refund. Or, they could call Microsoft, get a real copy for free, and send the guy who sold them this crap up the river.
I don’t like DRM, and I don’t like software that is hard to pirate. I want to be able to pirate software, so I can afford it while I’m poor, and I can pay for it when I’m not. WGA doesn’t stop those who need it most to steal Windows (just run the trial version and rearm it over and over), provided they have the technical knowledge and desire to pull it off, but it provides an opportunity to turn in real criminals. It isn’t a crime to steal Windows for your PC, but it is a crime to mass-produce thousands of copies and pass them off as the real thing.