MS anti-piracy tactics snare innocent dealers

Unlevel playing field

My business was amongst the innocents attacked by MS. We had a small PC outlet, and meticulously avoided selling stolen or pirated items. My wife, a partner in the business, was absolutely adamant. Because of this, we were surprised when someone walked in and asked for a PC with Microsoft Office on it. The sale of 10 pound gold disks was so rampant, we had never sold one before. We built our own PCs. So we asked if our regular hardware supplier, from whom we had bought tens of thousands of pounds worth of parts from, if they sold Office. They did, so we bought it. It came shrink wrapped, with the manuals, with a certificate with hologram, and therefore matched all standards which MS said that we had to look out for. We asked the customer if he wanted the software installing, which he did, so we installed it for him. A week later came a letter from MS, saying that the software was pirated, that they wanted full access to our premises and accounts at any time, and were going to take legal action. When we said that we had followed their rules, they told us that they had changed them, and were about to tell everyone. They also said that "your installers would have been able to recognise that the product was not legitimate, because the manual was not very well printed, and the dots on the CD were closer than usual, and slightly smudged." Of course! We should have spotted that! The fact that we had never been able to sell any product before, because of the gold disks, so had never actually SEEN the real thing, and the fact the Microsoft were not prepared to tell us what to look for, seemed to be irrelevant. To be fair to the solicitors, they did admit that was quite difficult to spot pirated software. But we were told that any product at this price was going to be pirated. It was, in fact, always sold at that price. By everyone. Naturally, we had to settle, we can't afford to take them on. We had to pay about six thousand pounds out, a sum a small business could ill afford. We were told that we had to report any instances of people offering us software at that price, or selling software to the public at below the trade price -- the price we were told that we would have to buy from Microsoft's named suppliers. We paid up, and sent them the list of people selling at below the price we had to pay - this included all the adverts in the PC mags, Dixons, Currys, basically everyone. When we asked later what was being done, Microsoft could find no trace of the lists we had provided, and had done nothing. And to this day, the gold disks are still just as widely available as ever. I instructed my staff never to sell any Microsoft product again -- we had to supply Windows, of course, but we bought them from the approved suppliers, and absorbed the extra cost. And when anyone came in asking about anything by Microsoft, we just pointed out "We can't sell Microsoft product, because xyz is selling gold disks at ten pounds. But we can provide support, because xyz doesn't know the first thing about computers". And whereas we still refused to install any gold disks bought elsewhere, when we were providing support, we no longer asked the customer for the original disks they had purchased. In some ways, it helped us. Instead of saying "no, we don't sell the 10 pound gold disks, you have to pay two or three hundred pounds" and losing the customer forever, we were actually finding customers who were prepared to pay for support. We already had problems when customers thought it was our fault that Windows keeps falling over, simply because we had supplied it (under UK law, it probably is!) and we had to sort their problems out for nothing. Now there was no argument! "We can help you, sir, but as you didn't purchase it from here, we will have to make a charge" As a postscript, the guy still sells gold disks some years later - the only difference is that they are cheaper now, and he doesn't sell quite as many. He is disappointed that so many people have CD writers now. The moral of this story seems to be, if you are big, you are right, no matter how stupid you are. Finally, Julia Philpott writes, if Mr. Lea believes that Microsoft could be doing a better job at fighting piracy, we would be delighted to hear his views on the >subject and welcome any constructive suggestions. Stop fighting people on your own side just because they are soft targets. Any co-operation at all from Microsoft, rather than just bullying, would be much more constructive. Tackling software piracy is a delicate issue and we would like to think that we have been considerate and tactful in dealing with its distasteful criminal effects. I can't believe that I just read considerate and tactful from Microsoft! Did someone miss out the smiley? The theft of software is a criminal offence and this is a position taken by the majority of governments across the world. Theft takes many guises. Microsoft stole six thousand pounds from me. If they had been the same size as my company, I would certainly have taken them on in the courts! ® Related stories MS piracy losses claims don't stack up -Graham Lea Right of Reply: MS says stealing is wrong Register readers weigh in Y does not mean X : decoding the MS reply Software piracy stops software development? MS anti-piracy tactics snare innocent dealers How would Graham Lea like having his IP infringed? Phillpot calls piracy kettle black

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