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Microsoft is launching another battlefront in its "war against piracy" which it hopes will bolster customer satisfaction and help it track down the counterfeiters at the same time.

The idea is that people who think they've bought dodgy kit can send it in to Microsoft along with a signed statement of witness, available here, and proof of purchase. Microsoft promises to acknowledge receipt within two days, and will let the customer know whether the software is genuine or a fake.

The "customer relations" part comes in here. If the software is determined to be counterfeit, Microsoft will, at its discretion, replace one copy per customer with a genuine version of the software, provided the purchase was made within the previous six months.

Microsoft will not be handing out replacements for obvious fakes, and will not be replacing more than one title per customer. For larger purchases that turn out to be fake, Microsoft says it will fully support customer attempts to recover money, once a
complaint has been made to trading standards.

Julia Phillpot, Microsoft's UK anti-piracy manager, said that a similar scheme had been in place in Germany for about a year now. "Of the items sent in, 90 per cent were found to be counterfeit," she said.

This scheme will give Microsoft a good idea of where the counterfeit software is being sold, and where it is coming from. The information that comes from the Product ID initiative will be entered on a national database and if a particular name comes up often enough, there are various forms of action that will be taken.

The most likely first step, according to Phillpott, is a test purchase by Microsoft against the named supplier. If this purchase turns out to be a fake, there could be a warning letter, a cease and desist letter. If this action fails, the matter will be taken to the police or similar authority.

Detective Sergeant Frank Butler, head of Merseyside Police's computer crime unit, commented: "This is a major step forward in the fight against software piracy and is excellent news for customers. This initiative is fully supported by the police."

Microsoft estimates that 26 per cent of the "Microsoft" software bought in the UK is counterfeit. ®

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