China to inspect government computers for pirated software

As part of a new push to weed out piracy in the country, China will inspect central and local government computers to ensure all the departments are using copyrighted software.

The government made the announcement on Tuesday, adding that the inspections will be completed before the end of October 2011. It follows a six month government campaign to crack down on intellectual property infringement in a country where pirated and counterfeit tech good such as DVDs, music, and cellphones thrive.

Coinciding with the announcement, Microsoft said it has filed a lawsuit against ten Chinese companies for selling computers pre-installed with pirated software. The U.S. company has been a major victim of such copyright violations in the country and has been working with China's government to stop them.

"Computers pre-installed with unauthorized software have always been a core problem for the software industry that must be resolved," said Microsoft China's intellectual property general manager, Yu Weidong, in a statement.

In terms of pirated software, China is one of the world's worst offenders. In 2009, about 79 percent of the software used on computers in the country was pirated, according to a report from the Business Software Alliance and IDC. The commercial value of that pirated software was US$7.5 billion, putting China second in the world behind the U.S., where the value of pirated software reached US$8.3 billion that year.

Along with the inspections of government computers, China also plans on establishing budget controls for the long-term procurement of software, according to a Tuesday statement from China's General Administration of Press and Publication. The government also wants to push businesses to use legitimate software.

As far back as 2000, China has made repeated moves to ensure its government bureaus are using legitimate software. In 2006, Chinese authorities issued a notice requiring all governmental departments to buy computers installed with copyrighted software. From 2007 to the end of 2009, the government spent 794 million yuan ($119 million) on purchasing copyrighted software.

"They have taken these kinds of steps before. My impression is that this time it's more comprehensive," said Christian Murck, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. Murck said it was positive move, but cautioned: "It's not entirely transparent. It's conducted by the government, within the government," he added.

The Chamber also notes that litigation is becoming a more realistic option for companies to protect their intellectual property in China. "Microsoft has resorted more to using litigation than they did in the past," Murck said. "I would say the reason for that is the legal system is offering more recourse now in the face of copyright infringement. That's actually a positive development."

Beijing Sinetec Technology Co., one of the companies facing the lawsuit, said it could not comment on the situation. "We haven't received anything, so we can't respond at the moment," a company employee said.

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