BSA targets software piracy on Web auction sites

An online sting operation conducted by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) has resulted in charges against 13 U.S. defendants for allegedly selling pirated and counterfeit software through auction sites on the Internet.

Several lawsuits were also filed against defendants in the U.K., along with about 12 enforcement actions in Germany, according to the Washington-based antipiracy group.

In an announcement today, BSA officials said the legal actions came after work done by the group's Online Investigative Unit, which tracked sales of pirated and counterfeit software from companies or individuals in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, as well as in Germany and the U.K.

Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement at the BSA, said today that the sting, called "Operation Bidder Beware," was done between August and October. The group purchased software through auctions on eBay, Yahoo and two European auction sites, QXL and Ricardo, buying several products from each of the sellers. The products had been offered for sale in the auctions at prices far lower than they're sold for legitimately in retail stores, he said.

"Until we actually purchased the products, we weren't prepared to bring any legal actions," Kruger said. Once the products arrived, however, the crudely handwritten labels on many of them quickly gave the scams away. Counterfeit products were harder to distinguish, he said, but the software publishers aided in the identification of the fake goods.

The lawsuits were filed in a single action in federal court in the Northern District of California in San Francisco, Kruger said. The U.S. defendants could face fines of up to $150,000 for each product they have allegedly infringed upon.

This sting was unusual for the BSA, Kruger said, because in the past, the group has targeted pirated and counterfeit software use only in the workplace, not by individual consumers in their homes. But because the problem of counterfeit and pirated software is becoming so rampant on Web auction sites, the group decided to conduct its investigation, he said.

"We think the problem of piracy on auction sites has actually been growing in the past year," Kruger said.

The BSA estimates that 90% of the software sold on auction Web sites is pirated, contributing to about $13 billion in lost industry revenues annually.

Among the products purchased through the auctions were Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Pagemaker; CorelDraw; Microsoft Office; Macromedia Dreamweaver; and Norton Utilities, AntiVirus and Ghost.

The group spent about $1,600 in total to buy products valued at about $50,000 retail, Kruger said.

Many people think that online auction sites are safe places to buy goods, and that could be true, he noted. "But when it comes to software, that's not where you go to get legitimate products," he said.

One reason the group chose to conduct the investigation now was to raise awareness about software piracy during the holiday shopping season.

The BSA is a nonprofit group that counts some of the world's largest software companies among its members, including Adobe Systems Inc., Apple Computer Inc., Autodesk Inc., Bentley Systems Inc., CNC Software Inc./Mastercam, Corel Corp., Macromedia Inc., Microsoft Corp., Network Associates Inc. and Symantec Corp.

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