China Jails Multibillion-Dollar Piracy Ring

A Chinese court has convicted 11 people involved in a massive piracy ring that, if it were a legitimate business, would have been a significant retail outlet in its own right — raking in more than $2 billion for selling counterfeit software.

The Futian People’s Court handed down sentences on Tuesday ranging from 1.5 years to 6.5 years in prison, including the longest sentences handed down in China’s history for this type of crime.

The 11 sentenced had been arrested by Chinese authorities in July 2007, following an investigation led by the FBI and China’s Public Security Bureau (PSB).

The scale of the criminals’ operation had been huge, with counterfeit software found in 36 countries on five continents. Investigators found fake but high-quality versions of 19 of Microsoft’s most popular products, produced in at least 11 languages.

China has long had a notorious reputation when it comes to piracy, which includes counterfeiting software, music and movies. The Business Software Alliance Software estimates about 80 percent of computers are believed to use counterfeit software.

“Microsoft greatly appreciates the work of China’s PSB and the FBI in taking strong enforcement action against this global software counterfeiting syndicate,” said David Finn, associate general counsel for Worldwide Anti-Piracy and Anti-Counterfeiting at Microsoft, in a statement.

Unlike many cheap counterfeit knockoffs, the pirated software, which includes Windows XP and Office 2007, were sold at relatively high prices to customers around the world, mostly in the United States and Europe.

Microsoft customers provided evidence to the company through its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) tool, which was used to identify the software as fake. In addition, more than 100 Microsoft resellers provided physical evidence critical to building the case, such as e-mail messages, invoices and payment slips.

WGA has often been the source of complaints for false positives or for being too aggressive in handling security checks, but in this instance, it helped Microsoft to track down the crooks.

A total of 25 suspects were taken down in the 2007 bust. A separate trial involving nine other suspects in Shanghai has not yet reached a verdict.

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