Consumers helped put a dent in the software piracy business. Information they provided helped Microsoft Corp. gather the information needed to file eight lawsuits against companies in Arizona, California, Illinois, Minnesota and New York. Each company named has allegedly distributed counterfeit and/or infringing Microsoft software or software components.

Microsoft responds to consumer leads from its anti-piracy hotline — 1-800-RU-LEGIT — by gathering evidence against alleged software pirates through test purchases done by “secret shoppers.” This program allows the company to selectively purchase and test the authenticity of software being distributed in the marketplace. Customers can also share information with Microsoft about sources of counterfeit and/or infringing software through Microsoft’s newly launched Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program.

WGA, an anti-piracy initiative that differentiates genuine Windows software from counterfeit software, provides an online validation tool for customers to determine whether their software is genuine. Customers who find out they have been deceived into buying counterfeit software by software suppliers may qualify for free replacement software under the program.

The lawsuit against (aka Image & Business Solutions, Inc., and Hi Tech Outlets, Estore, and of Torrance, Calif., relied, in part, on evidence submitted by consumers through the WGA program. Customers reported being sold copies of counterfeit Windows XP Professional. This was reliable information Microsoft was then able to review to determine whether illegal or illicit activity was occurring.

Microsoft considers taking legal action against alleged software pirates to be a last, but effective, resort. Lawsuits are filed by Microsoft only after other efforts to warn and educate these companies have not succeeded in changing the way they distribute Microsoft software.

“Microsoft does not take legal action lightly. We remain very serious about protecting honest software resellers and consumers from the illegal activities of software counterfeiters,” said Mary Jo Schrade, senior attorney at Microsoft. “It’s very clear to us that our customers want to know if they’ve received the product they paid for, and it is gratifying to see that initiatives such as WGA, Microsoft’s test purchase program and the piracy hotline are proving to be successful in helping to address this widespread problem.”

Each of the other lawsuits announced today relied on evidence gathered through Microsoft’s test purchase program, which the company uses to test the authenticity of software and software components purchased from resellers. Two of the lawsuits are filed against businesses that are allegedly in violation of settlement agreements entered into with Microsoft.

Microsoft officials said that counterfeit activity continues to represent a threat to all software users, including the company’s business partners, and the software resellers and computer manufacturers around the country that sell genuine software. According to the Business Software Alliance’s May 2005 piracy report, it’s estimated that there will be nearly $200 billion of software pirated globally by 2010.

“Honest software resellers and consumers are hurt by illegitimate resellers,” said John Ball, general manager for the U.S. System Builders partner group at Microsoft, the group working with the small and medium-sized businesses that manufacture computers. “Counterfeiters offer flawed and illegal products at the fraction of the cost of genuine software. That unfairly and unjustly causes honest businesses to suffer financially. Consumers who unwittingly purchase counterfeit software are consequently cheated of the benefits that legitimate products afford, such as technical support and product updates. Moreover, illegal and illicit software may make it easier for consumers to unknowingly load dangerous, malicious code onto their systems.”

The companies named in today’s lawsuits are BWT Industry Technology Service Inc., an Arizona corporation, doing business as Computer Max Co. of Sierra Vista, Ariz.; Data Day USA Inc., of Vallejo, Calif.;, et al., of Torrance, Calif.; Winvtech Solutions, Inc., (aka Winvision Computers and Winvision Technology) of South El Monte, Calif.; Global Computing Inc. of Addison, Ill.; Ion Technologies Corp. of Minneapolis, Minn.; Compustar Co. of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Chips & Techs of New York, N.Y. Microsoft previously filed lawsuits against BWT Industry Technology Service/Computer Max Co. and Ion Technologies.