Chinese police say they have busted the world’s largest software counterfeiting gang, and courts in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen have sentenced the criminals to jail terms of between one and 6½ years.
The 11 pirates were selling fake Microsoft products valued at more than $2 billion to 36 countries on five continents and in at least five languages.
The crackdown was part of a joint effort between China’s Public Security Bureau or police and the American FBI, with Microsoft and its clients providing information.
Most software in China is pirated, and intellectual property theft of software, as well as DVDs and other illegal downloads, has damaged China’s reputation. The WTO is investigating American complaints that China is not doing enough to stamp out piracy. China says it is doing its best, but the problem is so vast that it needs time to make headway.
The jail term meted out at the end of last month is the maximum allowed under Chinese law and follows a raid on the gang in July. They were operating in the southern province of Guangdong and were selling all of Microsoft’s top products. The gang was also heavily fined.
According to local media reports, the gang’s production techniques were so advanced that the bogus software not only contained legitimate computer code written by Microsoft for programs such as Windows XP, Vista and Microsoft Office but had elements of the criminals’ own coding as well to give it an extra authentic touch. Much of the bogus software was reportedly detected by the Windows Genuine Advantage program, which turns a user’s screen black if installed software fails a validation test, according to Microsoft.