Counterfeit software returning to the channel: Microsoft

Microsoft Windows Certficiate of AuthenticityMicrosoft Canada is seeing more counterfeit versions of packaged and OEM software on shelves as a result of more resellers turning to the Internet to purchase products.

The software giant’s anti-counterfeiting team had mostly been dealing with the problems of hard-disk loading – disreputable system builders who will offer low-cost or free versions of Microsoft Windows or Office on the machines they sell. But Christopher Tortorice, corporate counsel for anti-piracy at Microsoft Canada, said the company is seeing “an uptick” in the amount of counterfeit goods in the channel.

“For the longest time, you couldn’t find counterfeit full-package software on store shelves in Canada, but now we’ve seen several instances,” Tortorice said. “Protect yourself and make sure what you’re getting is legitimate.”

It’s largely the result of resellers looking to save money by ordering software from Web-based sources and unexpectedly getting illegitimate goods as a result, Tortorice said.

Constable Kirk Campbell of the RCMP said those who are offering counterfeited goods – software included – are doing a better job than ever of making their products look legitimate.

“These things are rather well done when it comes to the details,” Campbell said. “I can examine this stuff and tell it’s funky, but the average consumer might not know it.”

Both Tortorice and Campbell emphasized it’s a buyer-beware situation – especially so for solution providers. While Microsoft offers replacement software to customers who have been duped and turn in their fake goods, that policy does not necessarily extend to solution providers who find themselves with a large shipment of fake goods.

“If you bought a few copies, we might replace it, but probably not in large quantities,” Tortorice said.

Microsoft would still very much like to know about these incidents so it can trace the problem back to the source. Consumers and resellers alike can contact Microsoft at 1-800-RU-LEGIT or Partners can also contact their account managers at the software company. And when counterfeiting is involved, it’s always appropriate to get law enforcement in on the issue, Campbell said. You can take the issue to local authorities or the RCMP, but ultimately, it’s likely to full under the national force’s view.

The counterfeit goods at retail are a clear reminder, Tortorice said, that “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” extends well into the wholesale zone. Those who have been duped have largely been turning to the Internet to find better prices for for-resale software than are available through authorized distribution. But those lower prices alone should raise red flags.

“A lot more people are turning to the Internet as a source, and they don’t know who they’re doing business with,” he said. “Resellers need to think twice when they’re visiting these Web sites of unknown source and seeing these great deals.”

Campbell said to be very leery of buying online, since it’s hard to get a good look at what you’ll actually be getting, to see any of the would-be giveaways on the software’s packaging, things like missing bilingual product information required for goods meant to be sold in Canada.

That said, it’s still just a handful of instances, and Tortorice said disc-loading remains the company’s biggest concern in the channel. He said Windows XP Professional remains the OS of choice for disc-loading, in part because of more stringent activation and authentication systems in Windows 7.

The company continues to do periodic scans of retailers across the country, and has taken to sending out little reminders – letting resellers know, for example, that they have been mystery shopped and everything was alright. It’s a way for the software titan to let its partners know it’s looking out for them without getting in the way, Tortorice said.

“We’re doing more than we’ve ever done before, but we’re going about it in a different way,” he said.

And even when it does crop up, the issue is usually settled civilly in a settlement meeting long before events go to trial. That first contact is usually enough to get a settlement in the form of an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and written promises not to do it again, as well as “some payment” to Microsoft for damages and its investigative costs, Tortorice said.