US police have seized a haul of counterfeit Microsoft software and licences worth more than $22m (£14.5m).
Late last week, Pennsylvania state police recovered some 8000 copies of Microsoft software, including Windows 98, Office 97 Professional, Office 2000 Professional, Windows 98 Workstation and Server, and Microsoft Project 98, along with more than 25,000 end-user licence agreements.
Police stumbled across the counterfeit operation during an investigation into the theft of several state police laptops.
During a raid last Thursday, police discovered 10 rooms stacked with software and DVDs - enough to fill around 400 supermarket trolleys.
The counterfeit operation was conducting business as Automated Distributing (ADI) and has alleged connections to a worldwide criminal enterprise, according to police. Arrests and charges of trademark infringement are pending.
Counterfeiting cases typically involve both copyright and trademark infringement. Under US federal law, criminal penalties include fines of up to $2m and 10 years in jail for each trademark infringement, and up to $250,000 and five years in jail per copyright violation.
Microsoft said it had already served several notices to ADI for selling counterfeit software through online auction sites and had received numerous complaints from users about the company. Customers had complained of not receiving licences with their products and not being able to register the software with Microsoft.
Richard LaMagna, Microsoft's senior manager of worldwide investigations, said: "The anonymity of the internet has made it considerably easier for criminals to dupe unsuspecting consumers."
According to anti-piracy organisation the Business Software Alliance, more than one in every three business software applications worldwide in 1999 was pirated - costing the industry more than $12bn in jobs, wages and revenues.
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