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Mailbag: No Love for Pirates, Microsoft on the Ropes?

Yesterday, Doug wondered whether six-and-a-half years in a Chinese prison is too harsh a sentence for software piracy. But most of you think that sounds just about right:

As a founder in a software company and a former police officer, I have no sympathy for software counterfeiters or anyone who chooses to commit any kind of crime. They steal from people who put in the time and energy to create something of value. I wish we could give all counterfeiters/criminals what I hope is an absolutely miserable prison experience for those guys.

Frankly, 1.5 to 6.5 years in prison for piracy seems far too lenient. You have the lost tax revenue to the U.S. (gee, touchy subject right now), you have the lost revenue to the reseller channel (which in turn trickles down to the individual level), you have the time lost by companies and individuals who were gullible enough to purchase the counterfeit software (assuming they even know they are running illegal software; many counterfeit versions are hard to detect), and of course you have the lost revenue to Microsoft (which, much like the reseller channel, trickles down to individuals). And for all of this, 11 people got these short prison terms?

While admittedly I don't know the full details of the case, $2 billion lost and 11 individuals serving up to 6.5 years -- that's still about $30 million per individual per year served. I have to assume there is a financial fine that these individuals will need to pay, and they probably didn't charge full price for the software they sold...but still, that's hardly sending a tough message to counterfeiters!

There is more than one side of the "pirated software" story. Besides the loss of revenue that Microsoft experiences, what about all of the unsuspecting consumers who purchase software that cannot be supported or even patched? These pirates are making tons of money, and for every copy of a program that is sold, the impact is the same as if they walked into a store and stole it off of the shelf.

I have long thought that as long as the government continues to slap software pirates on the wrist, there will be no incentive for the behavior to stop. Knowing that they may face 6.5 years of incarceration may well deter the next pirate from embarking on an illegal career.

Given the value of human rights in China, they would've gotten sentenced to death if the Chinese were really serious about deterring counterfeiting. A man in the U.S. was sentenced to four years in jail for spamming. Granted, an American prison is a country club compared to a Chinese one, but this was just for spam -- an inconvenience.

Software counterfeiting is outright stealing and, when done on what sounds like a similar scale, should be considered worse, according to this armchair judge. I am by far not the biggest fan of China, Microsoft or intellectual property law, but in my opinion these 11 guys got lucky.

If the pirates didn't want to go to a Chinese jail for their crimes, they shouldn't have done it in China. They should have done it in France or Switzerland or somewhere where the jail doesn't force you to make 1,000 pairs of shoes a day.

These guys broke the golden rule that's well-established in kindergarten: Share! I have not heard of any fines levied. These guys will need to spend some of their bread on prison protection, which will hopefully balance out if they partnered with Microsoft and shared their slice of the pie. Now, that would be justice.

Seriously, don't cry for millionaires that will be treated like royalty, albeit in a nasty prison. They may finally appreciate an honest day's work.

And after reading a recent Wired article about Ray Ozzie titled "Saving Microsoft," Doug wondered if Microsoft really needs saving in the first place. One reader thinks Wired makes a good case:

Guess you missed the fourth paragraph of that Wired article:

"Not an easy job. Yes, Microsoft still rakes in the dollars from Windows and Office. But the stock has been flat for years. Microsoft used to be regarded with fear and respect -- Lord Voldemort with market share. Now people downgrade their computers to avoid Vista, tech luminaries write blog posts with titles like 'Microsoft Is Dead,' and the public face of the company is the hapless loser in the Apple ads. Oh, and this year, after a 25-month transition, Gates, the once-omnipresent cofounder, left the building."

Qualifies the title in my mind.

Tell us what you think! Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on January 07, 2009