Symantec Launches $15 Million Piracy Suit

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Symantec has filed suit against an alleged software piracy ring that has been operating in North America since late 2003, the software vendor said.

The lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles seeks more than $15 million in damages from a network of U.S. and Canadian businesses that are alleged to have sold counterfeit versions of Symantec's products, including Norton AntiVirus, PCAnywhere, and Veritas Backup Exec.

These companies and their affiliates run a global counterfeiting organization that focuses on the United States and Canada, Symantec said.

The Allegations

The businesses, which have operated under eight different names--among them, Sili, Advanced Sales Productivity Solutions, and GT Micro--sent spam and posted online advertisements purporting to offer Symantec's software at cut-rate prices, said Cris Paden, a Symantec spokesperson.

Customers who paid for the software received disks bearing Symantec's logo but wrapped in plain white sleeves. The disks, which came without documentation, would not install or work properly and in some cases included malicious software designed to steal sensitive information from the purchaser's computer, Paden said.

Symantec began investigating the matter in early 2004, after receiving complaints from customers who had bought the bad software, Paden added. "The people who bought these disks thinking they were from Symantec would come to our customer service," he said.

Sle-business.com, one of the Sili Web sites named in Symantec's complaint, offers $6-per-user volume licensing deals on Symantec's Norton AntiVirus 2006, a product that typically sells for about $20.

Sle-business.com's Web site also offers software from McAfee, Intuit, Corel, Webroot Software, and others. Sili representatives could not be reached immediately for comment.

Symantec has worked with police to seize more than 100,000 copies of counterfeit disks, but Paden does not know whether criminal charges will be forthcoming in the case. "We are working with law enforcement," he said. "I can't tell you who because if I did that would tip our hands [as] to the extent of our investigation."

The Fight Against Unauthorized Copies

Like many other vendors, Symantec has become more aggressive in its fight against unauthorized copying. In 2002 and earlier, Symantec was losing about $500 million annually to software piracy, but it has now reduced those losses to less than $50 million per year, he said.

Customers worried that they may be buying phony software online should make sure that they are providing their credit-card information over a secure Web site, Paden said. When they are asked to enter a credit-card number, the Web address should begin with https://, and there should be a locked padlock displayed near the address to indicate that the browser is visiting a secure site.

"That's the smoking gun as to whether you're dealing with a legitimate outfit or not," Paden said. "Ninety-nine percent of the time these guys don't use this."

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