November 24, 2004 2:29 PM PST

Microsoft proposes piracy amnesty

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Microsoft has announced what it hopes will be a new attack on piracy. The company has decided to give away software to those who bought machines with fake copies pre-installed.

Microsoft will be offering anyone who's "unsure" about whether they've got dodgy software the chance to have it checked out by Microsoft, with the promise that if it does turn out to be counterfeit, they'll replace it.

The deal only covers Windows XP, and only five copies per person can be swapped. It's all free, besides the initial postage and packing. The offer only applies to pre-installed home or professional Windows XP bought before Nov. 1.

Alex Hilton, Microsoft's license compliance manager, said the bulk of piracy seen by Microsoft was in the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) sector.

"Some examples we're seeing from the Far East and Eastern Europe...are very high quality," Hilton said, and are aimed at the high-end user. "That's the sector we're trying to address."

Hilton also said anyone found with the pirate program won't suffer legal repercussions--but that their suppliers might. "Our goal is not to prosecute the individual; our goal is to get to the source," he said, adding that a decision on prosecution would be made on a case-by-case basis.

While Microsoft is hoping to get some idea of the extent of piracy in the U.K. with the program, it seems that consumers might be even more interested.

When the Redmond, Wash.-based company launched its Windows Genuine Advantage program to let its customers check whether they'd bought genuine software, it thought only 20,000 people would take it up on its offer. After a month, more than 800,000 had.

To get a replacement copy of Windows XP, PC users will need to send off their receipt and complete a witness statement, revealing where they bought their knock-off software.

About 29 percent of software applications in use in the United Kingdom are thought to be pirated, according to analyst group IDC.

Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from London.

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