January 21, 2007 8:10 PM PST

Microsoft to use comics in antipiracy campaign

Microsoft is expanding its fight against software piracy with a new educational effort that includes comics.

The online campaign, set to start on Monday, is meant to tell people the benefits of using properly licensed software. It covers such aspects as awareness of intellectual property rights, risks of using pirated products, proper licensing practices and legalization of fraudulent products.

Windows XP

"We want to enable customers to make informed decisions that are best for their business by providing them with the facts that they need," Cori Hartje, director of Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative, said in an interview.

Dubbed "Genuine Fact Files," the campaign is now launching in the U.S. It went online last month in Italy, France, the U.K., Indonesia, Brazil, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Microsoft plans to draw attention to it through banner ads on its Web sites and promotional material that it will hand out through partners. By using comics, the company aims to make the message more accessible to a broader audience. They are black and white, in a style similar to newspaper comics.

Microsoft has escalated its effort to combat piracy since mid-2005. Windows users now have to electronically verify their license with Microsoft before downloading additional Microsoft software such Internet Explorer 7. Also, Microsoft pushes out a utility that checks whether Windows installations are legitimate through the same Automatic Updates feature it uses to distribute security patches.

While some of the measures have irked some users, Microsoft says such steps are justified because piracy is rampant and hurting its sales. More than a third of all software installed in 2005 was pirated or unlicensed, according to figures from the Business Software Alliance, an industry group.

"If you do the math, with a company the size of Microsoft, that's a lot of money," Hartje said. "We're trying to protect Microsoft's intellectual property and shareholders." Also, legitimate Microsoft resellers are affected by piracy and, in some cases, pirated software has been modified and could hurt users, she added.

The antipiracy fight is a multimillion-dollar effort, Hartje said. Although it has been going on for some time, Microsoft can't say whether the fight is paying off. "This is a multi-inning game. We're in the first inning and it is too early to tell what the long-term impact will be," she said.

One indication that, perhaps, the effort isn?t going all that well: on a December trip to Brazil, Hartje was able to purchase a pirated copy of Windows Vista for $5, only weeks after the product was released to business customers. However, the copy sold could become unusable because Microsoft was likely to disable product keys on such copies.

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