Courts in Shenzhen, China issued prison terms to each of the eleven men thought to be masterminding the counterfeit ring. The operation was said to be based out of southern China with distribution to five continents and 36 countries.
According to Microsoft, the ring was distributing at least 19 of its products, totaling to a market value of US$2bn. The syndicate was broken up by Chinese authorities in 2007 as the conclusion of a joint operation by Chinese and American law enforcement.
Microsoft also claimed a role in the investigation. The company said that it collected thousands of user reports and information from some 100 resellers who had provided payment information and correspondence with the piracy ring.
The sentences handed down by the courts range from 1.5 to 6.5 years for each of the men, a record sentence for piracy infractions in China, which has received criticism from western governments for its lenient stance on patent infringement.
"Enforcement of intellectual property rights is critical to fostering an environment of innovation and fair competition," said Fengming Liu, vice president of the greater China region for Microsoft.
"Thanks to the actions of the Chinese government, we have seen a significant improvement in the environment for intellectual property rights in China."
The investigation brought to light what Microsoft describes as a global epidemic of piracy. Cybercrime experts have pointed to the global nature of internet crimes and lack of clear-cut jurisdictions as a major hurdle for law enforcement groups.
David Finn, associate general council for Microsoft's worldwide anti-piracy and anti-counterfeiting operation, echoed that sentiment.
"Unfortunately, software counterfeiting is a global, illegal business without borders," Finn explained.
"Criminals may be on the other side of the globe and may not even speak the same language, but they prey upon customers and partners all over the world."
China lays claim to world's largest piracy bust
By Shaun Nichols on Jan 5, 2009 2:03PM