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Microsoft convicted of software piracy

The French subsidiary of one of the world's most vocal opponents of software piracy has itself been convicted of pirating a French 3D animation program.

This is the first ruling in a dispute that dates back to 1995, when Microsoft bought Softimage, a 3D computer-generated image (CGI) specialist which produced software violating the intellectual property of a small French software house.

The Commercial Court of Nanterre fined Microsoft France £285,000 in damage and interest for software piracy. "It's a start," said Maître Altermann, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, "although Microsoft continues to stall on the provisional execution of the judgment."

The company was sued for its involvement with Softimage France - a former wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft France that it decided to close in June 1997, assuming all rights and responsibilities associated with the dissolved company.

By then, Softimage France had already been pursued for two years for software piracy and unfair competition. The plaintiffs were the two French authors of a piece of 3D CGI animation software swallowed up by Softimage in the early 1990s.

The software in question was developed by Raymond Perrin and Isabelle Cuadros, owners of CGI animation company Syn'x Relief, based in Montreuil, just outside Paris.

Disappointed by the quality of the software tools available to them at the end of the 1980s, they developed a proprietary application, Character. The source code for it was registered with the French National Intellectual Property Institute, a necessary step in protecting software copyright under French law.

Following the judgment, Microsoft's lawyer said: "My clients do not wish to make any comment. We are confident and have decided to appeal against the Tribunal's decision."

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