Microsoft has applauded the Chinese government for clamping down on software pirates with prison sentences.
A court in Shenzhen, southern China, has handed down sentences to 11 ringleaders of what was described as the world's largest software counterfeiting syndicate.
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The sentences, ranging from 1.5 to 6.5 years, include the longest sentences handed down for this type of crime in China's history.
Based in the southern China province of Guangdong, members of the syndicate were arrested by Chinese authorities in July 2007, following an international investigation led by China's Public Security Bureau (PSB) and the FBI. Microsoft and hundreds of Microsoft customers and partners also provided information which assisted in the investigation.
The 11 accused were part of a criminal syndicate responsible for manufacturing and distributing an estimated $2bn-worth of high-quality counterfeit Microsoft software.
The counterfeit software, found in 36 countries and on five continents, contained fake versions of 19 of Microsoft's most popular products and was produced in at least 11 languages.
"Microsoft greatly appreciates the work of China's PSB and the FBI in taking strong enforcement action against this global software counterfeiting syndicate," said David Finn, associate general counsel for Worldwide Anti-Piracy and Anti-Counterfeiting at Microsoft.
Fengming Liu, vice-president of Microsoft Greater China Region, said, "Software piracy negatively impacts local economic growth, stifling innovation, taking business opportunity away from legitimate resale channels and putting consumers and partners at risk. Enforcement of intellectual property rights is critical to fostering an environment of innovation and fair competition."
Microsoft launched the Genuine Software Initiative in 2006, and since then it has intensified its efforts to protect customers and channel partners from the risks of counterfeit software through an increased focus on education, engineering and enforcement.