Microsoft Accused of Targeting Small Businesses

Having apparently not received its fill of litigation over the past several years, Microsoft Corp. filed eight federal lawsuits alleging copyright and trademark infringement against small companies in North Carolina and Tennessee Wednesday. The software giant alleges that the defendants distributed pirated copies of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office.

The firms in question assert that they are innocent victims who unwittingly purchased illegal software from a rogue distributor.

Ismal Elamar, president of Hi-Tech Systems, Inc., told the E-Commerce Times that his company made mistakes in purchasing illegal software but that Microsoft’s reaction is wholly disproportionate. “Microsoft is targeting small business owners to shut them down,” he said.

Microsoft did not specify damages in any of the suits.

Small Town Defendants

The software giant sued four Tennessee companies: Cardinal Computer Corp. of Gainesboro, Computer Outlet of Lebanon, Computer Solutions/Point-N-Shoot of Joelton, and Hi-Tech Systems.

Suits were also filed against four companies in North Carolina: Computer Media Concepts of Pineville, Computer Support Services of Charlotte, PC Tech, Inc. of Charlotte, and System Plus Information Inc. dba PC Warehouse of Charlotte.

Donna Burnside, co-owner of Cardinal Computer Corporation, claims that prior to making mass purchases from the distributor in question, she and her husband checked the legitimacy of the source. It was only after several steps of checking and re-checking that they purchased large quantities.

Craig Williams, operations manager for Computer Solutions/Point-N-Shoot, said his company got illegal software from an out-of-state distributor and that they are working with Microsoft to track down the source of the software.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to cooperate and solve the problem,” he said.

Industry Viewpoint

According to Microsoft distributors, the suits are important enforcement tools. Greg Aker, president of InfoVision, Inc., said, “Every software developer, regardless of how large or how small, deserves royalties and maintenance fees for their products to ensure the long-term viability of the developer and product.”

“Software piracy is a large problem in Tennessee,” said Greg Kill, president of Fasser Computer Technologies. “It’s hard for us to be competitive when we have to contend with resellers who are offering counterfeit software.”

Similar Suits in Japan

Microsoft is also taking on copyright violations in Japan, according to a report in AsiaBizTech. Along with Adobe Systems and Apple Computer, the company filed a joint lawsuit in Tokyo District Court Monday against LEC Tokyo Legalmind Co., Ltd. for copyright infringement. LEC is the largest vocational law school in Japan.

The suit alleges that the Japanese law school made 545 total illicit copies of 30 software titles. The companies are asking that LEC pay $1.1 million (US$) in damages and legal costs.

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