By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer
Computer software makers launched a crackdown on illegal Internet sales of their products Tuesday by suing suspected pirates who have set up shop on the popular online auction site eBay Inc.
Usually fierce rivals Symantec Corp. and McAfee Inc. teamed up to kick off the crusade by targeting five different eBay sellers in three lawsuits filed Monday in a Los Angeles federal court.
"If online marketplaces are going to pursue the free-market ideals that they aspire to, they must make sure the products they sell are authentic," said Joe Fitzgerald, Symantec's vice president of intellectual property.
The two leading makers of antivirus software decided to sue after uncovering evidence that the individuals named in the complaints had completed more than 15,000 sales involving pirated software between October 2005 and December 2005, said Keith Kupferschmid, an executive with the Software & Information Industry Association.
The trade group is coordinating the software industry's efforts to patrol eBay and other Internet auction sites for pirates. Kupferschmid said the group intends to buy copies of pirated software in the auctions and then sue "egregious" copyright violators without forewarning. The industry expects to file the suits on a monthly basis.
The campaign isn't currently aimed at eBay or the buyers of pirated software.
Besides software makers, the association also represents a large number of providers of electronic information, including The Associated Press.
This week's initial burst of lawsuits named: Edward Cosmos of Bloomington, Calif.; Grace Chan of San Jose, Calif.; Kevin Liu of New Brunswick, N.J..; Mary Tian of New Brunswick, N.J.; and G.T. Tian of Highland Park, N.J.
"I did nothing wrong," said a man who identified himself as Liu after the AP sent an e-mail asking him to call. The man didn't respond to another question before the phone call abruptly ended.
Cosmos and the Tians didn't immediately respond to e-mails sent to their eBay profiles Tuesday. Chan's auction registration is no longer active, according to eBay. Efforts to locate a phone number for her were unsuccessful.
Cosmos and Chan received nothing but positive feedback from sellers, according to their eBay profiles. A few negative remarks were mixed with the mostly flattering commentary posted about Liu and the Tians on eBay's site.
The civil suits seek unspecified damages, as well as court orders to prevent future copyright and trademark infringement.
Software makers have long complained about pirates looting their sales. The industry estimates it loses $11 billion to $12 billion a year from the distribution of pirated software.
The industry believes 90 percent of all software sold on Internet auctions violates copyrights or licensing agreements, Kupferschmid said.
San Jose, Calif.-based eBay disagreed with those estimates. "We know (piracy) is an issue, but we don't think it's a big problem," spokesman Hani Durzy said. Ebay supports the software industry's efforts to penalize pirates, Durzy said.
Copyright holders and eBay don't always agree on the definition of an improper sale.
For an example, a small business that bought a piece software that was never installed on a computer may have a legal right to sell the unopened copy on eBay, Durzy said, even though the manufacturer might disagree.
In auctions involving clear-cut cases of piracy, eBay removes the listing within hours, Durzy said.
But Kupferschmid said eBay sometimes takes several days before shutting down an auction of pirated software. He also expressed frustration with an eBay policy that allows sellers previously flagged for piracy to run future auctions.
"It's like playing 'Whack-A-Mole,' " Kupferschmid said. "You take one auction down and then another one pops up."
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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