The Chinese IT community is abuzz with news of the arrest of Hong Lei, distributor of the popular "Tomato Garden" pirate version of Windows XP, which means the popular unlocked version of the Microsoft software will no longer be available.
According to Sina.com, more than 90 percent of users they surveyed are or were users of Tomato Garden pirate editions. And 79 percent said they were on Tomato Garden’s side. Less than 5 percent said they supported Microsoft.
The logic is clear: when a pirated copy of Windows software is available for 5 yuan, who would pay nearly a month's salary for a copy of authentic software produced by a foreign company that has already collected billions of dollars in revenue around the world?
But Yu Weidong, director of intellectual property at Microsoft said price comparisons between legal and the pirated versions is meaningless because they take no account of research and development costs.
"Overwhelming support from the public doesn't justify Tomato Garden’s piracy. Some netizens are getting very emotional and confusing issues such as piracy, monopoly and intellectual property rights," said Feng Xiaoqing, professor at China University of Political Science and Law.
Microsoft in a sensitive position
Apart from the price difference, some netizens said that Microsoft's monopolistic intentions contributed to their support to Hong Lei.
Critics say Microsoft's move against Tomato Garden is an act to fend off complaints about that the company took advantage of the pirated software to get an initial foothold in the Chinese market and only began to file lawsuits against pirates when software users had become "addicted" to Microsoft products.
"Microsoft is conducting harmful trading practices in China, such as bundling products in with its Windows operating system. This violates consumers' rights to choose alternative products," says Dong Zhengwei, a lawyer with a Chinese law firm who claims to have lodged a complaint against Microsoft with the Chinese government.
"In addition, Microsoft sells its products in China for the same price as in the United States, which is higher than similar Chinese products; more evidence of its monopolistic intentions," he says.
China's anti-monopoly law took effect in August, and has put Microsoft in a sensitive position.
"There is no excuse for piracy even if the Microsoft’s behavior can be shown to be monopolistic. Monopoly and piracy are two separate issues," Feng said.
Ni Guangnan, from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, wrote in a recent article posted on Sina.com that rampant software piracy has hurt domestic companies far more than foreign companies.
"Although pirated software has reduced the revenue of foreign companies, it has helped maintain their dominant position in the market and squeezed domestic companies out," says Ni. "We should continue to crack down on pirated software, not for the benefit of foreign companies, but for our own benefit."
(China.org.cn by Xiang Bin October 15, 2008)