Microsoft's has filed 52 lawsuits and made 22 referrals to law enforcement agencies related to counterfeit software. All of these cases involved pirated copies of Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows.

Microsoft has gotten very serious about protecting its software from theft. The company started a "Windows Genuine Advantage" program which allows consumers to check software for authenticity. This has made it easier for Microsoft to identify pirated software, especially that produced by counterfeiting rings.

Have you thought about pirating some computer software? Think again.

It's amazing to me that some consumers don't see pirating software as stealing. But it is most definitely stealing. Companies develop computer software and then distribute it with a license. That license dictates how the software must be used.In some cases, software is free. In most cases it is not. And those software licensing agreements become very important when the software is for sale. The agreement tells the consumer exactly how many computers the software may be installed on and how the software may be used.

For example, a software title may allow a consumer to install the software on one desktop computer and one laptop computer, so long as only one copy is being actively used at any given time. Any other use, such as installing the software on a third computer (without purchasing another license) is a violation of the license and is essentially stealing.

We may not like the rules. We might hate the software companies. But the software is their intellectual property, and they have a right to license it under whatever terms they want. And if a consumer wants to use the software, he or she must abide by those rules.

Don't risk legal action or computer problems by using pirated software.

Forensic accountant Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations through her company, Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners honored Tracy as the 2007 winner of the prestigious Hubbard Award and her first book, Essentials of Corporate Fraud, will be on bookshelves in March 2008.

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