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Jail Time For Microsoft Pirate

A German software dealer was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in jail Thursday on a fraud conviction for reselling bare-bones Microsoft Corp. products as higher-priced deluxe versions, costing the software giant $5.5 million in lost revenues.

Ralf Blasek, 38, a software dealer in the west German town of Willich, admitted during his trial to buying software priced for educators in Belgium, then mislabeling them to sell at higher prices to dealers in Bochum, according to prosecutors.

Microsoft applauded the sentence, which it said was the longest jail sentence ever in Germany for software-related fraud.

"We ... see this as evidence that software piracy will be increasingly taken seriously as a grave crime," said Microsoft spokesman Hans-Juergen Croissant.

"This is a clear signal to everyone who would like to profit in grand style through software crime, and thus hugely damage the state, business and customers."

Microsoft spokesman Thomas Baumgaertner said he believed losses estimated by the court were on the low side when factoring in money lost to state governments in taxes and to resellers.

'We have opinions that say even 20 million euros ($25 million) would be low," he said.

Judge Wolfgang Mittrup of the Bochum state court said that Blasek had a "deeply criminal personality" and used the money from the piracy to live a luxurious life, buying dozens of properties and several expensive cars.

Mittrup said he took Blasek's confession into account in setting the sentence.

In November, police assisted by Microsoft specialists raided dozens of homes and offices across west Germany, arresting eight people, including Blasek, for suspicion of copyright offenses, including producing copied or faked CD-ROMs of popular programs on a commercial scale and passing off cheaper versions of programs as the more sophisticated editions.

By Matt Surman

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