According to Reuters, a top Chinese copyright official criticized Microsoft for implementing an anti-piracy tool that nags users of counterfeit software with a black computer screen. The same official also criticized Microsoft’s prices as too high for the Chinese market.
The validation software called Windows Genuine Advantage launched in China last week, and the program displays a black desktop on counterfeit versions of the Windows XP operating system with a permanent nag notice in the bottom-right corner of the screen. Users can change the background, but it reverts to black after an hour.
Microsoft’s attempt to discourage piracy was met with outrage in China where a large majority of computer users are believed to be using pirated versions of its software. Threats of lawsuits against Microsoft turned in to a reality as the outrage grew.
Dong Zhengwei, a Beijing lawyer, said Microsoft was abusing its market power and had filed a complaint to China's trade watchdog, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the China Daily said in a report.
In a PC World article Dong said, "Microsoft's measure will cause serious functional damage to users' computers and, according to China's criminal law, the company can stand accused of breaching and hacking into computer systems of Chinese." Dong also said Microsoft was targeting the wrong group stating, "I respect the right of Microsoft to protect its intellectual property, but it is taking on the wrong target with wrong measures." He also added, "They should target producers and sellers of fake software, not users."
Chinese users expressed their displeasure by posting their thoughts to the Sina.com portal. User Liu Peng wrote, "First of all, Microsoft anti-piracy has the wrong focus. The fight against piracy should focus on the pirates."
An online survey conducted by Sina.com showed 86% of 90,000 people polled saying that they wouldn't buy a legal copy because of the new anti-piracy software. It was unclear what percentage would have bought a legal copy had the anti-piracy measures not been implemented.
National Copyright Administration (NCA) Vice-Director Yan Xiaohong said his agency supported "the rights-safeguarding move taken by institutions including Microsoft," according to the Xinhua news agency. Yan objected to the method Microsoft chose to use stating companies should "pay attention to the methods. Whether the 'black-out' method should be adopted is open to question. Measures for safeguarding rights also need to be appropriate," Yan also said Microsoft's price policies needed to "fit the Chinese situation." stating, "The company adopted unified prices in the past without considering the income gap between developed and developing countries, so we need to kindly remind them that Chinese customers' affordability should be considered."
Microsoft defended the program as a measure to protect its intellectual property and help customers determine that they have legal software. A Microsoft spokeswoman said the Chinese reaction is overblown. "It seems like they don't know how Windows Genuine Advantage is deployed. It's only installed after you've accepted the download," she said. These statements refute comments made by some Chinese users that they were surprised by the change. Microsoft had also warned users last week that the change was coming, "It's possible they clicked without noticing” she added.
She also mentioned that the recent validation update is not the first time that Microsoft's software has come with anti-piracy protection in China. "Odds are, this was probably not the first time you've seen a Windows Genuine Advantage notification if you're seeing it now," she continued, referring to the older Notifications software that displayed only a log-on message and a small less intrusive pop up in the bottom right corner.
Although this issue has generated significant outrage within the Chinese community, methods for getting around the validation program were circulated on Chinese blogs and internet chat-rooms within days of its launch.