Pirated Software, Video CDs Destroyed

KHMETEVO, Central Russia -- Authorities have destroyed nearly half a million illegal computer CDs in a rare public display of action against the rampant piracy of computer and music discs.

Yet even as a massive bulldozer crushed pirated copies of popular programs such as computer software giant Microsoft's Windows 98 on Tuesday, a Moscow outdoor market continued to offer pirated CDs for about $2.

"Of course, this action does not mean that we can eliminate piracy in one day," said Maria Pichakhchi, a Microsoft spokeswoman who watched officials crush and bury discs at a remote garbage dump about 60 kilometers from central Moscow.

"But it does show that discs seized by the police are indeed being destroyed."

Experts say about 90 percent of Russia's software and music CDs, and about the same amount in video sales, are unauthorized.

Andrei Trofimov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry's new division fighting high-tech crimes, said Tuesday's action was evidence of a better-focused fight against piracy.

"We used to handle this through the department of economic crimes, which looked at not only fake computer software but also toothpaste and soap," he said. "Now it's easier because we have a narrower focus."

Officials said they were now concentrating on underground factories and distribution points and had seized the pirated discs destroyed Tuesday during a big operation in mid-June.

Alexei Sidorov, an expert with the Russian Anti-Software Piracy Association, which is funded by software manufacturers, said about 1.5 million fake discs, costing 25 cents to 45 cents each, were manufactured in the Moscow area every month.

Many contain thousands of dollars' worth of software by offering many different programs on one CD.

Such rampant piracy translates into millions of dollars in lost sales. Pichakhchi said Microsoft made $37 million in Russian sales last year, a number that would have been 10 times bigger had all software users paid full price.

Even though Russian officials say they want to stamp out piracy, city-regulated markets continue to feature pirated CDs.

"If you close a market in one place ... it will crop up in a different place because there is such a high demand for the product," said Inessa Grikurova, marketing manager for the Business Software Alliance.