Want a sneak-peak at a story line from next season’s Sopranos? Tony becomes a reseller.

According to Diana Piquette, anti-piracy manager for Microsoft Canada, organized crime is playing a bigger role in the global piracy scene.

“”Crime

gangs like Wah Ching, an Asian gang with a strong connection to Taiwan and Hong Kong and who have a presence in Canada, have been implicated through several high-profile cases over the last year-and-a-half involving tens of millions in counterfeit software,”” Piquette said during a Web cast reviewing piracy in 2001 on Tuesday.

“”Criminal gangs throughout Asia and the United States are emerging as key distributors of counterfeit CDs,”” she said. “”So why is organized crime becoming a major player in the illegal trade? (It’s) less risky that dealing in drugs, the penalties are potentially less and the profits are huge.””

Piquette added there are also links between illegal software sales and terrorist organizations. She said according to the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland fund their terrorist activities through the sale of counterfeit products. There are also links, she said, between the production of counterfeit software and the drug cartels of Columbia.

Software companies, however, have more to worry about than the mob, according to Al Steel. The president of the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft said start-up costs, if you will, are so low almost anyone can get into the game.

Despite these factors, software piracy declined in 2001. Piquette said 38 per cent of software in Canada is pirated, down from 41 per cent in 1999. While this is good news, and Steel said he expects the number to decrease again this year, Piquette said the impact of 38 per cent is immense.

“”With less people purchasing legitimate product, there is less need for skilled software professionals. In Canada this translated into 32,000 forfeited jobs and over $1.2 billion in lost wages and revenue,”” she said, adding that $345 million was lost tax revenues in 2001.

Piquette said the highest piracy rate in the country is in the Maritimes, with Prince Edward Island leading the way at 49 per cent. Ontario had one of the lowest (36 per cent), but may have led the way in resellers charged. In November, approximately 20 greater-Toronto resellers were identified as allegedly engaging in unauthorized hard-disk loading, according to Piquette. Microsoft filed lawsuits against six of them. Three settled and three cases are still ongoing.

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