A court in eastern China has sentenced four people to up to three-and-a-half years in prison for selling bootleg versions of Microsoft's Windows XP software, court officials said Friday.
State media described the case against Hong Lei, who created the "Tomato Garden" version of Windows XP -- and three others as the country's biggest ever on software copyright infringement.
A court in Suzhou city sentenced Hong and co-defendant Sun Xianzhong to three-and-a-half years in prison and ordered them each to pay a fine of one million yuan (146,000 dollars), the court confirmed.
Two others were given two-year jail terms and fined 100,000 yuan each.
The court said Hong and his partners offered free downloads of the pirated software to at least 10 million users, while raking in profits from Internet advertisements.
The Chengdu Gongruan Networking Technology Co Ltd, which ran the downloading website, was ordered to pay a fine of 8.77 million yuan and turn over 2.92 million yuan in income, it added.
Copyright counterfeiting is rampant in China and a constant irritant in trade ties with the United States.
Earlier this year, the US Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus placed China among the top five countries on its "International Piracy Watch List" for 2009.
In June 2008, the US-based Business Software Alliance, which includes Microsoft, complained to Chinese authorities about the "Tomato Garden" site, resulting in the arrests of Hong and his partners later that year.
"China?s efforts to stop intellectual property theft have been weak and ineffective, heavy on tough talk but light on implementation," US Congressman Howard Berman said after meetings this week with Chinese leaders.
"China must step up its enforcement efforts against Internet sites offering downloads, streams or links to pirated recordings and films," he said in a statement released Thursday.
Late last year, 11 counterfeiters were sentenced to up to six and a half years in prison in the southern city of Shenzhen for distributing more than two billion dollars' worth of high-quality fake Microsoft goods in 36 countries.
At the time, Microsoft described the group as the world's biggest software counterfeiting syndicate.
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