Police have arrested 24 people across China accused of selling more than 44 million yuan ($7 million) worth of pirated computer software, law enforcement officials said Wednesday at a press conference.
The arrests were part of a broader police effort this year to crack down on intellectual property crimes.
Hongkou police began investigating the case after the software's developer, the Shanghai subsidiary of Glodon Software Co, filed a complaint that many online shops on taobao.com were selling pirated copies of their product, an expensive specialty program used to analyze the cost of construction projects.
"We found an abundance of shops selling the pirated software online, more than 100 of which were of a pretty large scale," said Xi Jiarong, a senior officer with the Hongkou police's economic investigation division.
Police identified 42 online stores that could be charged criminally as they had sold more than 500 pirated copies of the software. "They sold the copies for between 150 yuan and 200 yuan. A genuine copy retails for more than 20,000 yuan," Xi said.
The shops were scattered across 10 cities and provinces, including Shanghai, Guangdong Province and Sichuan Province.
Online piracy has become a widespread problem for software developers, said Wang Xin, the deputy general manager of Glodon Software's Shanghai subsidiary. "We have talked to taobao.com, but it didn't offer much help. There are so many shops that it is impossible to shut them all down," Wang told the Global Times.
The company has established a special department to deal with the piracy problem, but it has had difficulty preventing it technically because the pirates continually improved their skills, Wang said.
Most of the shops that had been selling the pirated software shut down after they learned their competitors had been charged criminally, Xi said.
As part of the campaign against intellectual property crimes, police also launched an investigation into a group of suspects accused of selling more than 80 million yuan worth of knockoff watches online to overseas buyers.
The suspects sold watches they bought for 50 yuan to 100 yuan to customers at prices ranging from $30 to $200.