In Piracy Case, China Fights Hero

Hong Lei and his partners were the biggest pirates of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) software in China, but since his arrest last December, the 30-year-old creator of a popular Chinese clone of Windows called Tomato Garden Window XP has become something of an Internet hero.

The phenomenon underscores the challenges faced by Microsoft and other technology companies as they battle rampant piracy in China, despite official efforts to crack down.

Users of Mr. Hong’s software have launched fan sites, including one where they swap stories about how they “grew up” using his software, recognized by a cartoon icon of a smiling tomato wearing sunglasses. A survey of 184,000 people on Chinese Internet portal Sina.com, asking about the detentions, found that 80 percent of respondents supported Tomato Garden and only 4.4 percent supported Microsoft. Online forums are full of Mr. Hong’s supporters.

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