Felida couple face punishment for good intentions

They unknowingly tried to sell counterfeit Rosetta Stone software to pay for nephew's headstone

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

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A Felida couple who were hoping to raise funds to pay for their nephew's headstone have found themselves facing a $500 to $1,000 fine and potential legal battle for unwittingly distributing counterfeit software.

John and Susy Hoefer received a cease-and-desist letter after posting Rosetta Stone software found in their nephew's belongings on eBay earlier this month.

The company says the software they posted is counterfeit. The Hoefers said they had no idea it wasn't genuine software and didn't want to sell anything that was pirated.

"It didn't occur to us for a second that it wasn't legit," John Hoefer said last week.

Their nephew, Jeffrey Howell, 43, of Lake Oswego, Ore., died of an undiagnosed heart condition in December. Howell's mom found the software in his room after his death, Susy Hoefer said. She assumes Howell, who loved animals and spent many years breeding and showing dogs, bought the software to prepare to attend veterinary school in Latin America. No one is sure where he bought the software.

John Hoefer thought the software was genuine because of the quality of the printing on the box and the fact that it was sealed in plastic. The two found several other eBay listings — some were completed sales -- with the same box pictured.

John took a few details off the box and its packaging, and Susy Hoefer put it on eBay.

After a few days eBay pulled the listing. A few days later, the two got the cease-and-desist letter.

Miranda Rowe Harper, spokeswoman for Rosetta Stone, said she couldn't comment on the specific case but said in an email statement the company has a "very active" anti-piracy program to deal with counterfeit products.

"Rosetta Stone is in an ongoing dialogue with the parties involved in this particular case to potentially resolve the issue so that counterfeit software is no longer being offered by this individual to unsuspecting consumers," she wrote.

Susy Hoefer said she has positive feedback for her previous eBay transactions and has never tried to sell software before. "We'd have to be really dumb to intentionally sell stolen software so openly," she said.

John Hoefer said he called William Thomas in Rosetta Stone's legal department after getting the letter. He was told that Rosetta Stone software isn't shipped in plastic wrapping and the company could tell it was counterfeit based on the images the Hoefers posted online.

John Hoefer said he was told he could pay $1,000 in 10 monthly payments or a lump sum payment of $800 to settle things.

He told Thomas about the situation and said they didn't know the software was pirated. He said he and his wife didn't have the money and if they did, it would be coming out of the funds to pay for his nephew's headstone. He offered to send the box to the company.

Thomas said it didn't matter; he needed to pay to settle.

When John Hoefer called a second time, he said, he was told he could settle things for $700 over 10 months or a $500 lump sum payment.

"Frankly, if we had money to give them, we would," John Hoefer said. He and his wife are scraping by to make the rent payments as it is, he said.

The Hoefers had until Friday to let Rosetta Stone know if they were going to pay.

On Friday morning, John Hoefer said he "can't do anything," because they don't have any money. He was hoping to get in touch with some of the higher-ups in Rosetta Stone to plead his case.

"Never in a million years would I have expected to find myself in this situation," Susy Hoefer said. "It's pretty stressful."

They're waiting to see what happens next.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;paul.suarez@columbian.com.