Microsoft intervenes in Russian NGO crackdown

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Microsoft intervenes in Russian NGO crackdown

Licenses pirated software to thwart raids.

Microsoft will automatically license software installed on the computers of non-government organisations (NGOs) in over 30 countries to prevent the PCs being confiscated in political dissent crackdowns disguised as anti-piracy raids.

The new licenses would run until 2012 - enough time for Microsoft to bring NGOs onto its official software donation program, it said in a blog post.

The move came after the New York Times reported on Sunday that Russian authorities, under the guise of enforcing Microsoft's intellectual property, had confiscated the computers of NGO Baikal Environmental Wave and other political dissidents.

"To prevent non-government organisations from falling victim to nefarious actions taken in the guise of anti-piracy enforcement, Microsoft will create a new unilateral software license for NGOs that will ensure they have free, legal copies of our products," Microsoft's senior vice president and general counsel Brad Smith wrote Monday

Even worse for Microsoft, the lawyers it retained in Russia were reported as key supporters of "dozens" of similar raids in the country, and had rebuffed pleas by victims to stop working with authorities.

The NGO in question had been planning a protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's decision to reopen a paper factory that had once polluted Lake Baikal.

"We must accept responsibility and assume accountability for our anti-piracy work, including the good and the bad," said Smith.

Smith said that Microsoft gave away US$390 million worth of its software to 42,000 NGOs worldwide, and argued: "Clearly, we're trying to donate our software to NGOs, not focus on them as anti-piracy targets."

The problem in Russia, according to Smith, was that many NGOs were unaware of the Redmond giant's offer, which had to be procured via a Microsoft partner.

"We'll solve this problem by providing a unilateral NGO Software License that runs automatically from Microsoft to NGOs and covers the software already installed on their PCs," he said.

Another problem its piracy programs had helped foster in Russia were individuals who pretended to act on Microsoft's behalf in order to extort organisations with the threat of piracy charges.

Microsoft said it had retained an international law firm to investigate the Russian cases and make recommendations on how Microsoft could improve its practices.

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