Will Microsoft Really Help Human Rights Defenders and Media in Russia?

Source: hro.org (author), 14/09/10

· Freedom of Speech · Human Rights Defenders · Ryazan Region

Andrei Blinushov, Ryazan Memorial and HRO.org: “In the last few days a serious scandal has arisen around Microsoft and the police harassment of NGO activists and independent journalists in Russia regarding the ‘use of pirated software’.

The influential New York Times was the first to take up the issue in two articles by its Russia correspondent Clifford Levy.

Summary in Russian: http://newsru.com/russia/13sep2010/psevdopirati.html
Original in English: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/12/world/europe/12raids.html?_r=4&ref=technology&pagewanted=all

Another New York Times article on the same theme:

It is interesting that the Microsoft’s reaction to criticism by one of the most influential English-language newspapers was immediate:

Summary in Russian:
Original in English:

And as the apotheosis of the scandal: Microsoft, in the words of Brad Smith (Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Microsoft) in an official blog, “will give human rights defenders and independent media a free licence for their software.”

Summary in Russian:
Original in English:

The legal side of Microsoft’s initiative is not entirely clear. Especially at the junction where Russian legislation meets the intricate windings of local law enforcement practice.

I would hope that Microsoft does not intend to provide the software via its charitable programme Infodonor, but has really taken a decision to make a ‘free gift’ of the licence to NGOs. The Infodonor programme involves long bureaucratic procedures and the need to make certain payments for the software (for some reason, for a limited time).

As a point of information, it should be pointed out that getting documents and software from the Infodonor programme takes months (that is, if they include you in it). And this is a very important point: Microsoft’s Infodonor programme for NGOs and independent media provided OEM-versions of Windows, and the use of OEM leads, when a computer is upgraded, to a legal trap.

It is very important now that a competent human rights organization with the appropriate legal expertise finds out from Microsoft the legal and organizational details. And this organization should prepare a clear step by step set of instructions for the Russian Third Sector, explaining how to best access this latest initiative by Microsoft for NGOs and media.

If, that is, this indeed proves to be an act of assistance to NGOs and independent media by the software giant, and not a formal attempt to ‘save face’ against the background of arbitrariness and abuses of the campaign to combat software piracy in Russia.”