Human Rights Organizations and Computer Software

Author: Pavel Chikov, 17/09/10

· Articles by Human Rights Defenders

Pavel Chikov, director of the Agora Human Rights Association: “No matter how influential Bill Gates may be, he is not able to abolish the Russian Criminal Code, or even the single notorious Article 146.”

Microsoft's publicity stunt in support of Russian civil society activists has a primarily symbolic character. The giant corporation acknowledged by its statement that the Russian authorities use its name and anti-piracy policy to put pressure on civil society activists and journalists.

At the same time, the demonstration of support and solidarity with Russian activists by a major global player is also very valuable.

On a practical level, we need to examine the substance of the statement by Microsoft in detail. The company has promised to give Russian non-governmental organizations a free licence for its products.

Despite commentaries that followed immediately after in the press, this does not mean that now NGOs can freely obtain and continue to use pirated software. No matter how influential Bill Gates may be, he is not able to abolish the Russian Criminal Code, or even the single notorious Article 146.

Illegal use of copyright committed on a large scale (over 50 000 roubles in terms of the value of legal software), still remains a criminal offence. And even the position of the representative of Microsoft, that he has no claims in this regard, will not be the determining factor, since the crime lies in the area of public law, in other words a prosecution cannot be stopped at the request of the victim.

For these reasons then, nonetheless, civil society organizations must remove pirated software from their computers. Consequently, the question arises as what to use in its place? As before, an organization has three options:

A ) to use software with an open code, so-called open source software, that is, Linux instead of Windows, OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office, Firefox instead of Explorer, and so on;

2) to purchase legal software at market price;

3 ) to try to obtain this free licence from Microsoft.

The last of these options most likely will be realized in the framework of the corporation’s Infodonor programme, thanks to which for several years now Russian mass media and nongovernmental organizations have been able to obtain Microsoft’s products at significantly below market value.

However, this scheme requires time, preparation of a number of documents and approval by the donor. It also has some other limitations.

Since 2006 Agora has used a combination of options 1 and 2. All this time we have been using the free online programme OpenOffice, which can be freely updated and allows documents in the format of Microsoft Document to be opened, edited and saved, and Firefox and Opera to browse the Internet. No complications have arisen as a result.

Only our accountant uses a purchased copy of Microsoft Office for more convenient working in Excel.

In addition, on each computer we have installed Windows Professional and a licensed version of Kaspersky Anti-Virus.

We tried to use Linux and free antivirus programes, but this proved inconvenient. And of course we use Garant - where would lawyers be without this programme?

A refusal to use Microsoft products widely is also linked with a reluctance to support a corporation that enjoys a near monopoly. To some extent, this is personal solidarity with alterglobalists and support for the idea of free software.

Whichever option you choose, it’s for you to decide!