Microsoft pledges to protect NGOs from Russian government harassment

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Microsoft says it plans to investigate reports that its anti-piracy policy has been used by the Russian authorities to stifle political opposition.

The New York Times says that Russian police have been carrying out raids on environmental groups, NGOs, independent newspapers and political organizations under the guise of searching for pirated Microsoft software.

It cited the case of an environmental group campaigning against the opening of a paper factory on the shores of the already heavily-polluted Lake Baikal. The group was raided after a supposed complaint from someone who had never actually worked with it, and evidence of pirated software was faked, says the report.

Microsoft says it has not cooperated with such activities knowingly.

"Whatever the circumstances of the particular cases the New York Times described, we want to be clear that we unequivocally abhor any attempt to leverage intellectual property rights to stifle political advocacy or pursue improper personal gain," says Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith. 

"We are moving swiftly to seek to remove any incentive or ability to engage in such behavior."

Microsoft says it now plans to hire an international law firm to investigate the allegations. In the meantime, though, it plans to take a number of actions. For a start, says Smith, it will expand its policy of donating software to NGOs and create a special type of free license for them - if they don't have to pay for it, they can't be accused of pirating it.

The company will also create a new NGO Legal Assistance Program to help NGOs prove to the authorities that they do have legal software.

"Upon request by an NGO, the relevant authorities or, as appropriate at our own initiative, Microsoft, will provide a letter setting out the terms of the NGO Software License and will affirm that the NGO is covered by its terms," says Smith. 

"This will thereby make clear that the NGO is not using illegal Microsoft products and that there is no basis for any claim of copyright infringement in the matter."