Microsoft setting up a programme for NGO support in Russia
On 13 September Microsoft’s Senior Vice-President Brad Smith announced the programme on the company’s official blog. He had read in the New York Times that “measures taken against piracy in Russia are not designed to protect intellectual property, but for other less benign reasons”. Mr Smith said “The article described cases in which state authorities had confiscated computers and prosecuted NGOs and other organisations which defend the public interest, on the grounds that this was to protect Microsoft’s intellectual property rights”. For example the police confiscated eleven computers and servers owned by the organisation Baikal Ecological Wave for having allegedly used unlicensed software programmes. And according to ASI, on 13 September the Russian General Procuracy began systematic checks on not for profit organisations. Among those checked were the Russian branch of Transparency International, the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, “Voice”, the Moscow Helsinki Group, ASI, and others. The reason for the sudden checks on these NGOs are not known.
So that NGOs are not victims of checks under the guise of the fight against piracy, Microsoft is developing a licence which will allow NGOs to copy Microsoft products legally and without a fee. Mr Smith said also that in 2009 a programme for support of NGOs had been launched – Infodonor (http://www.infodonor.ru). In connection with this programme, each NGO may receive free of charge six Microsoft programmes and may use them on up to 50 computers. In addition they may receive 300 new licences every two years. But some organisations do not know about Infodonor. Mr Smith said Microsoft would deal with this by offering NGOs licences which would operate automatically on computers of NGOs which have the software on them. The licences will also be available to small newspapers and independent media organisations. The licences will automatically be valid up to 2012. Mr Smith promised that any NGO or state organisation which requested it could have a letter containing full details of the software licence conditions and indicating that the NGO had the right to use the licence. It will thus be clear that the NGO is not using an illegal product and that there are no grounds for suspecting them of piracy.
Soon the internet will publish a list of lawyers authorised by Microsoft who are able to check whether any allegations on behalf of Microsoft are justified. After Mr Smith’s statement, the Director of the Russian branch of the company, Nikolai Pryanishnikov, said that information about procedures for obtaining the programmes and criteria for selection of recipients would be published in the near future. Microsoft’s initiative has been welcomed by leaders of NGOs.
Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of the “Eco-protection” Group said in an interview with ASI that the Russian authorities have been using the issue of intellectual property rights to “settle accounts with active civil society organisations”. He said that in the case concerning Baikal Ecological Wave, Microsoft’s management had made public that any pressure on the organisation had not been at the initiative of the company, but that it was not willing to become involved in the dispute. He said that after a series of similar cases, Microsoft managers had concluded that the Russian authorities were using the issue of software licensing for political ends. They had taken the only appropriate decision that was possible in Russian circumstances.