posted by Thom Holwerda on Mon 13th Sep 2010 20:57 UTC
IconWho said a public outcry - even if it's just on the internet - never helped anyone? Yesterday, we reported on The New York Times' findings that Microsoft lawyers were taking part in raids on opposition groups in Russia. Today, Microsoft has announced a number of steps to fix the situation - the most significant of which is a unilateral software license extended to all NGOs in Russia and several other countries.

Microsoft already has several programs in place that provide NGOs with free software licenses. Over 2009, the company donated over $390 million in software to over 42000 NGOs around the world. The problem in Russia, however, is that many NGOs are not ware of this program. Microsoft will now fix this issue by creating a unilateral license for NGOs in Russia.

"To prevent non-government organizations 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," announced Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel.

The license will be applicable in Russia and several other countries, and will cover newspapers and smaller independent media as well. The license is automatic; i.e., it will apply to these organisations without them having to undertake any action. In other words, the authorities in Russia and some other countries can no longer use piracy as a cover for exerting political pressure.

Since Microsoft still wants to move organisations into the existing donation program over time, the license is set to expire after 2012. However, if more time is needed, the license duration will be extended.

In addition, Microsoft will ensure the proper authorities know about this new license. "Of course, to be effective this information needs to make its way through the legal process and into the courtroom," Smith details, "For this reason, we're creating in Russia a new NGO Legal Assistance Program focused specifically on helping NGOs document to the authorities that this new software license proves that they have legal software."

While Microsoft believes in its fight against software piracy, "none of this should create a pretext for the inappropriate pursuit of NGOs, newspapers, or other participants in civil society. And we certainly don't want to contribute to any such effort, even inadvertently."

Kudos to Microsoft for this swift course of action, and while this surely will not prevent the Russian authorities from harassing political opponents, it at least makes it a tiny little bit harder.

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