Microsoft’s Change of Heart on Russian Software License Enforcement

By Deane Barker on September 14, 2010

So, the New York Times ran an article on Saturday that chronicled how Russian activist groups that the government doesn’t like get regularly raided and prosecuted for pirated Microsoft software, even when the groups have taken great pains to not pirate anything.  Worse: Microsoft seemed complicit in these prosecutions.

Instead, the group fell victim to one of the authorities’ newest tactics for quelling dissent: confiscating computers under the pretext of searching for pirated Microsoft software.

Across Russia, the security services have carried out dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers in recent years. Security officials say the inquiries reflect their concern about software piracy, which is rampant in Russia. Yet they rarely if ever carry out raids against advocacy groups or news organizations that back the government.

The article was widely-read and publicized, and today, just three days later, Microsoft announces sweeping changes in IP enforcement in Russia:

The new Microsoft policy was announced in an apologetic statement […] Mr. Smith said that Microsoft would make sure that it was no longer offering legal support to politically motivated piracy inquiries by providing a blanket software license to advocacy groups and media outlets. They would be automatically covered by it, without having to apply.

“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,” Mr. Smith said in a post on the company’s blog. “We are moving swiftly to seek to remove any incentive or ability to engage in such behavior.”

Score one for the power of the press.