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September 14, 2010
Russia Uses Microsoft IP to Suppress Dissent
Microsoft caught in bed with the Russian FSB; this stuff just can't be made up. The NY Times reported this weekend
that Russian authorities are making bogus raids on NGOs. The supposed purpose of these raids is to find pirated copies of Microsoft software and NGOs are reporting their computers are seized and not returned. Of course, anyone who can search the Web knows that Russia is a haven for copiers of all sorts and you can just as easily find copies of Microsoft products on .ru Web sites as you can find copies of movies and MP3s of music.
None of that seems to bother the authorities, somehow. Instead, according to Cliff Levy's article, the Russians have made "dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers." Suspicious much?
Microsoft comes in for criticism is that it has apparently known about this for months and done nothing. Levy further notes that human rights groups in Russia have been trying for months to get Microsoft to act. According to self-proclaimed cyber-cynic Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in ComputerWorld, Microsoft has even gone so far as to provide information to support the police actions, though Microsoft claims those are just local lawyers it hired and apparently failed to supervise adequately.
It seems that the light of publicity is finally spurring action, though. Today's update to the story comes from Fred Weir at the Christian Science Monitor: Microsoft is offering, essentially, a shield license for journalists and NGOs. These organizations and individuals would be able to have free legally licensed copies of Microsoft products, which would end any IP-related pretext for the police raids. In addition, Microsoft are supposed to be setting up a legal assistance program to help NGOs who have already lost their computers prove that they had legal licenses to the Microsoft software on the machines.
In a sense, this is a "better late than never" kind of sad story. It's also a lesson in how real journalism can spur public outcry that can still move mega-corporations to action. As we watch the disintegration of the 20th century modes of creating and distributing investigative journalistic work, let's try to figure out how we can hold onto the good stuff, like Levy's story.
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