Software and the State

Free Microsoft for Russian NGOs


In recent years Microsoft has been a world leader in efforts to combat international software piracy, lobbying for tougher legislation all over the world. But in September the company reacted to a Russian crackdown on Microsoft pirates by sending the alleged scofflaws free software.

The proximate cause was a report in The New York Times revealing that when Russian police and other state authorities confiscated computer equipment from activist organizations, they frequently had a handy excuse: Those computers were running unlicensed and illegal Microsoft software. According to the Times, Microsoft's Russian offices backed the cops in their efforts.

Microsoft responded almost immediately, setting up a program allowing international aid and activist groups to use up to six different pieces of the company's software on 50 different computers. According to Brad Smith, Microsoft's vice president and general counsel, combating piracy is still important to the company—but not at the expense of giving state officials an excuse to conduct repressive raids. "We want to be clear," he wrote on the company's blog, "that we unequivocally abhor any attempt to leverage intellectual property rights to stifle political advocacy or pursue improper personal gain."