Microsoft does the right thing for Russian protest groups

It's no mystery that I generally don't like Microsoft or its products. On the other hand, when Microsoft does something right, I'll say that too. By issuing a free, blanket software license to nonprofit and journalist groups in Russia and other NGOs (non-government organizations) outside the U.S., Microsoft has done the right thing.

After the New York Times reported that Microsoft lawyers have helped Russian authorities to raid advocacy groups and newspapers in the name of copyright enforcement in recent years, Microsoft slammed on the brakes on its copyright enforcement policies. Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith wrote in his blog, "We want to be clear that we [Microsoft] unequivocally abhor any attempt to leverage intellectual property rights to stifle political advocacy or pursue improper personal gain."

Normally, when Microsoft just talks the talk and doesn't walk the walk, I'd be snickering at comments like that. But Smith went on to write, "Our first step is clear-cut. We must accept responsibility and assume accountability for our anti-piracy work, including the good and the bad. At this point some of the specific facts are less clear than we would like. We will retain an international law firm that has not been involved in the anti-piracy work to conduct an independent investigation, report on its conclusions, and advise us of new measures we should take."

That's impressive. Microsoft is willing to take the blame for what may have been done in their name in Russia.

What's even more impressive was that Smith then wrote, "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."

With this move, Microsoft stops any government from using Microsoft software licensing as an excuse to seize computers and shut down organizations. Of course, governments can also find another excuse, but Microsoft won't be a party to their efforts to suppress dissent.

Last, but not least, Smith also addressed the specific problems that NGOs are having in Russia. "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."

It's not very often I say this, but thank you, Microsoft. Thank you for doing the right thing by Russian dissident groups and for all other protest groups in the world where your licenses could be used to help shut them down.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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