Microsoft Gets Tough On Unwarranted Crackdowns on Nonprofit Dissent Groups

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October 16, 2010; Source: New York Times | Governments that were using the excuse of searching for pirated software as a way to stop advocacy groups from putting their dissenting messages online will have a harder time doing that in the future. According to the New York Times, Microsoft says it will give away software licenses to more than 500,000 advocacy groups, independent media outlets, and other nonprofit organizations in countries such as Russia and China that routinely try to censor opposing views.

As newer forms of communications technology have made it possible for advocacy organizations and others to get their messages out to potentially larger audiences, authorities in tightly controlled countries have resorted to raiding the offices of these groups under the pretext they were hunting for pirated software. As the Times, which first reported this development last month, notes in its latest article, Russian security services have removed computers from dozens of advocacy organizations claiming they were using illegal software.

The Times also previously reported that Russian authorities claimed the raids were prompted by lawyers Microsoft had retained to stem the use of pirated software. However, under the new program, licenses are automatically being granted to all current users of Microsoft products in 12 countries. Nancy J. Anderson, a deputy general counsel and vice president at Microsoft, said the company's new licensing rules means that "we will definitely not have any claims and not pursue any claims against nongovernmental organizations.”

To groups such as Baikal Environmental Wave, this will mean they no longer have to fear unmerited visits by Russian security officers. “The security services will now know that they will not be able to harass nonprofit and human rights organizations and take their computers,” said Galina Kulebyakina, a co-chairwoman of the group. “It is outrageous what they did, and now that will no longer happen to others.”—Bruce Trachtenberg

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