updated 04:40 pm EDT, Mon September 13, 2010
MS to stop backing Russia dissident piracy cases
Microsoft today backtracked on its support anti-piracy cases Russia after a controversy erupted over its role in crushing Russian political dissent. The Windows developer said it would bow out of investigations that involve groups opposing the current regime and instead offer them an automatic group license. The deal would effectively complicate any attempts to use Microsoft app piracy as a pretext for silencing resistance by making any copies legal, even if the group may have pirated material in the past.
The plan will also ease access to free or lower-priced Microsoft software to make sure groups have legal copies from the start. Microsoft plans to make the plan available through at least 2012 and won't limit it to Russia.
Its move came after a weekend New York Times article accused the company of being complicit in anti-piracy hunts that deliberately targeted environmental activist groups and opposition newspapers. Search-and-seizure runs against the groups in many cases confiscated all their computers, knocking them out of commission, and often with Microsoft's support. Its lawyers until now had officially endorsed the cases and often called specifically for criminal charges, removing not only the dissenting point of view but possibly the people involved.
Microsoft was quick to reverse the practice following the article, but at the time it went beyond necessary means and threatened to sue even though its policies already prohibited such tactics.
The practice highlights the potential risks involved with strict anti-piracy methods and enforcement as possible tools in the political realm. Apple isn't concerned with piracy as customers need a Mac to use its upgrades, supporting its business even among those who do abuse its licenses. Google open-sources most of Android and has relatively limited controls, a process which will only expand once Chrome OS is available in a free, open-source version as Chromium. Microsoft can't afford their approaches as it depends on Windows as the most important part of its revenue. [image via Foreign Policy Blogs]