"Without the participation of Microsoft, these criminal cases against human rights defenders and journalists would simply not be able to occur"
September 12, 2010 5:23 AM   Subscribe

Russia Uses Microsoft to Suppress Dissent - Adding to its long-running series on corruption and abuse in post-Communist Russia, the New York Times has reported on Russian authorities using the pretext of software piracy to seize computers from journalists and political dissidents critical of current policies. In a surprising twist, lawyers representing Microsoft have been found working with Russian police, despite reporters and NGOs providing evidence of legitimate software purchases. An official response to the NYT piece suggests impostors claim to represent Microsoft in Russia, and notes the company's offer of free software licenses to these and similar groups.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (25 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, the Russian government is using pirated Microsoft lawyers?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:44 AM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


And of course:

It looks like you're trying to suppress dissent. Would you like some help with that?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:45 AM on September 12, 2010 [19 favorites]


So Microsoft is actually giving these people free licenses, and they're still getting raided? Given that Microsoft has handed over windows source code to the Russian intelligence services, any human rights organizations should really be running Linux anyway.
posted by delmoi at 5:56 AM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Microsoft has also recently been implicated in a string of bogus lawsuits and astrosturf campaigns against google.

The case in Russia, above, seems to be closer to IBM's WW2 activities in Germany than anything else- a local affiliate making nice with the government, with no sign of ethics in sight.

While Google's "Don't Be Evil" motto is to some extent specious, it came as a clear counterpoint to the minions in Redmond.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:26 AM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of the way gun laws are used in the U.S.
posted by mecran01 at 6:30 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


While Google's "Don't Be Evil" motto is to some extent specious, it came as a clear counterpoint to the minions in Redmond.
Did you even read the entire text of the FPP?
An official response to the NYT piece suggests impostors claim to represent Microsoft in Russia, and notes the company's offer of free software licenses to these and similar groups.
MS in the U.S. is not only claiming they don't do this (certainly not in any official capacity) but is actively helping the groups affected. Not only that, but holding up Google as a counterpoint here is a bit ridiculous.
posted by delmoi at 6:33 AM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


To be fair, Russia does host some of the best Wares sites.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:49 AM on September 12, 2010


This is a good story. I e-mailed it to Richard Stallman. Now it will get even better.
posted by shii at 6:55 AM on September 12, 2010


MS has a long track record of doing evil stuff; it's in their DNA. As the link I included above shows, their shady tactics continue in the US today. They've funded bogus lawsuits, created astroturf campaigns, hijacked standards bodies, and threatened litigation over submarine patents. Many of their top managers have left and gone to work for patent trolls that - not coincidentally- do nothing but go after Microsoft competitors.

Google's motto was clearly established in counterpoint to Microsoft's behavior. Whether Google lives up to that motto is not the point- the point is that the tech world recognizes that MS has a hell of a track record, and behaviors that continue by and large unchanged today, despite the earnest bleatings of their PR agents.
As the ploy grows common, the authorities are receiving key assistance from an unexpected partner: Microsoft itself. In politically tinged inquiries across Russia, lawyers retained by Microsoft have staunchly backed the police.
...
Baikal Wave sent copies of its software receipts and other documentation to Microsoft’s Moscow office to show that it had purchased the software legally. The group said it believed that the authorities would be under pressure to drop the case if Microsoft would confirm the documents’ authenticity.

Microsoft declined to do so. In a letter to Baikal Wave, the company said it would forward the materials only to the authorities in Irkutsk, which already had copies of them.
...
“The Microsoft lawyer was very active, coming to the court all the time, even though he was not summoned,” she said. “He also claimed that he was going to sue me, despite the fact that Microsoft had publicly stated that it would not do so against an advocacy group.”
In this case, you have local corporate affiliates helping out the secret police. It's directly analogous to IBM's historical bad actions, with the standard level of "plausible deniability". I'm just not buying it- these guys don't get the benefit of the doubt any more from me.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:58 AM on September 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


A very good argument for them to use Linux that's for sure. But no Clippy.
posted by Napierzaza at 7:07 AM on September 12, 2010


In post-Soviet Russia, software pirates you!
posted by kcds at 7:11 AM on September 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


MS has a long track record of doing evil stuff; it's in their DNA. As the link I included above shows, their shady tactics continue in the US today. They've funded bogus lawsuits, created astroturf campaigns, hijacked standards bla bla bla bla bla bla
Dude. All large companies do that kind of thing. Including Apple and Google. But in this case MS doesn't seem to actually be involved. The civil right suppressors are using Microsoft as an excuse, they could pick anything.
Google's motto was clearly established in counterpoint to Microsoft's behavior. Whether Google lives up to that motto is not the point- the point is that the tech world recognizes that MS has a hell of a track record, and behaviors that continue by and large unchanged today, despite the earnest bleatings of their PR agents.
I thought it was a rebuke of the annoying 'portals' that were around before google. But that's beside the point. Google has some B.S. model, then they collude with Verizon to fuck up the internet. Whatever.

All these companies deal with the governments in the countries they operate in. If MS's Russian lawyers back the police it's because their corrupt. It has nothing to do with Microsoft's actual position on human rights.
posted by delmoi at 7:43 AM on September 12, 2010


This is not an argument for Linux; the Russians don't give a damn if the software is licensed or not -- they're using that as a pretext for siezing the machines.

If they take machines that already have authentic MS stickers on the outside, damn sure they'll take machines with no stickers at all. "Free software is it? Sounds pirated. And how are we to know you don't have a hidden Windows partition? Better take it so the lab can investigate."
posted by bonaldi at 8:03 AM on September 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Wait, someone in Russia has a legal version of something?
posted by Artw at 8:28 AM on September 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Not to defend Microsoft, but wouldn't the Russian authorities just use another excuse or loophole to seize assets if this one wasn't convenient?
posted by Burhanistan at 12:51 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


jenkinsEar: [Microsoft has] threatened litigation over submarine patents.

Please, give me one single example of such behaviour. In fact, I'd settle for a single example of a Microsoft "submarine patent". Extra points if you can provide a correct definition of "submarine patent". (Off-topic, I know, but this has become a particular bugbear of mine since I've noticed this become a buzzword of the more strident fringes of the FOSS world, thrown around with as much ignorance as abandon).
posted by Skeptic at 1:12 PM on September 12, 2010


In Soviet Russia, screen of death gets you.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:00 PM on September 12, 2010


Extra points if you can provide a correct definition of "submarine patent".

It's not really relevant to a discussion of Microsoft, but Wikipedia actually has a pretty good article on submarine patents, basically a U.S. patent strategy made possible by the ability to file a succession of continuation applications, patent application secrecy, and the fact that patents terms used to start at issuance. In 1995 the U.S. modified its patent law in such a way that largely eliminates submarine patents filed after 1995, but a few lurking submarine patents that were filed prior to 1995 may still exist.
posted by RichardP at 2:13 PM on September 12, 2010


Governments and large corporations use whatever means are at their disposal to attain their goals (for good or otherwise). It is particularly ironic when these two types of entities use each other as a pretext.

This is aparticularly interesting example.

Great post!
posted by bogdano2 at 2:37 PM on September 12, 2010


a few lurking submarine patents that were filed prior to 1995 may still exist.

Indeed. But Microsoft only started filing patent applications in earnest after 1995; so, if there are still lurking submarine patents, it's extremely unlikely they're Microsoft's. Moreover, even before 1995, most countries already published patent applications 18 months after the priority date, and Microsoft is a multinational company that can hardly afford to file only in the US.
posted by Skeptic at 2:39 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]




They're also creating a unilateral NGO license:

One challenge, however, is that some NGOs in a number of countries, including Russia, are unaware of our program or do not know how to navigate its logistical processes, which involves ordering the donated software through a Microsoft partner. We’ll solve this problem by providing a unilateral NGO Software License that runs automatically from Microsoft to NGOs and covers the software already installed on their PCs. We’ll make this new, non-transferable license applicable to NGOs in a number of countries, including in Russia. We will also make it available to appropriate journalists’ organizations in order to include small newspapers and independent media. Because it’s automatic, they won’t need to take any steps to benefit from its terms.

Sounds like they're fixing things. Granted, if copyright enforcement were linked to free speech issues and government thuggery (more than it is now) it'd be all the harder to press the case against piracy.
posted by zabuni at 12:43 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sounds like they're fixing things.

Even if members of the corrupt Russian government will find other means to persecute its critics, this is a positive outcome, the kind that could happen more often if the media takes its watchdog role seriously.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:04 PM on September 13, 2010


Here's a NY Times article on the change.
posted by delmoi at 12:04 AM on September 14, 2010




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