In response to a report in The New York Times, Microsoft on Monday announced that it would do what it should have been doing all along: it will reform its behavior in Russia and no longer assist the authoritative government there as it cracks down on dissidents and others that are critical of its policies. Microsoft had come under criticism from various human rights groups for this collusive behavior, but sometimes a little publicity is all it takes.
"We unequivocally abhor any attempt to leverage intellectual property rights to stifle political advocacy or pursue improper personal gain," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith wrote in a blog post announcing Microsoft's new Russia policies. "We are moving swiftly to seek to remove any incentive or ability to engage in such behavior."
According to the New York Times, Microsoft lawyers in Russia had helped the government crack down on dissidents there by filing often-bogus software piracy charges against the dissidents. This allowed the Russian government to raid the offices and homes of dissidents, seizing computers that contain private and strategy information about the dissident groups. Many dissident groups had purposefully purchased legal Microsoft software to thwart these efforts, but it didn't work. And when confronted by the charges, Microsoft did nothing to reverse its claims, further aiding the government crackdown.
To repair its reputation, Microsoft will immediately make some changes in Russia. First, it will aid "non-government organizations" (read: "dissidents") by providing a new, unilateral software license that will ensure that they have free, legal copies of Microsoft software. This should remove the bogus, purported reason the Russian government is able to raid dissident locations, often very conveniently before rallies or other events.
Second, Microsoft will create a new legal assistance program in Russia aimed at helping "non-government organizations" document that they have legal copies of Microsoft software. And finally, Microsoft will actively prevent third parties from "pretending to represent Microsoft in order to extort money for illegal software use." This last step seems to open up the possibility that some of the lawyers representing Microsoft and helping the Russian government weren't, in fact, sanctioned by the software giant.
"Ultimately, our goals are straightforward," Smith continued. "We aim to reduce the piracy and counterfeiting of software, and we aim to do this in a manner that respects fundamental human rights ... we have a responsibility to take new steps to address this situation, working in partnership with the various stakeholders concerned about this issue."