Microsoft Puts a Stop to Sham Piracy Investigations

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Just a month ago, Microsoft seemed like a villain after The New York Times exposed the company's cooperation with efforts by the Russian government to crack down on political dissidents. The scenario went like this: Russia would accuse advocacy organizations it didn't like of pirating Microsoft software (whether true or not), and Redmond would go along with the prosecutions. Now, however, Microsoft has put a stop to that scenario--and not just in Russia.

The New York Times reports that the company intends to issue free licenses to 500,000 non-governmental and media organizations in Russia and 11 other politically repressive countries, including China, Malaysia, Vietnam and eight former Soviet republics. In a statement on Microsoft's website, deputy general counsel and vice president Nancy Anderson explains that the "unilateral" license "runs automatically" from Microsoft to these groups and "covers the software already installed on their PCs."

So governments can no longer use piracy investigations as a pretext for quashing dissent.

It's an impressive move, and one that counters Microsoft's reputation as a bully interested in pursuing its business interests whatever the cost to others. But it's also one that came after months of complaints by human rights groups that the company was doing the wrong thing. Even at a time when the power of the traditional press is supposedly waning, it took a New York Times piece to push Microsoft into donning a white hat.

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