Hot on HuffPost Tech:

See More Stories
AOL Tech

Microsoft Anti-Piracy Efforts Used to Target Dissidents in Russia

russian flag on computerMicrosoft's pursuit of pirates (the software ones, not the eye-patch and parrot ones) has the company wrapped up in a bit of controversy in Russia. Kremlin authorities are allegedly using piracy investigations as a cover for seizing computers and other materials from political dissidents and news organizations critical of the government. According to a September 11th report from the New York Times, Microsoft is not simply a pawn in the Kremlin's diabolical scheme to shut down opposition, but rather a willing partner in pushing for prosecution. The company has reportedly refused help to groups like Baikal Wave (an environmental group), which claims to have legally purchased licenses for Microsoft software.

Microsoft released a statement in the wake of the Times article saying that it was taking the accusations very seriously. The company stated that it does not perform its own piracy investigations, and relies on law enforcement agencies to do so. Still, the statement continued, "[If outside parties,] do not comport with professional ethics, anticorruption laws, or Microsoft policies, we terminate our relationship with them." It didn't take long for Microsoft to carry through with those threats, and, by midday following the publication of the Times article, the company had announced that its Russian division would no longer take part in anti-piracy investigations against government opponents. The company also introduced a blanket software license that automatically covers advocacy groups and press outlets, protecting them from future piracy charges.

Companies like Google and Microsoft are eager to extend their reach, but the price of doing business inside oppressive regimes like Russia and China is often quite high (at least in terms of credibility). Being embroiled in a such a high-profile case of what appears to be an attempt to censor political opponents is a serious problem. Many of the Russian groups say they have receipts and packaging to prove the allegedly pirated software was, in fact, legally obtained. Yet, until now, Microsoft has declined to intervene.

Tags: censorship, dissent, microsoft, oppression, piracy, russia, scandal, top