Russia Drops Piracy Case after Microsoft Backs Down

A high-profile software piracy case against a Russian environment group was dropped after Microsoft revealed that it would no longer back the case. As you may recall, Microsoft was accused by The New York Times in September of aiding the Russian government in crackdowns against so-called dissident groups in that country. The accusation caused the software giant to overhaul its policies, first in Russia and then in other authoritarian countries.

Police in Siberia originally raided the offices of Baikal Environmental Wave in January, confiscating 12 PCs and effectively shutting down the group. At the time, investigators charged the group with using unlicensed Microsoft software, an excuse it used to justify the raid. The group said, however, that the raid was political, and that the piracy charge was just a pretext for learning more about Baikal and undermining its efforts.

Indeed, the raid was conveniently timed to disrupt a Baikal demonstration against a decision by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to reopen a paper factory that had polluted nearby Lake Baikal for decades.

The New York Times report from September uncovered similar activities across a number of dissident groups, often with Microsoft colluding with the Russian government. Lawyers retained by Microsoft in Russia positioned the software giant as a victim and sought criminal charges. And at a higher level, Microsoft claimed it was simply following the law of a country in which it does business. Similar cowardly claims have been used by many companies, including Microsoft, to justify their behavior in other authoritarian countries such as China.

After The New York Times exposed Microsoft's behavior, the software giant announced sweeping reforms and, over time, offered indemnity to dissident groups in many countries around the world, so that charges of software piracy couldn't be used as justification for raids.

As for Baikal, it didn't find out that the piracy charges against it were dropped until recently, though the charges were actually dropped on September 22 because of "absence of a criminal act." According to Baikal, the decision to drop the case wasn't publicly announced because Siberian police forces were embarrassed by the reversal.

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