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An article in Computer Reseller News by Kevin McLaughlin describes how Microsoft has been forced to change its software licensing policy because the Russian government has been overzealously prosecuting small organizations for violating piracy laws.

In reality, these Russian NGOs that have had their offices raided by the Russian government were not committing software theft. Rather, they offended the Russian government in some way by either opposing or protesting government policy, and software piracy is a convenient excuse in Russia for law enforcement to bash up political opposition.

Microsoft grants NGOs a certain amount of free copies of their software, and these Russian organizations were within their legal right to use it. Nevertheless, Microsoft has been slow to clear the reputation of these maligned NGOs, as McLaughlin notes.

Perhaps as a result of bad publicity, Microsoft has just started to take aggressive measures to make sure these fake charges of piracy do not happen again. They have changed their NGO license policy to make it explicitly clear that organizations such as the Russian NGOs that were raided by the government are not in committing theft if they use the free copies of Microsoft programs that are allotted to them.

While this may stop the bad publicity and also prevent the Russian government from using Microsoft as a political tool, the root cause of the problem will remain. If corrupt officials in Russia can’t use the software piracy excuse to raid the offices of dissident organizations, they’ll find some other reason.