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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

COPYRIGHT AS A WEAPON

"this is the least evil thing I’ve seen a software company do in a while."

There was a bit of a technological conflict in Russia recently. Software copyright violations ("piracy") have been taken very seriously by governments - too seriously in some cases, levying absurdly gigantic fines - in an attempt to protect this new medium as well as the old ones.

Russia saw this as a golden opportunity to crush opposition. Its a sort of 21st century techno-dictatorship strategy; they started going after specific companies and groups for license violations of Microsoft products. See, you can't legally use your home copy of Windows or Publisher in a business with lots of employees, you're supposed to buy a special business licensed version that costs a whole lot more (but not as much as a home copy for each person). The Russian government, eager to make sure nobody can possibly challenge them, was using that to target some businesses and leave others alone.

Given that Russia is basically run like an organized crime outfit, this is fairly low key; they've killed journalists and writers who were too critical of the regime in the past. However Microsoft wants no part of this, and they found an elegant, easy solution, courtesy Stewart Baker at Volokh Conspiracy:

The new Microsoft policy was announced by the company’s general counsel, Brad Smith, at its headquarters in Redmond, Wash. He said the company would thwart such piracy inquiries by offering advocacy groups and opposition newspapers a blanket software license that would automatically cover them, without having to apply for it.

In other words, Microsoft would formally declare that the programs on their computers were legal, making it all but impossible for the authorities to charge these groups with stealing Microsoft software.

That means the Russian government just doesn't have that tool to crush opponents with any longer. It was a nice solution, but that won't stop the thugocracy. Somehow I don't see the rapacious Apple corporation making any exceptions for anyone no matter what reason, however.

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