CPJ has documented for several years the use of spurious anti-piracy raids to shut down and intimidate media organizations in Russia and the former Soviet republics. Offices have been shut down, and computers seized. Often, security agents make bogus claims to be representing or acting on behalf of the U.S. software company Microsoft.
In attempt to combat the problem and prevent it from spreading, the company has announced the details of its “unilateral software license.” The license effectively legalizes all Microsoft software installed on PCs owned by nonprofits and small, independent media producers in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
What is a small, independent media producer? CPJ and other groups wrangled with this challenge with Microsoft representatives. In the end, the company has kept the definition flexible, but if you hold a local public communication license in the listed countries, are a member of a local media association, or are recognized by an international media organization, there’s a good chance you will qualify. Government ownership of the media companies must be less than 10 percent.
The license is valid until 2012; after that date, Microsoft says it will work individually with media companies to provide them with legal software solutions. Nonprofit groups will be automatically migrated to Microsoft’s existing software donation program.
While it’s vital that media companies use up-to-date, secure, and legal software, by far the strongest signal this amnesty sends is one to government officials in the region. Microsoft has made it clear that any attempt to legitimize raids on journalists with the use of its name will be publicly denied and resisted. We hope that other desktop software companies like Adobe and Corel will join Microsoft in repudiating these fake raids.