Microsoft to offer free software to Russian NGOs: official

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Microsoft on Wednesday said it would supply free software to Russian nongovernmental organisations after a media report that the US software giant was aiding Russian police in stifling dissent.

The New York Times said earlier this month that Russian authorities had used a crackdown on pirated Microsoft software as a pretext to confiscate computers and harass non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Lawyers retained by Microsoft backed police during their raids on several occasions, it said.

After the report the company condemned the Russian authorities' practice of using anti-piracy laws to put pressure on NGOs and said it would ensure that Russian NGOs have free software.

"We are preparing a programme of free software for NGOs and for some media," a spokeswoman for Microsoft's Moscow office, Irina Meshkova, told AFP.

"We will announce the list and the selection criteria later, as well as the timescale for this decision to come into force," she added.

In January, police raided the office of Russian NGO Baikal Environmental Wave, saying that they were searching for pirated Microsoft software, the New York Times reported.

Police confiscated computers in the operation against the campaign group, which opposes the government-authorised reopening of a paper factory on the banks of pristine Lake Baikal in Siberia

On Monday, Microsoft senior vice president Brad Smith said in a blog post that the company would draw up a new software licence for NGOs that would provide them with free, legal software.

"We're creating in Russia a new NGO Legal Assistance Program focused specifically on helping NGOs document to the authorities that this new software license proves that they have legal software," he said.

Microsoft estimated last year that it loses around one billion dollars per year from piracy in Russia.

© 2010 AFP

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