Russian court throws out Microsoft piracy case


A Russian court has dropped charges against a Russian school principal who faced up to five years in prison for software piracy if he were convicted, according to Russia’s state news agency.

Alexander Ponosov, 40, was charged with violating Russia’s copyright law after police seized 12 computers from his school in the western Russian village of Vereschagino.

Police say the PCs contained more than US$10,000 in pirated Microsoft Corp. software, but Ponosov claims he bought the computers with the software preinstalled and has maintained his innocence.

Targeting consumers is seldom a good idea as it doesn’t get to the heart of the problem, says David Fewer, staff counsel at Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) in Ottawa.

“If you sue a consumer, the distributor doesn’t care because they’ve already got the money, and are on to their next victim.”

CIPPIC is part of the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law and deals with policy and law-making processes in the area of new technologies.

Ponosov had argued that the 12 new computers already came with the pirated versions of the Windows operating system and Microsoft Office, while the prosecutor claimed that Ponosov either requested for the bootleg software to be installed, or he knew it was being installed.

If it was a deliberate infringement of intellectual property, there isn’t a great defense for the consumer, says Fewer.

However, he says, most consumers would just ask if the hardware comes with an operating system – they won’t go into the legitimacy of it.

“The reality is that a vast majority of consumers don’t deal with that level of detail when buying a computer. They’re just going to take it and go.” The prosecutor argues that Ponosov racked up to 267,000 rubles ($10,000) in damages to Microsoft. Ponosov was facing a 3,000 ($110) fine.

Prosecutors have 10 days to appeal the decision.

The case drew international attention last week when former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev wrote Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates asking him to intervene in the matter.

Gorbachev wrote that while Russian law allows for the prosecution of those who unknowingly use pirated software, the case against Ponosov is unwarranted. The former leader also made an emotional appeal, writing that Ponosov dedicated his life to teaching for a modest salary, which doesn’t compare to those of Microsoft employees.

Gorbachev’s high-level intervention has come as Microsoft pursues an aggressive legal campaign to stop piracy of its software. Microsoft has launched dozens of civil lawsuits and aided law enforcement in criminal investigations throughout Europe and the U.S.

The charges were dropped Thursday for lack of evidence by a regional Russian court, according to RIA (Russian Information Agency) Novosti, a state news agency. If convicted, Ponosov would have faced a fine of up to 266,000 rubles (US$10,124) in addition to a possible prison term.

State prosecutors are quoted as saying they may appeal the decision within 10 days, according to the report.

Microsoft officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

with files from Jeremy Kirk in London


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