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September 14, 2010


Jillian C. York

"If the U.S. government's rhetoric about "Internet freedom" is sincere (and there are plenty of cynics who doubt it), it's time to stop sending contradictory, hypocritical messages about policy priorities - saying one thing and then acting in ways that send a rather different kind of message."

That exact same paragraph could be applied to the Alec Ross/Jared Cohen Techdel circus as it pertains to Syria (let's bring technologies to Syrians then control which ones they can use!).

Catherine Fitzpatrick

Rebecca, you're really skewing this story terribly. Are you, or are you not, for intellectual property rights?! This story should not be an opportunity for American copyleftists to pick up the cudgel to bang away for open source software and rant about "evil Microsoft". That's really going off in left field.

The problem here is not that the "message" about software piracy coming from Microsoft headquarters was stronger than the message about promoting civil society. Not on your life. Study all the documents and coverage of this story, which has gone on for a year carefully (I blogged about it in March; Russians have been raising the cases long before that).

No, it's about absolutely cynical local officials and lawyers hired by Microsoft exploiting this issue of software licensing in absolutely bad faith to attack political enemies or dissidents they don't like. There's no good faith pursuit of software piracy here as those Russians knew perfectly well -- and by the way, it's more than fine to pursue software piracy. No, from the get-go, it's been about a cynical misuse of this readily available "cover story" to harass dissidents -- it's not like a dissident newspaper or an ecology group were among dozens of offices raided that had multiple copies of Windows on their computers; the human rights groups were the only ones in their provincial towns, and the setting was most decidedly not any campaign on actual software piracy.

There's also the related issue of Microsoft Russia's very tame list of NGOs helped by the MSFT free software program. I've challenged that, and urged them to help the kinds of human rights and social justice groups that Microsoft helps in the U.S. and other countries, not just the tame and the safe that the state approves.

I met with a storm of denial and hateful rhetoric when I challenged the way Russia's Microsoft executives were a) hand-picking only very non-controversial or state loyalist groups for the program b) not doing anything about the exploitation of the software issue to harass activists in the provinces.

The U.S. isn't sending hypocritical messages: the Russian government and its controlled local officials and controlled Microsoft representatives are the ones sending the hypocritical messages here. So don't play the moral equivalency game here, or worse, make it seem like the oppressive Russian government is a secondary issue.

The U.S. is right to press for strong global IP protections. That's how entrepreneurs and creators of all kind can protect *their livlihoods*, Rebecca. What's extraordinary how you in the Global Voices movement are constantly undermining IP rights and banging on the USG or corporations for protecting the linkage of IP with commerce that sustains people and countries. Not everyone can afford to be an affluent copyleftist with a university job.

You're also repeating the same tired memes pushed by Cory Doctorow in hysteria about ACTA. First, there's nothing sinister about "negotiating behind closed doors" as all treaties are negotiated in this fashion, including treaties you likely support for disabled rights or protection of minorities. Second, there's nothing evil about protecting copyright, either -- you seem to have a queasiness about copyright, capitalism and commerce that is inexplicable given your supposed political profile as a liberal.

Microsoft Russia was squarely to blame in this incident of harassing dissidents. I and others raised this all year, and none of you were to be found on this issue, until you could wrest some copyleftist agenda out of it after it got international coverage on the times. Microsoft US was indeed slow in responding to Russian activists, but once a serious American reporter asked them about it, they got on the case extremely fast and very effectively.

The problem in Russia isn't that copyright enforcement was pursued, which needs to be done in a climate of rampant piracy. The problem is that it was cynically and brutally used against human rights activists who were not pirates merely as a ploy. The result of this story should be to strengthen both human rights and copyright, not undermine them as you are doing.

Rebecca MacKinnon

With all due respect Catherine, to ask me "are you or are you not for intellectual property rights" is like asking me "are you or are you not for national security" or "are you are you not for law enforcement". Sure I am. But they must be pursued in a balanced manner that doesn't overshadow other rights. Copyright is no different in that regard. When any of these things is pursued over-zealously it gets abused as an excuse to trample the rights of innocent people.

Catherine Fitzpatrick

No, Rebecca, it's not like that at all, and it's much more specific than "national security", because there are specific copyright laws -- and specific international treaty processes that you specifically bang on and apparently undermine in this post. That's why you need to be asked.

Because you never forthrightly state this until prodded, and even then, it's with caveats and evasions. You never describe the positive vision you have of a world where copyright and commerce are truly linked to the advantage of creators and where it's forthrightly *ok* to sell software.

Balanced manner, not overshadowing other rights? But that hasn't been proven at all -- it's a chimera. You and the Berkman Center and EFF -- which is even more aggressive on this -- constantly *question* the copyrights that exist as if they are "wrong" but you never convincingly explain what is actually "overshadowing". Er, does a musician's copyright get "overshadowed" by a requirement not to copy it and download it for free on your hard drive, Rebecca? Can you *explicitly* line by line tell us what is so "unbalanced" about ACTA, or will you just ideologically denounce it like Cory Doctorow?

Over-zealous? Where? Again, in *this* case, it is NOT, repeat NOT about Microsoft qua Microsoft overzealously campaigning and raiding in Russia through proxies to protect its software. Not at all. That's why your post here is terribly misleading. It's about Kremlin supporters misusing the power that Microsoft has given to represent them to settle scores with political enemies. It's using the software piracy issue as a wedge in another game. It's not like Microsoft executives gave the orders to run raids in Moscow. Instead, they have a program to support NGOs with free or discounted software, and the Microsoft Russia version of this was very toothless. Worse, the Microsoft-empowered laywers got into league with abusive local officials to misuse the power of office to get rid of dissidents. They didn't even bother to make it look realistic by really prosecuting actual hackers and crackers.

The rights of innocent people here were trampled on NOT because of Microsoft's *rightful* claim to their copyright, Rebecca. Can you *affirm that rightful claim* or not?! The rights were trampled because of the cynical and abusive misuse of this issue in ways that obviously showed it had nothing to do with *really* pursuing copyright at all. They didn't make a raid on a warehouse with thousands of pirated CDs and swoop down on a lot of poor innocent youth. They made targeted searches of an independent newspaper and an ecological group that didn't have any significant number of copies of Word. Please.

It's really irresponsible to use this story to push the copyleftist agenda, which you are doing, even if you try to create the impression you are merely thoughtfully looking for "balance".

What's the balance you feel is needed against Microsoft selling software for money, with a license?

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