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Microsoft To Issue Blanket License To NGOs 255

Posted by Soulskill
from the making-it-better dept.
itwbennett writes "Following a recent report that Russian police have used software copyright raids to seize computers of activist groups, Microsoft announced it will issue a blanket software license to nonprofit groups and journalist groups outside the US. The new blanket license should remove software piracy as an excuse for 'nefarious actions' by enforcement authorities, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith wrote. The new license 'cuts in one swoop the Gordian knot that otherwise is getting in the way of our desired handling of these legal issues,' he said. 'The law in Russia (and many other countries) requires that one must provide truthful information about the facts in response to a subpoena or other judicial process. With this new software license, we effectively change the factual situation at hand. Now our information will fully exonerate any qualifying [nonprofit], by showing that it has a valid license to our software.'"
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Microsoft To Issue Blanket License To NGOs

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  • by bsDaemon (87307) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:33PM (#33566726)

    And the qualifier is, of course, "qualifying." The article doesn't say who qualifies, and says that journalists and NGOs don't have to do anything to get the license, which means they don't find out that they don't qualify until they're in the same situation they're already facing, I guess.

    • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:37PM (#33566804) Journal

      And the qualifier is, of course, "qualifying." The article doesn't say who qualifies

      The article does not, because it talks about a future event ("will issue a license"). I would imagine that the text of said license would go for over 40 pages (as usual) detailing out who qualifies for what.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        That was a strangely non-evil thing for Microsoft to do. My world is shifting.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by SpaceLifeForm (228190)

          Let me help. Non-US NGOs.
          Feel better?

          • by c0lo (1497653)

            Let me help. Non-US NGOs.

            Do/will the Russians botnet herders qualify? After all, they are NGO-es.

        • How else could NGO's and such avoid license fees and license nightmares? Why, use opensource. Install linux. Free too.

          So to avoid people shifting to an OS that doesn't get you raided, MS offers its software free to a market that isn't exactly rolling in cash anyway. Kinda like the free licenses to schools. The first one is always free.

          Now this IS a nice thing MS is doing, IF it doesn't come with the usual hooks, but it is also a good business move.

          Mind you, for MS this is amazing :) Something that is goo

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            How else could NGO's and such avoid license fees and license nightmares? Why, use opensource. Install linux. Free too.

            How, exactly, does this prevent a raid looking for pirated Microsoft stuff? The authorities won't find anything, but without the blanket license, the pretext still exists.

    • by vux984 (928602) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:51PM (#33566926)

      And the qualifier is, of course, "qualifying." The article doesn't say who qualifies, and says that journalists and NGOs don't have to do anything to get the license, which means they don't find out that they don't qualify until they're in the same situation they're already facing, I guess.

      This isn't the sort of situation where microsoft would be trying to weasel. More importantly, the way it worked from what I can tell, is that russian authorities needed Microsoft lawyers to essentially sign-off on the complaints against dissidents -- they'd indicate they had "reason to beleive" group-X was using priated software, and the MS-attack-lawyers would say 'raid away'.

      This change is essentially instructions from Microsoft to its own legal counsel saying if its an NGO or Journalist etc then they have a license, and not to be party to police requests.

      Strictly speaking they could instruct their lawyers to refuse to pursue cases against NGOs and so on without the license, but this 'grant of license' is:

      a) good PR

      b) makes it harder (impossible?) to for the police to build a software piracy case as long as the legal system isn't competely subverted. The Microsoft lawyer simply says "they are licensed" end of story. He doesn't have to say, something like "my client isn't interested in prosecuting a case against them". Its more thorough and complete this way. It changes from "they might be doing something wrong, but we don't care to find out" to "we are completely satisfied that they are licensed".

      which means they don't find out that they don't qualify until they're in the same situation they're already facing, I guess.

      As you can see they don't really need to "know they qualify". The protection is indirect - its really more a way to give microsoft's lawyers an out from having to cooperate with russian police against NGOs more than direct protection for the end user. At least that's how i read it.

      • by Peeteriz (821290) on Monday September 13, 2010 @08:09PM (#33567632)

        Also, in the previous cases they don't really say "my client does not want to press the issues" - Russian government had started a criminal process, and as in most criminal process the 'victim' does not get a choice to stop the persecution, and granting a license after a request would not help either (as the violation occurred in the past, when the license was not there yet) - so if the prosecutors want to press charges, they have a valid case.

        These same issues may apply to any other country where criminal penalties apply for copyright violations.

        • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Monday September 13, 2010 @08:47PM (#33567914)
          The general story could be summed up with this:

          MS Exec: Oh shit, our name is being dragged through the mud big time and we didn't really lift a finger to stop it happening. This is bad. This is costing us more money in lost reputation than it would cost us just to give everyone a license. Joe, get right on it!
          Joe: Yessir! Free copies coming right out.
          MS Exec: Also, can we put a spin on this to say that we are supporting victims, journalists and fighting organized crime and extortion?
          Joe: Sure thing boss. Spin is being added now!
          MS Exec: Righto, that's the morning done for me, time for a coffee. Hmmm, Joe, how can we squeeze some more money out of people?
          Joe: Well, with all that free time now, perhaps we can set the lawyers on the EU again? What about we put Google through another adwords privacy scandal? Maybe we just give them a week off and feed them some more children, you know it's been almost a whole month since they last tasted child flesh...
          MS Exec: Make it happen Joe. You will go a long way here someday...
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Pharmboy (216950)

          Not true. Victims might have a hard time getting prosecutors to go after a case, but I made a living getting "victims" to sign statements saying that they would not testify if they went to court, and they were always, always dropped. That was many years ago, but I can't see that being any different now, at least in the USA.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by shoehornjob (1632387)
        OMG this could actually be the first decent thing we've seen Microsoft do in ages....or at least since they pulled the Kin off the market.
    • The local government decides what organization "qualifies" for exemption, as M$ must "obey local laws."
      Wanna guess what organization will NOT be granted the exemption?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dachannien (617929)

        Huh? If Microsoft is granting the license, how are they not in complete control over what entities qualify?

    • And the qualifier is, of course, "qualifying." The article doesn't say who qualifies,

      And it doesn't really matter, so long as you fill in the application form to tell them all about your organisation, tell MS whether it's worth having a sales rep call you, and educate yourself about Microsoft's offerings.

      Maybe if you're a really big target segment and very likely to go open source, they'll shove exchange or something like that down your throat for free. You'll end up paying for all the basic functionality

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Eskarel (565631)

      There are all sorts of non profit and not for profit organizations all over the world, just as there are all sorts of "journalists" all over the world. Microsoft wants to look good and protect small non profits and journalists from government interference. They don't want to allow NBC or Fox to call their entire staff "journalists" and get out of paying license fees, or allow larger not for profit organizations to do the same. Which is fair enough. I work for a not for profit which has revenues approaching

      • by bsDaemon (87307)

        My thinking on this was, unless you know for sure that you are covered by this, what's to stop MS from deciding that for, whatever reason, they agree with the FSB or whomever raiding your office and allowing trumped-up piracy issues to be used as the pretense.

        The only reason MS is doing this now is because they got called out in the New York Times and some other major papers for basically being an active participant in providing a rational for squashing dissent. This whole idea that these same organization

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      And the qualifier is, of course, "qualifying." The article doesn't say who qualifies, and says that journalists and NGOs don't have to do anything to get the license,

      NGO... Hmmm... Would, for instance, Lukoil qualify? Because they don't seem to have any gov ownership [wikipedia.org].

  • I'm not criticising this move. It's the start of the right thing to do. But lets not forget that although the price will be zeroed, the NGO's will still not be able to see what the software is doing, will still not be able to change the software.

    NGO's should use free software.

    • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:44PM (#33566862) Journal

      Most opposition NGOs in Russia are routinely harassed by the government while trying to expose many cases of corruption and widespread violation of human rights. Some (albeit, thankfully, very few so far) are imprisoned, others are beaten by thugs who are then conveniently never found by police.

      The issue of "being able to change the software" simply doesn't enter into the picture - I mean, do you seriously think these folk have the time to submit kernel patches? For most of them, computer is just a tool to do what they think of as their civic duty, one among many other such tools.

      • It's not about submitting kernel patches. It's about seeing who's listening and being able to add security/anonymity/privacy features.

        Those thugs don't just arrive randomly.

        • You're missing the point. We aren't talking about a spy network or some kind of Underground Railroad here. What these organizations do, they do legally and out in the open. They don't hide information, because they would have to divulge it by court order, anyway (and a court order is trivial to obtain in such cases).

          And the thugs? Of course they don't arrive randomly. They arrive specifically to offices of organizations who openly oppose the government and/or its various initiatives.

          • Some things will be public, like press releases and public statements.

            But having worked in NGOs, there are also things that are private, such as who you are in contact with, and what insider is leaking stuff to you or giving you a nod when something's worth reacting to.

            I'm not saying that safe software turns countries into a wonderland, but it's one of the ingredients.

            And in reply to other comments, it's not about each employee having the source, it's about the whold world having the source. When there are

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by antifoidulus (807088)
      Not to mention increased protection from prying eyes. If I was criticizing a government known for harassing its opponents I sure as shit wouldn't be using something as insecure as Windows.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:50PM (#33566924)

        Not to mention increased protection from prying eyes. If I was criticizing a government known for harassing its opponents I sure as shit wouldn't be using something as insecure as Windows.

        Good call. Because there's absolutely no way in hell that the Russian government has people who could hack backdoors into open source, compile it, and surreptitiously install it onto rooted Linux systems.

        • Good call. Because there's absolutely no way in hell that the Russian government has people who could hack backdoors into open source, compile it, and surreptitiously install it onto rooted Linux systems.

          Um, if you have root then what is the point of compiling and surreptitiously installing compromised code on the machine, YOU ALREADY HAVE FUCKING ROOT! It's no different than Windows(other than the fact that its harder to actually root a linux box, rooting windows is pretty trivial). I can compile and
          • "Um, if you have root then what is the point of compiling and surreptitiously installing compromised code on the machine, YOU ALREADY HAVE FUCKING ROOT!"

            The key word is "surreptitiously", as in you don't want them to know they are rooted.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by exomondo (1725132)
            Root privileges are merely a means to an end. An end such as installing a keylogger, re-building the password manager to silently forward you any future stored passwords, etc...

            It's no different than Windows

            I think that's his point.

            (other than the fact that its harder to actually root a linux box, rooting windows is pretty trivial)

            In the old days yes, now not so much. It's a lot of social engineering these days.

          • by RulerOf (975607)

            Writing kernel extensions for Windows(which in most situations is pretty much like changing the kernel, at least from a hackers perspective) isn't really that much different than writing them for Linux.

            So what is the definition of a "kernel extension" then? I was under the impression that modifying the kernel in Windows is pretty much a no-no these days. I don't really know much about it, but I understood that antivirus apps used to operate by hooking the Windows kernel and post Vista SP2(?) that's not allowed anymore.

            Is a kernel extension the same concept, or are you speaking of kernel modifications that explicitly require recompiling the kernel itself? Aren't device drivers kernel extensions in this

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by uvajed_ekil (914487)
          Good call. Because there's absolutely no way in hell that the Russian government has people who could hack backdoors into open source, compile it, and surreptitiously install it onto rooted Linux systems.

          I agree with this: Russian law enforcement and government folks don't need copyright laws and Microsoft to hack or harass dissenters. But I'll go further: they don't generally need back doors at all, because they have no problem with kicking down the front door and dragging citizens out into the street,
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I know this isn't you, but some people care about getting shit done and have no interest in dicking around in the guts of their software.

      For most tasks, that includes me, and I've been a programmer since childhood.

      • NGOs are full of starry idealist types usually, but they are busy being idealistic about their given cause. Often it is something really important, like distributing food to starving people, or vaccinating against deadly, but preventable diseases or shit like that. They do not have time to get all starry eyed about your chosen cause as well, software freedom in this case. They can't go and spend the time to become programmers just so they can "see what the software is doing."

        Linux users may not like to admi

      • by maugle (1369813)
        It's not that they ever would dick around in the guts of their software, it's that they have the ability to if they ever really wanted/needed to. Say, if they suspected that something in the guts of the software was interfering with their ability to "get shit done" (a government backdoor, for example).

        More freedom is better than less, even if it most people never need to be use it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by oatworm (969674)
          You're forgetting ability. There's a wide gulf between "there's something in the guts of the software interfering with our ability to 'get shit done'" and "I know where to find it and how to disable it".

          However, that's not what the story is about. Instead, foreign police forces didn't need a "government backdoor" - instead, they'd use an investigation into a potential technical legal violation (think of how Al Capone was ultimately convicted of tax evasion and you'll get the idea), ask MS to provide eno
      • I know this isn't you, but some people care about getting shit done and have no interest in dicking around in the guts of their software.

        For most tasks, that includes me, and I've been a programmer since childhood.

        It's not an issue of "digging around the guts", it's simply that the software is more trustworthy, because the development process is transparent.

    • by mobby_6kl (668092)

      Maybe NGOs will start using free software when you stop using apostrophes to create plurals.

    • by westlake (615356)

      But lets not forget that although the price will be zeroed, the NGO's will still not be able to see what the software is doing, will still not be able to change the software.

      Maybe they don't want to. Maybe they don't need to.

      Maybe the time and money isn't there.

      Maybe it matters more that an NGO's staff and volunteers have the software they know how to use and are comfortable in using.

      Maybe it's the the job that matters and not ideological purity or political correctness.

    • I'm not criticising this move. It's the start of the right thing to do. But lets not forget that although the price will be zeroed, the NGO's will still not be able to see what the software is doing, will still not be able to change the software.

      NGO's should use free software.

      Your logic is infallible.

    • by ratboy666 (104074)

      And, in response to the inevitable "there's just no time or will to use FOSS". Just use Fedora.

      The Fedora group cares about the software freedom, and integrates the whole thing for you into a working system. If you are an NGO, go ahead and contact them -- they may even be delighted to support you directly.

  • by Pikoro (844299) <init@@@init...sh> on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:34PM (#33566746) Homepage Journal
    In soviet russia, software licenses you?
  • I didn't realise you needed a license to own a blanket.

    How does Linus feel about this?

  • by dave562 (969951) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:14PM (#33567158) Journal

    I used to work for a 501c3 non-profit and we got ridiculously good deals on Microsoft licensing. Everything from server licenses, to Office suite, Exchange and the whole Back Office line of products (SQL, Sharepoint, etc). I know that our Office licenses (for the Professional edition) were in the neighborhood of $30 a piece. That included a provision that allowed the users to have a copy of the program on their home computer as well.

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:45PM (#33567432)

      For instructional use, they give us software for free. We decided to just go and get their software assurance pack (more or less a site license for their software for any use) and it is extremely cheap on a yearly basis. Students get massive discounts, and the get to keep the license when they leave and use it for any purpose, including for profit.

      MS and Adobe are actually two of the best companies for cutting educational institutions a break. Some of the engineering companies... Well they are assholes :P.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by slashbaby (261784)

      Second this.

      I work for the Canadian branch of an international NGO, and MS almost throws software at us - we recently were donated $50 000 MSRP of software from MS. We paid $2300 in "administration fees" - which pay for two years of Software Assurance, downloads, customer service, tech support, etc.

      Most software companies are generous to registered NGOs.

      We do use *nix for many things, most of our network infrastructure is *nix. It just makes sense. But for the users, who know Office and Windows, we can't ju

  • by brianary (986309) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:18PM (#33567194)

    Which organizations? How will Microsoft define "journalist"? Will bloggers qualify? Does the journalist, the publication, and/or the group need to be outside the US?

    Will they get a license key and support?

    "Whatever the circumstances of the particular cases the New York Times described, we want to be clear that we unequivocally abhor any attempt to leverage intellectual property rights to stifle political advocacy or pursue improper personal gain."

    So very naive. Do they think they are getting IP enforcement externalities for free?

    • You're going too far - MS doesn't need to define who is covered, and don't need to provide license keys or support, they simply need to be able to liberally grant requesting NGOs / any other person licenses when they are politically harassed using license non-compliance as a reason. If and only if volume becomes a problem do they need better processes & policies.

      It's forgoing minimum incremental revenue in the pursuit of good corporate citizenship (apparently, and in this particular instance).

      "So

  • by bdwoolman (561635) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:42PM (#33567394) Homepage

    I have argued that NGOs should change to Linux to avoid this very vulnerability. Some have even done so at my suggestion. I suspect at root that with this move Microsoft is parrying this very trend. And looking good while doing so. Of course NGOs should still use Linux for many reasons. Especially since much of the pirate software on their boxes is not MS and this still leaves them vulnerable. Most work done by NGOs can be accomplished by FOSS. Linux and NGOs are a natural fit.

    Of course a bully needs only the weakest excuse so the official harassment will continue despite whatever OS or resources are used.

  • Was that a pig i just saw fly by?

  • well that was odd (Score:3, Informative)

    by phrostie (121428) on Monday September 13, 2010 @08:19PM (#33567712)

    I may never have a reason to say this ever again so, well done!

  • by SplashMyBandit (1543257) on Monday September 13, 2010 @08:34PM (#33567826)
    Never thought I'd be posting this on Slashdot, but an unbelievable move for good by Microsoft. It's good to see them take a stand against repression. Now, I hope these same ethics get cemented in all their business processes.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Alex Belits (437) *

      It only covers organizations that fight against OTHER countries' governments, thus including all CIA front groups. American NGOs still have to pay for Microsoft software.

  • by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Monday September 13, 2010 @09:15PM (#33568104) Homepage

    It's an interesting concept, but won't government agents with an agenda simply look to non-Microsoft software as an excuse for a raid?

    • by jc42 (318812) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:38PM (#33568666) Homepage Journal

      ... won't government agents with an agenda simply look to non-Microsoft software as an excuse for a raid?

      It might mean a change in excuse by the Russian cops. After all, if you're running linux or *BSD or other free software, you have a license to run it. Just keep copies of the GPL and other appropriate licenses around to show people.

      Of course, this won't really stop the raids and theft of computers. It'll just mean that "suspected software piracy" won't be the excuse it has been. The government's creative types will think up other wordings.

      It is sorta funny that the Russian cops don't seem to be raiding the botnet operators and other spam operations, which seem to be headquartered in Russia in great numbers these days. I wonder why that might be?

  • Nice try (Score:4, Insightful)

    by uvajed_ekil (914487) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @01:40AM (#33569922)
    I generally have little good to say about Microsoft, but I'll give them a bit of thanks here. It was a nice try. We'll stop there though, because Russia does not really need to act under the guise of protecting Microsoft to crack down on dissenters. They will continue to harass, arrest, and intimidate dissenters and protesters as much as they please, and find some BS justification after the fact, if they feel a need to justify their actions at all. They are certainly more accountable today than during Soviet times, but not by much, and corruption runs rampant at all levels. So this is a nice gesture by Microsoft, but let's not get carried away - it will not serve to protect or promote free speech in Russia.

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