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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 ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:34PM (#33566736) Homepage

    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.

  • This is great. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by cfalcon (779563) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:38PM (#33566810)

    I'm really glad to see this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:39PM (#33566822)

    So, what you're saying is, this is a win-win scenario for both Microsoft and non-US NGOs. Don't they teach win-win being a wonderful thing at school?

  • 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.

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:45PM (#33566872) Homepage Journal
    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 Locke2005 (849178) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:49PM (#33566902)
    Can you cite evidence of any "dissident" groups in the US that have been busted for software piracy? This is a case of Microsoft trying to "do the right thing", they should be applauded for their efforts, not criticized.
  • 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.

  • No. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:56PM (#33566978)

    THEY, should be using whatever THEY want, not what YOU want. Attitudes like yours are what start Crusades, jihads, and pogroms. Unlike the instigators of those events, you're probably too pussy to put your money where your fist is, so in the end YOU are harmless.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:56PM (#33566988) Journal

    So far as my limited understanding of US copyright law goes, the government cannot sue someone for copyright infringement on behalf of the rights owner; the latter actually has to initiate the process. In Russia (and a few other places), this is not the case - copyright infringement (even small-scale) is a criminal matter, and prosecuted as such by the state, with or without cooperation from the rights owner. This is what made possible the abuse in this particular case. It's actually hinted at in TFS:

    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.

    The situation before was like this: say, Russian police gets a tip from "above" to harass a particular NGO. They raid the offices on some premise (it's not US, so there are many ways to legitimize such a raid) and confiscate a bunch of PCs. They then subpoena MS to testify whether software on those PCs, in which MS holds copyrights, is legitimately owned or copyright-infringing. Chances are high that at least a few boxes would have something unlicensed on them - and if they don't, you can always plant it there (rumor it is that it's precisely what they did in the case in question), so MS says "yes, some of that is not licensed". Police then takes it to state prosecutor which uses it as the grounds for the copyright infringement case.

    The whole point of this blanket license is so that, if govt tries that trick again in the future, MS can say that all software in question is legally used, without even having to look at it. Hence there would be no grounds for a lawsuit.

    Though something tells me that they'll just start looking for pirated Photoshop etc from now on.

  • by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:08PM (#33567098)

    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.

  • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:13PM (#33567148)

    Right and by using something like that as the guide, then when Russia says Journalist X is a terrorist, M$ can say "no they aren't, they aren't on the State Department or Interpol's list."

    I'm waiting for Wikileaks to make State's list

  • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:32PM (#33567306) Homepage

    Nope. Attitudes like ours is what started the American and French revolutions.

    If you are being abused by the corporate aristocracy then perhaps it's time to overthrow the aristocracy.

    You don't even have to believe in the whole "software freedom" thing to realize that the whole software license management thing is a huge burden and bother.

    Being an accidental pirate as a corporation is much like being in violation of some obscure subtle law that most people (including actual cops) wouldn't recognize as a "federal offense".

  • Re:hmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pandrijeczko (588093) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:38PM (#33567364)

    They won't have to register though, what will happen is they will simply say to that they are fully licensed until 2012.

    Okay, point taken on that. But then a pirate user who suddenly becomes legal will probably start using things like Automatic Updates for the convenience, and then becomes visible, to a degree, to Microsoft.

    FWIW, I'm mostly Linux guy so it doesn't bother me either way - but I know enough about MS to know they don't give anything away free without there being some alterior motive.

  • 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.

  • by AHuxley (892839) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:45PM (#33567430) Homepage Journal
    MS gets a free sales bump to feel good organizations. Organizations get free software, the FSB gets to slide in all the quality malware they like.
    Young campaigners are exposed to MS products telling their friends and family ... win win win for all. The CIA gets a longer list of front organizations and useful idiots to incubate for 'color revolutions'.
  • 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.

  • by imakemusic (1164993) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:48PM (#33567456)

    No, no. The other [wikipedia.org] Linus.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:50PM (#33567494)

    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 admit the fact but in an enterprise setting, Microsoft products get shit done. For some people, that is all that matters, in particular if what they are doing matters more.

  • 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.
  • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Monday September 13, 2010 @08:38PM (#33567850) Journal
    That was a strangely non-evil thing for Microsoft to do. My world is shifting.
  • by SpaceLifeForm (228190) on Monday September 13, 2010 @08:45PM (#33567902)

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

  • by Alex Belits (437) * on Monday September 13, 2010 @08:56PM (#33567976) Homepage

    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 exomondo (1725132) on Monday September 13, 2010 @08:57PM (#33567980)
    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 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 c6gunner (950153) on Monday September 13, 2010 @09:16PM (#33568110)

    I'm waiting for Wikileaks to make State's list

    If you're being serious, you really and truly need to seek psychiatric help. Some level of general paranoia is justified, and might even be warranted, but anyone who honestly thinks that wikileaks is going to make a terrorist list has stepped way off the beaten path.

  • by oatworm (969674) on Monday September 13, 2010 @09:24PM (#33568154) Homepage
    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 enough info to ostensibly check for it ("Hey, we think this org is using pirated software."/"Okay, here's what you'll need to know to check for that."), then raid all of the computers in said org, hold them long enough to disrupt operations and grab everything off of them, then be done with it. Honestly, you don't need root/local admin access when you can carry the boxes out of the office by hand. Now, MS' official policy when foreign law enforcement calls is to simply say, "No, they're not pirates - we give free licenses to all non-profits" and force law enforcement to come up with some other arcane law (of which there are always plenty) to apply against the org of their choice.

    It won't really affect anything, of course, but kudos to MS for not playing along.
  • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Monday September 13, 2010 @09:57PM (#33568326)

    I'm serious that if they keep poking at the US military, State Department and intelligence agencies, they'll end up on the receiving end of retaliation.

    If you think they can keep antagonizing the most powerful nation in the world and the most powerful military in history you are being delusional.

  • by Dachannien (617929) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:09PM (#33568394)

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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:37PM (#33568658)

    Can somebody clue me in to why there is this concentration of unfounded Linux bashing and Microsoft promotion here? There's absolutely no justification why Windows accomplishes whatever these groups are doing and Linux does not. Yet the mods seemed to love it more than everything else for whatever reason. Metamods, maybe you're our only hope?

  • 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?

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:41PM (#33568692)
    The problem is that Wikileaks has public support. The US military and intelligence services are very publicity-aware. They know that many people outside the US already consider them "evil". They know that directly attacking Wikileaks would be seen by most people as "evil". Ergo, they will not directly attack Wikileaks. They will not call in a missile strike on their servers. They will not assassinate anyone. They will probably not even risk publicity attacks, just because getting caught doing so would be more damaging than letting Wikileaks continue operating. You'll notice that they still haven't called Wikileaks "evil" or "un-American". They've said that they violate laws (true) and that their operations endanger soldiers and civilians (also true).

    What they WILL do is try to shut down their sources. Because, while everyone stands up for Wikileaks, very few people are actively protecting the leakers themselves. So, the US military will beef up its IT security, and bump up personnel security checks, and slow the number of leaks that get out. They can't get 100%, but they can make it difficult for Wikileaks to get intel on them, at which point Wikileaks will probably find some other organization to use as its big target.
  • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:58PM (#33569264)

    The public doesn't know who wikileaks is.

    Besides, does the US Government really care what the world public thinks? I think US Foreign Policy since 1964 shows the US really doesn't care.

    "Everyone" is not standing up for Wikileaks, hell even big transitional media outlets like Wired and Gawker are pointing at problems with Wikileaks and it's public face.

  • by tverbeek (457094) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @12:05AM (#33569326) Homepage

    You know the scenes in WWII movies (e.g. Casablanca) where the resistance or their allies provide bogus "authorization" papers to the Good Guys so they can evade arrest by the Nazis? That's kinda what MS is doing here. They're trying to be non-evil; give them credit for it.

  • by c0lo (1497653) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @12:18AM (#33569426)

    You have no idea what an NGO actually is, do you.

    It doesn't matter what I understand, and it doesn't matter what MS would understand (if it is not phrased carefully). What matters it what the Russians will understand or choose to understand in the context of their legislation.

    As the parent post noted: while MS intentions (in this instance) may be well meant, it just doesn't mean they'll have the desired effect: not without due care being paid.

  • 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.
  • Re:No. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @02:55AM (#33570320)

    But I'm not being abused by "the corporate aristocracy". I use what I use because I WANT to use it.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @05:27AM (#33570996) Journal

    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 good for them AND a lot of people. It is going to be one hell of a cold day.

  • by tehcyder (746570) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @07:34AM (#33571714) Journal

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

    Amd how exqactly is MS stopping anyone from doing this?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @08:42AM (#33572284)

    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.

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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