For Immediate Release: February 14, 2011
Washington, DC – A day before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to deliver a major policy speech on internet freedom, Human Rights First reports that politically motivated enforcement of laws outlawing software piracy against rights activists and independent media in Russia has stifled dissent and freedom of expression. Although a recent innovative license program adopted by Microsoft in collaboration with Human Rights First shows early signs of success in protecting vulnerable organizations, the organization’s report, A Campaign Against Dissent, outlines steps that Microsoft can take to prevent further abuse. It also provides recommendations on how the company can turn its experience into an industry-wide standard in response to selective enforcement, as well as how the U.S. government can support these efforts.
“Behind all of the technical jargon and complex circumstances that shape these troubling cases in Russia, the fundamental rights of human rights activists and independent journalists are at risk,” said Human Rights First’s Meg Roggensack. “These cases targeted organizations working on issues of national importance, and were timed to silence their independent voices.”
Noting that legitimate antipiracy laws can be abused in pursuit of illegitimate ends, today’s report provides a set of best practices for tech companies that operate in environments where the rule of law is weak and governments use legitimate antipiracy law as a tool to actively suppress civil society. It also details the role U.S. officials should play in supporting companies like Microsoft in their efforts to address the threat of selective enforcement.
A Campaign Against Dissent has its roots in an October 2009 incident reported to Human Rights First. ETHnICS, a Russian civil society organization focused on fighting discrimination, was raided and targeted for criminal prosecution for software piracy. After further investigation, Human Rights First discovered nine similar cases across Russia affecting a wide range of civil society, including small independent media, an internationally prominent environmental group, election monitoring organizations and two ethnic tolerance groups. Several were subjected to lengthy civil and criminal proceedings. The cases provided clear evidence of a pattern of selective enforcement of antipiracy laws by Russian authorities as a way to silence dissent and suppress free speech. In several of the prosecutions, it was discovered that Microsoft’s own local Russian attorneys played a supportive role.
Human Rights First brought the ETHnICS case – and the broader pattern of selective enforcement abuse – to the attention of Microsoft’s headquarters and began a dialogue to solve this problem. That effort included convenings in the United States and Russia between Microsoft officials and Russian NGOs and journalists affected by selective enforcement. Though this program shows promise, both Microsoft and the U.S. government will need to take additional steps to ensure Russia stops using antipiracy laws to stifle dissent.
In today’s report, Human Rights First outlined a series of recommendations for Microsoft designed to prevent future abuses in Russia and other nations, including:
1. Continue and expand efforts to end Microsoft facilitation of selective enforcement of antipiracy laws by:
- Making its policy clear to senior Russian Procuracy and other officials responsible for antipiracy enforcement.
- Being proactive to prevent future cases of selective enforcement by raising awareness of the licensing program among Russian officials, particularly in the three regions (i.e. Krasnodar, Irkutsk and Nizhny Novgorod) where cases have arisen and Microsoft’s local lawyers had played a facilitative role.
- Having a rapid response strategy to try to prevent raids and to make clear to local prosecutors and law enforcement officials that Microsoft will not support prosecution or claims of damages against the beneficiaries of Microsoft’s license program: civil society organizations and small independent media.
2. Ensure effectiveness of its Unilateral License and Related Programs by:
- Supervising from headquarters the local Microsoft representatives charged with administering the new policies.
- Publicizing the license program widely in Russia.
- Using practical experience of civil society to strengthen effectiveness of the temporary license and ease transition to a permanent program.
- Communicating clear plans for the transition from temporary license to permanent software donation program.
3. Promote Software Industry Engagement on the Selective Enforcement Issue by:
- Encouraging other software companies active in Russia (i.e. Corel, Adobe, and Kaspersky Lab, a Russian company) to adopt similar policies and programs.
- Engaging the Business Software Alliance, a U.S.-based trade association, to ensure that member companies do not facilitate selective antipiracy enforcement.
To support and reinforce Microsoft’s position on selective antipiracy enforcement and to ensure that U.S. human rights and trade policies are not working at cross purposes, the U.S. government should:
- Urge Russian officials to end selective enforcement.
- Use ongoing training and technical assistance related to intellectual property enforcement activities to clarify the distinction between legitimate antipiracy enforcement and abusive selective enforcement.
- Coordinate trade and human rights reporting to ensure that selective enforcement cases are detailed in all reports as a matter of U.S. concern.
- Maintain regular contact on this issue with civil society representatives and software companies in Russia and elsewhere, as appropriate.