Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Piracy fail: Don't invite the SWAT teams over if you're a NGO

The less than perfect (apparently) government of Russia has been raiding NGO offices using the excuse they were looking for pirated Microsoft Windows. Which, technically speaking, they probably were and which they probably (if my prejudices about Russia are correct) successfully found.

Read The New York Times / Russia Uses Microsoft to Suppress Dissent for a recent update. Better yet: check out Daniel Nylin Nilsson's column at TH!NK3 to get the whole story summed up and have the obvious conclusion served on a silver platter: Free software - the best tool for NGO’s.
The easiest way to avoid the same thing to happen again for the NGO would be to use free, non patented, software. Easy to say, but none the less true.
Worse yet. It appears the NGOs were using licensed software. And that Microsoft were really just acting in corrupt alliance with the Russian government.
[NGOs] were disappointed by the big help that lawyers from Microsoft provided to the police. "Microsoft lawyers made statements describing the company as a victim and arguing that criminal charges should be pursued". Unfortunately [...] other Russian NGO's make similar claims. Activists had sent Microsoft in Russia all kinds of documentation to show that they use legal software, but "Microsoft did not want to help us, which would have been the right thing to do,” said [NGO] co-chairwoman and one of Russia’s best-known environmentalists. “They said these issues had to be handled by the security services.”
Evil stuff. Conclusion:
By purchasing legal software, [NGOs] have tried to prevent this from happening, but that strategy is weak, since it depends on MIcrosoft's good will. Especially in a state whose juridical system is as weak as in Russia. A much stronger strategy for an NGO with powerful enemies is to avoid patented software to the biggest possible extent. Patents are not a way to make money from ideas, but a weapon to be used against competitors at any given time. Microsoft, Apple, Nokia and other IT companies are fighting endless patent wars, wars that have very little to do with innovation, and very much to do with market shares. There is no reason for NGO's to get mixed up in this.