Anti-piracy enforcers claiming to represent Microsoft used to shut down dissident media in former USSR

Danny O'Brien from the Committee to Protect Journalists sez, "The Kyrgyz government used anti-piracy heavies (including a guy who is president of 'Kyrgyz Association for Defense of Intellectual Property Rights' and who works with Microsoft) to shut down Stan TV, an independent web TV news channel in Kyrgyzstan. They said they were investigating unlicensed Microsoft software and seized all the journalists' laptops and work computers, shutting down the station. When the President was ousted two weeks later, Stan TV got it all back without explanation. Apparently there's a long history of governments using Microsoft's name and piracy charges to squelch independent media in Russia, too."
Selective enforcement of alleged software infringement is being used with some frequency in the former Soviet republics as cover to harass independent media. Local law enforcement officials have been given broad powers, in the name of fighting piracy, to raid premises and seize hardware. For the most part, Western companies and governments have encouraged this broadening of powers--but they have not insisted on checks to ensure such powers are not misused. As a result, abuses of power are being committed in the names of those companies.

Stan TV employees told CPJ that police were accompanied by a technical expert, Sergey Pavlovsky, who claimed to be a representative of Microsoft's Bishkek office. According to the journalists, Pavlovsky said he had authorization papers from Microsoft but was unwilling to show them. After a cursory inspection of the computers, they said, Pavlovsky declared all of the equipment to be using pirated software. Stan TV's work computers, as well as the personal laptops of journalists, were seized; the offices were also sealed, interrupting the station's work.

Microsoft, piracy, and independent media in Kyrgyzstan

Update: Danny adds, "Just to be clear, Microsoft says they knew nothing about this raid. Here's their statement on the matter: 'The raid against Stan Media was initiated by the Kyrgyz police without any involvement from any Microsoft employees or anyone working on Microsoft's behalf. The identified local lawyer has been representing Microsoft in a few enforcement actions targeting resellers of pirated software, but at this time he was asked to assist the police to identify possible unlicensed software in the role of a technical specialist from the local 'Association of Right Holders of Intellectual Property Protection'. No claims were filed on Microsoft's behalf and any suggestion that Microsoft approved or supported this police action is inaccurate.'

(Thanks, Danny!)

(Image: Microsoft sign outside building 99, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from scobleizer's photostream)

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  1. Just to be clear, Microsoft says they knew nothing about this raid. Here’s their statement on the matter:
    “The raid against Stan Media was initiated by the Kyrgyz police without any involvement from any Microsoft employees or anyone working on Microsoft’s behalf. The identified local lawyer has been representing Microsoft in a few enforcement actions targeting resellers of pirated software, but at this time he was asked to assist the police to identify possible unlicensed software in the role of a technical specialist from the local ‘Association of Right Holders of Intellectual Property Protection’. No claims were filed on Microsoft’s behalf and any suggestion that Microsoft approved or supported this police action is inaccurate.”

    More info on the story from Jeffrey Carr here: http://intelfusion.net/wordpress/2010/04/14/microsoft-denies-role-in-closure-of-stan-tv-by-kyrgyz-police/

  2. Sounds like someone needs some concrete and lead computer cases. Nothing like 30,000 pounds of ballast to keep a computer network in place.

  3. (and yes, Internet Advocacy Coordinator at the Committee to Protect journalists is my new gig, though I was surprised as anyone that IP issues would crop up so quickly. I was somewhat hoping to give that side of things a rest after working on them so long at EFF…)

    If you want to follow this stuff more closely, I’m at http://twitter.com/danny_at_cpj

  4. Wonderful example of why widely-practiced things probably shouldn’t be illegal. It’s far too tempting to selectively target enemies of the enforcement structure, whether state or corporate.

    Of course, there’s the choice between changing the situation by improving enforcement or by legalization, but either way, change.

  5. Off topic (beg your indulgence this once!): Re Chrs#4 – I’ve asked lawyer friends and drawn a blank on this one… Can any of you clever BB regulars please enlighten me: Is there a technical term (or term of art) for the tactic of making common practices illegal so that you can later arrest whomever you want?

  6. “any suggestion that Microsoft approved or supported this police action is inaccurate.”

    Well this is not strictly true.

    Certainly Microsoft is in favor of an IP enforcement regime that has these kinds of powers. And I don’t remember any Microsoft proposals for checks on these powers? Sanctions for their abuse? So they definitely approve/support at a regime level. Everyone said that this is what it would entail!

    The only thing that they can honestly claim here is that person x was not representing them in an investigative capacity in this matter.

    1. @highlyverbal: That’s pretty much what I was going to say.

      Microsoft supports “intellectual property” laws from which brutal censorship regimes logically follow. Freedom of speech and strong copyright are mutually exclusive objectives.

    1. Yeah but downloading Open Source is supporting Communism, and they’ve had too much of that already in the past century.

    2. You think that will stop the police from seizing your computer under suspicion of (air quotes) “copyright infringement”?

  7. I was disappointed that the article uses the propaganda terms
    “pirated” and “Intellectual Property”. The latter term is so
    misleading that even quoting a name in which it appears spreads
    confusion if you don’t deconstruct the term.
    See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.html for more information.

    Also, to say that “software piracy” is a “legitimate problem”
    whitewashes the real problem: proprietary software which forbid
    redistribution.

    Brazil used unauthorized copies of software as an excuse in the 90s to
    arrest activists of the landless rural workers’ movement. In that
    case, the copies really were unauthorized, but that didn’t alter the
    effect. To protect themselves, they moved to GNU/Linux. Everyone
    else should do that too.

  8. Hello linux??? Why cant these journalists use Linux if they cannot afford to pay for Windows? How hard can it be? They would rather risk it all with Mr. Pirated Windows than to use Linux which is freeware 100% Linux have more than 100,000 available software within its repositories that I am sure can meet every one of these people’s needs.

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