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)