Gorbachev asks Bill Gates for leniency in Russian piracy case Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, asked Microsoft Chairman...

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Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, asked Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates to help a Russian teacher facing prison in a Siberian labor camp for buying pirated Windows software for his students.

Alexander Ponosov, a school principal in the Ural Mountains region of Perm, faces five years in jail and 266,000 rubles ($10,000) of fines after Russian prosecutors charged him with copyright infringement after buying Windows-powered computers.

“Show leniency and drop claims against the principal,” Gorbachev and billionaire Alexander Lebedev wrote in a letter posted on Gorbachev’s Web site today. “This teacher, who has dedicated his life to educating children and earns a pitiful wage compared with even the lowest-ranking people at your company, now faces imprisonment in a Siberian penal colony.”

Russian law doesn’t distinguish between accidental and deliberate trade in unlicensed software and Ponosov bought the computers in good faith, the men wrote. President Vladimir Putin last week called the case “simply ridiculous” and urged new legislation to protect buyers and punish suppliers.

“As with the battle with drugs, we don’t need to battle with the users, but with those who make and distribute” pirated goods, Putin said during his annual news conference with reporters in the Kremlin. “Our policies are aimed at protecting intellectual property rights.”

Counterfeiting and piracy costs the global economy at least $100 billion a year, the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization said Jan. 30. Russia, China and India are the worst-rated countries in tackling the issue of piracy, according to a survey by the International Chamber of Commerce.

The U.S. accused Russia of having a lax attitude to counterfeiting and has said it is one the main stumbling blocks to joining the World Trade Organization. Economy Minister German Gref said last year that Russia’s market for counterfeit goods is worth $4 billion to $6 billion a year.

Gorbachev, 75, was Soviet Communist Party general secretary and president from 1985 to 1991 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his efforts to end the Cold War. The former Soviet leader and the billionaire Lebedev are co-owners of Novaya Gazeta, a pro-democracy newspaper that employed reporter Anna Politkovskaya before she was assassinated last year.