Russian President Vladimir Putin ridiculed the trial as "utter nonsense. " Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sent a plea to Microsoft...
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin ridiculed the trial as “utter nonsense.” Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sent a plea to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates asking him to help spare the defendant from a Siberian prison camp.
Alexander Ponosov, a village school principal, is charged with allegedly overseeing the installation of pirated versions of Microsoft software on 12 school PCs in something of a test case for Russia’s crackdown on intellectual property law violations.
But the case has sparked criticism in Russia of Microsoft on the assumption that a powerful Western corporation was bringing its corporate might to bear on one man, in this case a bearded history teacher earning $360 a month.
Microsoft says it has nothing to do with the charges against Ponosov.
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Russian and Western officials alike have long held that Russia — the biggest producer of pirated goods after China — needs to get tough on the pirates. But as a test case for a crackdown on piracy, Ponosov’s prosecution seems badly misaimed, targeting a small-town school director in the Ural Mountain region of Perm, about 620 miles east of Moscow.
The case appears to have more to do with the lopsided approach taken by local prosecutors — eager to please the leadership in Moscow — in response to international pressure on Russia to clamp down on piracy.
“You know the president is always asked these questions at summits,” said Alexander Troyanov, the district prosecutor pursuing the case. “Evidently because of this, work has been stepped up.”
Putin himself has questioned the rationale behind the case. When it was raised by a reporter at his annual, nationally televised news conference this month, the president dismissed it with a colorful term that translates as “utter nonsense.” As in fighting drugs, the manufacturers and producers should be targeted rather than the end user, he said.
Ponosov was propelled further into the spotlight when Gorbachev unexpectedly took up his case. In an open letter addressing Gates personally, the Nobel prize winner and former Soviet leader warned that Ponosov faced “Siberian camps.”
Microsoft has distanced itself from the case. It has had no role the charges against Ponosov and had even turned down the opportunity of joining the lawsuit, company spokeswoman Olga Dergunova said in a statement.
“In general, we do not believe that a case of this kind warrants criminal prosecution, given the very small number of computers involved, and the fact that the computers were purchased for use by students,” she said in the company’s latest statement Monday.
Even Ponosov said he does not blame Microsoft for the prosecutors’ attention. “I don’t think this is Microsoft’s strategy … It doesn’t benefit them,” he said.
In a hearing Tuesday, Russian television showed him turning down the offer from the Russian prosecutor, who offered to settle the case if the defendant apologized, and Microsoft’s representative said the company did not object. But the defendant refused.
“Of course I didn’t suspect that it was pirated,” he said in a telephone interview last week.
“The programs came installed in the computers already. They worked fine, the only thing was that they didn’t come with any documentation,” he said.
Ponosov could be sentenced to five years in prison if convicted, but Troyanov — speaking after Putin’s criticism of the case — said his punishment would likely be far softer.