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Russia to Legalize Software Piracymy show is canceled, business news reports

Business news service Kommersant (“Коммерсантъ”, literally “merchant”)—think Russian Wall Street Journal or Financial Times—reports:

In Russia Pirates are Legal

Against the backdrop of sanctions gaining momentum, Russian authorities are urgently preparing support measures, among which is being discussed the suspension of criminal and administrative liability for use of pirated software “from countries supporting sanctions”. Such a step could temporarily soften the exit from Russia of Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and others, say experts. But, they warn, a large part of significant software from those companies is sold on subscription, which means access to them will be blocked in any event.

Original Russian

В России легализуют пиратов

На фоне набирающих оборот санкций российские власти экстренно готовят меры поддержки, среди которых обсуждается отмена уголовной и административной ответственности за использование пиратского программного обеспечения «из стран, поддержавших санкции». Такой шаг мог бы временно смягчить уход из России Microsoft, IBM, Oracle и других, допускают эксперты. Но, предупреждают они, большая часть значимого софта этих компаний продается по подписке, а значит, доступ к нему в любом случае будет заблокирован.

The basis of the report is a table reportedly being circulated among state agencies, listing points of a plan to support economic growth under sanctions. The source is anonymous, cited as “familiar with the situation”. Bureaucrats handing Kommersant advanced word is hardly unheard of.

The story continues:

According to the plan, in order to support Russian information technology, they propose a compulsory licensing mechanism for software, databases, and technology for integrated microcircuits. They can take such action through article 1360 of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation [here — KEM] (under which the government has the right “in case of emergency” to take measures on the use of inventions, useful models, and industrial designs without the agreement of patentholders). The authorities also propose suspending criminal and administrative liability for use of unlicensed software in the Russian Federation, “belonging to rights holders from countries that support sanctions”.

Original Russian

Согласно плану, для поддержки российских информационных технологий предлагается механизм принудительного лицензирования в отношении ПО, баз данных и топологий для интегральных микросхем. На них может быть распространено действие ст. 1360 ГК РФ (по ней правительство РФ имеет право «в случае крайней необходимости» принять решение об использовании изобретения, полезной модели или промышленного образца без согласия патентообладателя). Также власти предлагают отменить уголовную и административную ответственность за использование нелицензированного в РФ программного обеспечения, «принадлежащего правообладателю из стран, поддержавших санкции».

In 2008 and 2009, I lived in Moscow. I was studying the language, but also researching Microsoft’s travails enforcing its IP in the former Soviet Union. I wrote an honors thesis, in Russian, on just that.

I went in pretty primed to dump on Redmond. I was still in the throes of fanboy FOSSism, then. But I came out with a much more nuanced picture. It didn’t go well for Microsoft, early on. But Microsoft’s mistakes and Russian state and popular backlashes never seemed very connected. The best of intentions on all sides got pummeled, reliably.

In a word, the situation was смутно—a Russian term that’s not so much untranslatable as translatable ten different ways. The gist is messy, murky, occluded—the grey, confused, soft-chaotic aspect of life. An aspect strongly in evidence through Russian history. The смутное время or “murky times” period, from the late 16th into early 17th centuries, featured constant political turmoil and no less than four different people pretending to be long-lost Prince Dmitry, heir to the Russian throne.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Moscow, software “piracy” was rampant before my eyes. One of my favorite spots in Moscow was Gorbushka, an infamous media-tech shopping center with a folksy, bread-related name—think indoor ghetto mini-mall meets Best Buy, with a swap meet and a flea market glommed on outside—that took over from Russia’s most infamous open-air pirated disk market. Open-air sales of especially films and TV shows of every description, from Soviet classics to the latest raunchy Mexican telenovela, continued in every other underground crosswalk and street corner in the major walking districts of the city, much as hawkers sell purses, sunglasses, or clothing off of bedsheets in Brooklyn. But by the time I got to Moscow, Gorbushka was the spot where you went to buy legit, where your mom could go shopping. Everything not inherently bound to physical form was online, through the LAN file-sharing network helpfully hosted by your Internet Service Provider.

With Larry Lessig making the rounds for Creative Commons, and a thousand voices proclaiming the “freedom” of anything we could rip and share online, Russia was a kind of copyright-free demilitarized zone. Only at the heavy ends of the economy, or in the organs of the state, did the laws on the books, or the looming consequences of potential WTO accession, really come to bear. As in the early United States, where printers freely copied English books, Russian society had come to the decision, collectively and non-explicitly, that for the moment, there was far more to gain taking en masse than to be lost in studious commerciality for domestic production. With rare exceptions, like ABBYY, who still make my preferred Russian dictionary app, paid software was made “over there”. What was made in Russia would make money “over there”.

At least in theory, the reported blanket license to pirate Western software would leave the rules in place for internal business, within Russia. I don’t know how much of a practical factor that will be. My guess is not much. Outside Russia, there is precious little for open source people or companies to do, as a result of this possible change.

That all seems little meaningful now. There are doubtless Ukrainian hackers on front lines, right now.

It all falls apart.

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