Microsoft Cuts Software Prices for Some Media

Microsoft has announced that it will sell its software to less wealthy media outlets at discount prices in an effort to help them avoid pressure from the authorities based on the possession and use of pirated programs.

The move is part of a joint project between Microsoft Rus and the Russian Union of Journalists to achieve greater transparency and prevent persecution of the media.

"The special offer price is for a limited time only and applies to products most used by the media," Microsoft Rus spokesman Yevgeny Danilov said in an e-mailed statement Friday.

Beginning April 2, around 15,000 Russian media outlets, out of a total of about 20,000, have been able to buy the software at a 40 percent discount, union general secretary Igor Yakovenko said Friday.

Danilov called this a "nonprofit project" for Microsoft, which he said had its own reasons for trying to help the media.

"Our main interest with the project is to see that the newspapers that are published today be still published tomorrow, because we read them," Danilov said.

Yakovenko said his union had spent eight months negotiating the project and the price with the company.

Nineteen criminal cases have been opened against journalists in Russia on charges of using unlicensed software in the last nine months, according to the union's data.

"Today we have to secure journalists to the maximum degree from all possible shadow schemes," Yakovenko said Friday, in a reference to the use of pirated software by the media.

Activists for the defense of journalists' rights said the use of pirated software by Russian mass media was widespread because the media outlets couldn't afford to buy licensed programs. As a result, it is a convenient pretext on which the authorities can persecute news outlets offering critical coverage.

"I am sure that over a half of all Russian mass media offices use pirated software," Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

One journalist familiar with the problems this can cause is Sergei Kurt-Adzhiyev, the former editor of Novaya Gazeta in Samara who is currently on trial for using pirated software in his newspaper's office.

"We are slowly starting to make attempts to live in a civilized country," Kurt-Adzhiyev said of the Microsoft project.

But he voiced concerns that law enforcement agencies might conduct a wave of raids on media offices to try to catch them before they were able to stop using the pirated software.

Police raided the Nizhny Novgorod and Samara editions of Novaya Gazeta, an outspoken opposition newspaper, in search of pirated software last year, confiscating office computers and paralyzing the papers' work.

Unlicensed copies of programs such as Microsoft Office are on sale at outdoor markets and kiosks throughout the country, at a fraction of the price of authentic copies.

The International Intellectual Property Alliance, a coalition of seven industry groups, estimated in August 2007 that piracy rates in Russia ranged from 65 percent to 80 percent -- figures that some industry specialists say may be on the conservative side.