Principal Guilty in Microsoft Piracy Case

A court Monday found the principal of a village school guilty of using bootleg Microsoft software and ordered him to pay a fine of about $195 in a case that was cast by Russian media as a battle between a humble educator and an international corporation.

The trial of Alexander Ponosov, who was charged with violating intellectual property rights by using classroom computers with pirated versions of the Windows operating system and Microsoft Office software installed, has attracted wide attention.

Russian officials frequently allege that foreign governments, including the U.S., are meddling in Russia's internal affairs, and Russian media reports have portrayed the case as that of a Western corporation bringing its power to bear on one man -- in this case, a principal who also teaches history and earns $360 a month.

Microsoft, however, has said repeatedly it has nothing to do with the charges, which were brought by Russian prosecutors in the Ural Mountains region where Ponosov's school is located.

The case "was initiated by Russian authorities under Russian law," the company said in an e-mailed statement after the verdict. "Microsoft neither initiated nor has any plans to bring any action against Mr. Ponosov."

Prosecutor Natalya Kurdoyakova said in televised remarks that Ponosov knew he was violating the law "and illegally used these programs in computer classes."

Ponosov has maintained his innocence, saying that the computers at the school came with the software already installed.

"I had no idea it wasn't licensed," Ponosov told The Associated Press by telephone. He said that he planned to file an appeal.

"Prosecutors made a lot of mistakes starting from the moment they checked the computers," he said.

Ponosov was found guilty of causing $10,000 in damage to the company, RIA-Novosti quoted judge Valentina Tiunova as saying.

In February, the court in the Vereshchaginsky district of the Perm region threw out the case, saying Ponosov's actions were "insignificant" and presented no danger to society. Both Ponosov and prosecutors vowed to appeal in hopes of forcing a clear decision, with Ponosov saying he wanted a full acquittal.

In March, the regional court ordered Ponosov to stand trial a second time.

Despite government pledges to crack down on Russia's rampant piracy, the country remains the No. 2 producer of bootlegged software, movies and music after China.

In April, the Bush administration put Russia, China and 10 other nations on a "priority watch list," which will subject them to extra scrutiny and could eventually lead to economic sanctions if the administration decides to bring trade cases before the World Trade Organization.

The designation was made in an annual report the administration is required to provide to Congress each year that highlights the problems U.S. companies are facing around the world with copyright piracy. The report said that the United States will be closely watching to see how Russia fulfills the commitments it made to upgrading copyright protection as part of a U.S.-Russia accord reached last year which was seen as a key milestone in Russian efforts to join the WTO.


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