Microsoft can't sink Russian pirates

By David Nowak

MOSCOW - One-quarter of Russian software outlets sell bootleg Microsoft programs, the company said as it published the results of a survey intended to elbow authorities into taking more action.

Russia is a notoriously lucrative market for unlicensed software, movies and music - a persistent issue in Moscow's stalled accession to the World Trade Organisation.

Microsoft checked 2,500 retailers in 53 Russian cities over the last few months and found 25 per cent offered illegally copied software, while 11 per cent of stores offered to install the unlicensed programs onto clients' computers.

Microsoft provided evidence for nearly 1,000 prosecutions across Russia over 2009. Central Siberia and the Far East it deemed the worst offenders. Up to 71 per cent of retail outlets in those regions vended illicit software, Microsoft said.

Moscow recorded 27 per cent.

Microsoft said it was an improvement and praised authorities for what they have done so far.

"A few years ago most computer stores in some form or other offered pirate software," said Denis Guz, head of the company's department that promotes the sale of licensed software, in emailed comments.

"Now, as we see, there are significantly fewer sales points of that kind ... and now the majority of retailers offer only licensed programs."

Stiffer penalties and stricter enforcement have rendered the massive illegal markets that sprouted up during the chaotic 1990s transitional economy a thing of the past. But nook-and-cranny peddlers remain popular and trade openly, suppressing market prices for their legitimate competitors.

Russian authorities have sought to make examples of violators. The 2007 conviction of a high-school teacher who was found guilty of using bootleg Microsoft software in classroom machines garnered huge coverage in the state-controlled media. Alexander Ponosov from a Urals Mountains school was fined $190.

- AP

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