Microsoft: Not Behind Russia Piracy Case

Microsoft Corp., responding to a plea from former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, said Tuesday it had no role in Russia's investigation of a school principal on charges of buying pirated Windows software.

The company said it knew about the case months ago but did not instigate the prosecution.

"This case was initiated by Russian authorities under Russian law," Olga Dergunova, chairwoman of Microsoft Russia, wrote in a letter addressed to Gorbachev.

Microsoft was responding to an open letter Gorbachev wrote to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, published on Gorbachev's Web site Monday, asking the software maker to drop claims against the head of a school in a small town in the Ural Mountains region of Perm.

Prosecutors have charged Alexander Ponosov with copyright violation after he bought computers for his school containing pirated Windows software. Ponosov, who is facing a prison term, denied his guilt and said he was unaware the software was not licensed.

In the letter to Gates, Gorbachev and his co-author, billionaire legislator Alexander Lebedev, wrote that many Russians believe "this scandalous process was ordered and is a show-trial initiated by Microsoft."

Dergunova said Microsoft learned about Ponosov's case several months ago, but declined to support any criminal or civil action against the principal at that time.

"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," Dergunova wrote.

Dergunova said Microsoft's course of action in such cases is to "work with local school officials to help them fix the problem and get their software legal."

The Redmond, Wash.-based software maker said that since July 2006, there have been 849 civil and 1,729 criminal cases filed worldwide in which Microsoft was a victim of software piracy.

But spokesman Mark Murray said the company typically focuses on "big fish" -- counterfeit software manufacturers, big distributors and computer manufacturers who install and sell counterfeit software on PCs.