Russian teacher fined in Microsoft piracy case

MOSCOW Mon May 7, 2007 5:26am EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian headmaster said on Monday a court has fined him half his monthly wage for using pirated copies of Microsoft (MSFT.O) software at his school in a case President Vladimir Putin has called "utter nonsense."

Prosecutors said Alexander Ponosov had violated Microsoft's property rights by allowing pupils to use 12 computers with unlicensed copies of Microsoft Windows and Office software.

Ponosov, a headmaster in a remote school in the Perm region of the Ural mountains, said he did not know the computers had fake licenses when they were delivered by a sub-contractor.

Russia has been urged to crack down on the widespread availability of cheap pirated software, films and music as it prepares to enter the World Trade Organization.

Illegal copies of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system are on sale for about $6 at Moscow markets.

Russian state television has portrayed Alexander Ponosov as a hero in a David-and-Goliath battle against the legal system and international corporations.

"Today the court brought in a guilty verdict - they ordered me to pay a fine of 5,000 roubles ($194.4)," Ponosov told Reuters by telephone from the Perm region.

"I consider myself not guilty and I will file an appeal," he said, adding that he had not paid the fine. He said he earned about 10,000 roubles a month.

Putin has described the case as "utter nonsense" and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev even asked Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to intercede on the teacher's behalf.

In February a local court threw out the case because it considered the losses to Microsoft to be insignificant but Ponosov appealed as he said he had not been found innocent. Prosecutors also appealed and the case was sent back to court.

The court found Ponosov had brought losses of 266,000 roubles on Microsoft, RIA news agency said, citing the judge.

Microsoft, the world's biggest software maker, said it was the Russian authorities who started the proceedings.

"Our interest is not in prosecuting schools or teachers, it is in helping students develop the technology skills they need in the 21st century," the company said in a statement.

"Mr. Ponosov's case was initiated by Russian authorities under Russian law. Microsoft neither initiated nor has any plans to bring any action against Mr. Ponosov," Microsoft said.

Ponosov said he was being made an example of.

"Someone is defending corporate interests, someone is interested in not finding me innocent as they think that if I am found innocent then others will think they can get away with breaching intellectual property rights," Ponosov said.

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