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Gorbachev Asks Gates To Intervene in Russian Windows Piracy Case

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has asked Microsoft chairman Bill Gates to intervene in the case of a Russian school principal facing a prison term for buying pirated Windows software for his students, according to a statement.

Alexander Ponosov, head of a school in a small town in the Ural Mountains region of Perm, has been charged with copyright violation after he bought a set of computers for his school containing pirated Windows software. Ponosov denies his guilt, saying he was unaware the software was not licensed.

In a letter addressed to Gates and published on Gorbachev's Web site, Gorbachev and billionaire legislator Alexander Lebedev urged the company to drop their claims against Ponosov, arguing that Russian legislation did not distinguish between deliberate and accidental property rights violation.

"A teacher who devoted all his life to educating children and receiving a quite modest compensation for his work, compared to the income of even average-ranking employees at your company, faces imprisonment in Siberian camps," the letter said.

Gorbachev and Lebedev also said prosecutors have only charged Ponosov but are not investigating those who installed the unlicensed software, leading many in Russia to believe "that this scandalous process was ordered and is a show-trial initiated by Microsoft."

Microsoft Corp. said in a statement released Saturday that it supported the Russian government's effort to protect intellectual property rights and that it was certain the court would issue a fair decision on whether or not Ponosov was guilty, but that it had not and would not file any civil suit against him.

Microsoft representatives were not immediately available to comment on Gorbachev's plea Tuesday afternoon.

In the latest global piracy survey conducted by the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce together with London's Cass Business School, Russia ranked as the world's second-worst offender of intellectual property, after China.

Russian officials have set out to tackle the problem, which has complicated negotiations over Russia's bid for World Trade Organization membership.

However, the prosecution of Ponosov -- who faces up to five years in prison, according to Russian media -- has drawn widespread criticism in Russia, including from President Vladimir Putin, who called it "complete nonsense."

"This should not be conducted in a formal manner," Putin said last week. "As with fighting drug use, we shouldn't be fighting those who use (them), but those who distribute and produce (them)."

Perm prosecutors were not available for comment.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, Gorbachev maintains an active public life running the Gorbachev Foundation -- an organization that deals with international issues including globalization, security, weapons of mass destruction, environmental and natural resources and poverty.

Gorbachev and Lebedev are co-owners of liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

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