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Court smack down for Russian piracy epic

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A tiny Russian software piracy case that ended up pitting Mikhail Gorbachev and Vladimir Putin against Bill Gates has been thrown out of court.

The judge in Perm, one of Russia's larger cities, dismissed the case against schoolteacher Alexander Ponosov as "trivial".

Ponosov, who told AP he was going to celebrate the dismissal by drinking champagne, was charged with either ordering or knowing of the installation of bootlegged copies of Windows and Office on 12 PCs. Prosecutors charged Ponosov with major copyright violations, causing damages of $10,000, but sought a mere $100 fine instead of seeking full recovery or the maximum five-year prison sentence

Russia is one of the largest centers for counterfeit software. Despite a decline in piracy in 2005, It still ranks number nine in the top 10 list of offenders, with 83 per cent of software being pirated, according to the BSA. Vietnam is top on 90 per cent.

The case gained notoriety after Mikhail Gorbachev, the last premier of the Soviet Union and Nobel Peace Prize winner, appealed personally to Microsoft's Bill Gates to "show mercy and withdraw the claims against Ponosov".

Vladimir Putin, Russian president Vladimir Putin took time out from lambasting US foreign policy last week to dismiss the case as "complete nonsense, simply ridiculous...The law recognizes the concept of someone who purchased the product in good faith," he said.

Microsoft distanced itself from the case by expressing its confidence that the Russian courts would "make a fair decision...Mr Ponosov's case is a criminal case and as such was initiated and investigated by the public prosecutor's office."

The case highlights Microsoft's difficulty in bringing the legal systems of former Eastern Bloc countries and emerging economies into line on piracy. Romanian president Traian Basescu recently told Gates to his face that software piracy had helped build his country's software industry. The irony is that pirated copies of Windows benefit Microsoft's overall strategy of excluding Linux from desktops and servers. ®

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