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A Russian headteacher has been fined half a month's wages after being controversially found guilty of buying school PCs that ran unauthorised copies of Microsoft software.

Alexander Ponosov, who was fined $195, plans to appeal following his conviction on Monday at the end of his second trial for software piracy offences.

He was convicted of causing the software giant $10,000 in damages after buying 20 PCs for his high school in Sepych village, 12 of which came pre-loaded with unauthorised copies of Windows and Microsoft Office. "I had no idea it wasn't licensed," Ponosov told AP.

The case was brought by Russian prosecutors in the Ural Mountains region that's home to Ponosov's high school, not by Microsoft itself - which has distanced itself from the controversial case. A court in the Vereshchaginsky district of the Perm region threw out the case in February after deciding Ponosov hadn't caused Microsoft or society any real harm, sensibly deciding that it had better things to spend its time on.

That inconclusive decision pleased no one. Ponosov was looking for an acquittal while prosecutors, convinced that the history teacher and headmaster knew he was breaking the law, were after his blood. In March, a regional court ordered him to stand trial for a second time, a hearing that culminated in a guilty verdict on Monday.

Russia is behind only China in rates of software piracy, and the suspicion is that Russian authorities were looking to make an example of the head teacher to fulfill a Russia-US trade accord forged last year that's seen as a key milestone in its bid to secure membership of the World Trade Organisation.

However, Russian president Vladimir Putin has described the case as "ridiculous" while his predecessor Mikhail Gorbachev unsuccessfully asked Microsoft to intervene, so it may be the prosecution is the work of copyright zealots in the Russian civil service.

The quixotic crackdown on unauthorised software is likely to be pointless and counterproductive by making it more likely that schools in Russia will buy open source software as an alternative, making it less likely that kids will buy Microsoft software after they leave school. ®

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