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Alexander Ponosov: The Man Who Robbed Bill Gates
February 22, 2007 17:06

For over 40 days the whole Russia has been keeping close tabs on Alexander Ponosov’s trial. Alexander Ponosov, an ordinary headmaster of a country school, was charged of piracy, as illegal versions of Windows were installed on all school computers. Teaching computer literacy has almost cost him his freedom.

You will not find the village of Sepych on the map, even if you try. The time seems to stop there long ago: people live in lopsided wooden houses with fretted window shutters and fire furnaces in winter. There is nothing to do in the village that is why the vast majority of the population work in the district center of Vereshchagino located 50 kilometers away from the village. Every local dweller dreams of moving to Vereshchagino, so the more astonishing was Alexander Ponosov’s decision, a common teacher from Vereshvhagino, who came to the village 6 years ago. At first he and his wife taught at the local school, then - he became the headmaster.

The 1st September of 2005 is a landmark in the Sepych history. That day a new school building was officially opened – the dwellers have been waiting for this event for over 20 years. The openings ceremony attracted civil servants from the district government and no wonder: two two-storey brick buildings, a gym of enourmous size, shower rooms, a big dining hall and modern class rooms. It should be mentioned, that you are unlikely to see something similar in towns and even cities of Russia. Children arrive at school by a special bus from 15 neighbouring villages. Frequently they stay for extra-classes and try to get everything they can from education.

Since the very first day, the information technology class turned into the Mecca for all pupils: the boys, who before had seen computers on TV only, were allowed to surf the Internet, code and simply play computer games like their coevals in cities. But on May 25, 2005 computer monitors suddenly went out, hard disks were drawn out of base units, which later were taken away in a minivan. Senior pupils, who came to the IT class after lessons, couldn’t believe it, they had no idea that their idol Bill Gates was charged with what happened.

The officials from the Prosecutor’s office found out, that Microsoft software installed on all the computers had one and the same serial number; in other words, the Windows operating system along with MS-Office applications were originally set up from one source, probably a piratical CD. Thus, Alexandr Ponosov was accused of software piracy.

It’s curious, that Microsoft Company has nothing to do with prosecuting Ponosov – it was the prosecutor’s office that on their own instituted legal proceedings. What is even more interesting is that nor the headmaster neither the teaching staff set up the programs. Computers were delivered to the village ready for use, with all necessary programs already installed. Constructing works and equipment supplies were up to Saturn Company from Vereshchagino and a private entrepreneur Semen Evdokimov, who later was questioned by investigators, but pleaded not guilty. Somehow prosecutor’s officials believed the businessmen and now they can be called as witnesses only.

Meanwhile, Alexander Ponosov didn’t deny the fact he used these computers for teaching and faced the charge. The damage caused to Bill Gates’ corporation was estimated at 266.6 thousand rubles (about 10 thousand dollars). The headmaster could have been sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment.

Luckily, Microsoft abandoned the possible claim, as absurdity of the situation was evident. Nobody could ever have thought a common village teacher was the main pirate of the country. Thus, the school got back its base units and hard disks with anew set up software, which Microsoft let Ponosov have for 45 thousand rubles (about $1700) for 12 sets.

However, Ponosov wanted to prove his innocence and the case was submitted to court. The outcome of the case shocked the headmaster: he was found guilty but the trial was stopped in view of insignificant crime.

Russia declared war against computer pirates long time ago and the number of cases linked with copyright violation is gradually increasing. It’s not a secret that Russia wants to join WTO, but before it the government has to fix several problems, such as intellectual property right violation. But the Alexander Ponosov’ story can make our Russian civil servants blush.



Olga Pletneva


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