Apologetic Microsoft pulls service

For the  London Free Press - January 18, 2010 Read this on Canoe

Rival service Plurk alleges Microsoft copied as much as 80% of the code used in running the Juku program without permission

Microsoft recently susp-ended its new microblogging site, Juku, after it became clear the site contained code taken without permission from rival startup Plurk, a free social networking and microblogging service based in Canada.

Plurk recently alleged Microsoft copied as much as 80% of the code used in running the Juku program without permission. After investigating, Microsoft confirmed some Juku code had been used without permission and apologized to Plurk.

Though Microsoft admitted the plagiarism, it claimed a Chinese vendor developing the Juku application for MSN China was responsible for copying the code without permission.

"When we hire an outside company to do development work, our practice is to include strong language in our contract that clearly states the company must provide work that does not infringe the intellectual property rights of others . . . we are obviously very disappointed, but we assume responsibility for the situation. We apologize to Plurk and we will be reaching out to them directly to explain what happened and the steps we have taken to resolve the situation," Microsoft said in a statement.

In response, Plurk co-founder Alvin Woon said, "we are still thinking of pursuing the full extent of our legal options available due the seriousness of the situation . . . basically, Microsoft accepts responsibility, but they do not offer accountability."

"This event wasn't just a simple matter of merely lifting code . . . due to the nature of the uniqueness of our product and user interface, it took a good amount of deliberate studying and digging through our code with the full intention of replicating our product-user experience, functionality, and end results. This product was later launched and heavily promoted by Microsoft with its big marketing budget," Woon said.

This is not the first time Microsoft has apologized for infringing the intellectual property rights of others.

A month before the Juku allegations, Microsoft apologized for another third-party vendor improperly incorporating open-source codes into a Windows 7 download tool. The tool was developed to allow users to more easily load Windows 7 onto thumb drives. Microsoft subsequently withdrew the tool.

The recent allegations about Microsoft have caught many by surprise given that Microsoft has been a leader in the fight against piracy in China and elsewhere.

The lesson for anyone who hires others to create code or other creative works is the importance of having an agreement in place that requires the code to be original.

In the Juku case, it appears the contractor did not abide by that requirement. But having it in place let Microsoft move swiftly to protect its reputation, and show that, while it may be ultimately responsible, it did not intend or condone the copying. It should also give Microsoft some recourse against the contractor.