Friday, May 17, 2024

Microsoft Apologizes, Pulls China Site After Code Theft

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For the second time in recent weeks, Microsoft has pulled a product developed by a third-party due to claims that its code ran afoul of intellectual property rules.

The latest gaffe came Monday, when tiny microblogging service Plurk alleged that Microsoft’s new MSN Juku service, which entered beta in China last month, copied not only Plurk’s look and feel, but also may have stolen as much as 80 percent of Plurk’s code base.

Microsoft responded quickly, first saying Monday afternoon that it was looking into the matter, and then taking down the MSN Juku site while it investigated. Company officials also said at the time that a third party had developed the site, contracted by its MSN China joint venture.

Now, the software giant is conceding that the contractor had indeed misused others’ intellectual property, and that it would keep the MSN Juku site shuttered for now.

“The vendor has now acknowledged that a portion of the code they provided was indeed copied … in clear violation of the vendor’s contract with the MSN China joint venture, and equally inconsistent with Microsoft’s policies respecting intellectual property,” Microsoft said in a statement.

Microsoft also said it accepts the blame for the snafu and apologized to Plurk.

“We are obviously very disappointed, but we assume responsibility for this situation,” Microsoft said in a statement. “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.”

Meanwhile, Plurk officials said they were encouraged by Microsoft’s speedy response, given that communications are handicapped by needing to confer between parties on opposite sides of the world.

“They [Microsoft] only took 24 hours to get back to us. That’s pretty good from our viewpoint,” Plurk spokesman Dave Thompson, who is based in New Zealand, told

Theft of JavaScript and CSS

The spat began Monday after Plurk publicized its accusations in a blog post, calling MSN Juku’s design a “blatant theft of code, design, and UI elements.”

In the post, Plurk also showed examples of identical JavaScript code appearing on both sites, and said it had found “literally hundreds” of examples of its work in use on MSN Juku.

“Microsoft has taken Plurk’s custom-developed libraries, CSS files and client code and just ported them directly over to their service without any attempt to even mask this,” Thompson wrote in the blog post. “Any developer will be able to see that this is basically copied and stolen code.”

It’s now unclear what the next steps might be for either company.

Before Microsoft had issued its apology, Thompson told the online version of China’s official Xinhua News Agency that the company would be examining its options.

Now, while Thompson told that Plurk has been in contact with Microsoft, it’s still “not entirely confident” that the software colossus will make it up to the smaller firm.

“We need to get back with our counsel and figure out where we go from here,” Thompson added.

Latest intellectual property gaffe for Microsoft

This is the second time in recent weeks that Microsoft has found itself in hot water thanks to code misused by a third-party developer.

In October, Microsoft launched a Windows 7 download tool that it had contracted a third-party to produce. The tool was meant to enable users to more easily load Windows 7 onto thumb drives for use on netbook computers.

But observers soon slapped Microsoft with accusations that portions of the software had misappropriated open source code in violation of the GNU Public License version 2 (GPLv2).

In subsequent days, Microsoft withdrew the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool (WUDT), rereleasing it only on Friday in a form that it said was compliant with GPLv2 license provisions.

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