Microsoft China partner stole code for Twitter-like site

Microsoft has apologized to the creators of a ‘microblogging’ service named Plurk after it emerged that a Chinese developer, working under contract for MSN China, stole part of its code to build a rival service.

When MSN China launched the Juku service at the start of this month, the creators of Plurk – a Twitter-like online tool that presents users’ short message along a timeline – noticed certain similarities with its own product. Looking at the code revealed that certain sections had been copied outright.

MSN China, a joint venture between Microsoft and a Shanghai investment firm, discontinued Juku yesterday after the third party that developed the service admitted its wrongdoing.

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

The news highlights a number of realities of modern software development. Firstly, that a company that has been such a vociferous (and litigious) defender of software patents and intellectual property rights as Microsoft can fall foul in this way demonstrates how hard it can be to keep one’s nose clean in today’s globally distributed software development ecosystem.

Secondly, it lends credence to fears about the safety of intellectual property in China, which is fast becoming the world’s research and development laboratory. Some critics argue that Chinese culture has a more ‘relaxed’ attitude towards intellectual property ownership, although others say this is a simplification.

In other China news, the Chinese party this week announced that individuals will no longer be allowed to register web addresses. Obstensibly, this is a move to crack down on online pornography, although some fear it is yet another technique to stifle freedom of expression on the Internet.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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