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Microsoft Acknowledges Theft of Code From Plurk 215

Posted by kdawson
from the least-they-could-do dept.
adeelarshad82 writes with news that Microsoft has acknowledged and taken responsibility for the theft of code belonging to Plurk.com, although the company also said it was the work of a Chinese vendor. Yesterday we discussed Plurk's blog post accusing Microsoft of copying their UI and code for Microsoft's Chinese microblogging site, Juku. Microsoft has now taken the site down and indefinitely suspended Juku's beta.
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Microsoft Acknowledges Theft of Code From Plurk

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  • by alain94040 (785132) * on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:15PM (#30451584) Homepage

    "The Chinese vendor for our MSN China joint venture has now acknowledged that a portion of the code they provided was indeed copied," said Microsoft

    This case gives us a great window into what a world without copyright protection would look like: everyone ripping off everyone else's code. There got to be a compromise that works for both the GPL and the RIAA, so end users (us) win.

    Plus it's ironic that Microsoft, the "king" of software development is having all those problems with subcontractors writing code for them.

    --
    you don't need to be in silicon valley to start a startup [fairsoftware.net] anymore

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by NoYob (1630681)
      Plus it's ironic that Microsoft, the "king" of software development is having all those problems with subcontractors writing code for them.

      Well, if Microsoft is the "King" and Apple has the second largest share of the PC market, I guess that would make Apple the "Queen" of software development?

      ....

      Yes, I know. I'm going to get it from the fanboys with mod points but, I just couldn't resist!

    • by cpghost (719344) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:30PM (#30451794) Homepage

      This case gives us a great window into what a world without copyright protection would look like: everyone ripping off everyone else's code.

      And what's wrong with code sharing and code reusing? Aren't we all but standing on the shoulders of giants (scientists and coders alike)?

      • by Nutria (679911) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:38PM (#30451882)

        And what's wrong with code sharing and code reusing?

        Any place that aspires to be First World needs the Rule Of Law. Licenses, and following them, are part of that law. The GPL, LGPL, BSD, Apache, MIT/X, etc, etc are Free licenses which encourage code sharing and reusing. Closed licensing does not, but to stay civilized, we must respect -- even if we do not agree with -- those who choose to keep their source closed.

        • by poetmatt (793785)

          I think you're looking at this a bit backwards here, since no part of this involves people respecting MS's rights, but more MS not respecting other individual's rights (acknowledgment of prior knowledge is far from it being an accident, whether it was through a subcontractor as they state or not).

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by AuMatar (183847)

          This makes no sense. You can argue that since licenses are currently the law we need to follow them (or get them repealed), but you gave no evidence or logic for why the law should allow for copyright or licenses of any type. And no, we don't need to respect closed source- even in a world that has licensing you can work to legally circumvent or to repeal them. Or you can just believe in civil disobedience and ignore them entirely.

          • Here Microsoft had to take an infringing service offline - much to the benefit of the original inventors. If they were not infringing by copying code, they could've just taken what they wanted and crushed the inventors under their boots.

            Intellectual property laws are meant to protect the little guy as much or more than the big guys.

            Yes, this even covers code covered by the GPL(icense).

          • by westlake (615356) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @09:34PM (#30453364)

            Or you can just believe in civil disobedience and ignore them entirely.

            Belief is not enough. The essence of civil disobedience is that you accept the risk of civil and criminal penalties.

            Arrest. Conviction. Confinement.

            The essence of civil disobedience is that you do so without any guarantees whatever. You may rot in jail and be entirely - and perhaps deservedly - forgotten.

            You may be bankrupt by a judgment and no one will give a damn.

            we don't need to respect closed source

            You respect closed source or open source loses its meaning, support and protection.

            You've unilaterally declared all exposed code to be public domain. That doesn't code out into the open. It drive s it deeper into hiding.

            you gave no evidence or logic for why the law should allow for copyright or licenses of any type

            There are three ways of supporting a significant creative talent. He can have an independent source of income.

            Which means that in all likelihood he will remain forever an amateur. He almost certainly not be working class.

            The first alternative is patronage - by the state, the church, or the merchant prince. Each will have their own agenda which will shape the final product.

            The second is through sales. This opens the door fully to participation by the lower and middle classes.

            That is where you'll find Huck Finn. Dorothy Gale. Sam Spade. Susie Salmon.

            But to make a living through his work and to build an estate for his family, the artist must have control over the use of his work.

            Copyright drives innovation. You have to take chances. You have no protection unless you have produced a substantially original work.

            • by Nutria (679911)

              The essence of civil disobedience is that you accept the risk of civil and criminal penalties.

              Not only that, but MLK's civil disobeyors (is that a word, "one who disobeys"?) weren't the ones who burned Newark, Watts and South Central.

        • by steelfood (895457)

          Closed source, compiled binaries have no problem with the code being copied in any world.

          There are just laws, and unjust laws. What separates the so-called "First World" from the so-called "Third World" may be the laws, but that which separates the free and the oppressed is the justness of the laws governing those people.

          I don't think it's the majority's desire to do away with an unjust law. I think what most people want is to replace the unjust laws with just ones.

      • by santiagodraco (1254708) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:43PM (#30452526)

        How about everything? If I don't' want to share my code what gives you the right to take it without my consent? I find it hard to believe that there are people out there that would promote the theft of the work of others and try to imply some sort of nobility about the act, as if by not sharing you are somehow a lesser person.

        I'd suggest that by not doing your own work, yourself, and expecting others to provide it that YOU are the lesser person not the originator.

      • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:52PM (#30452608)

        Yes, but it is one thing to reuse code. It's entirely another one to rip it off.

        Science is about standing on giant's shoulders. Not claiming to be the giant.

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by selven (1556643)

      What's wrong with ripping off code? If Microsoft rips off code from these people and these people rip off code from microsoft in return, both (and by extension the end users) benefit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by cerberusss (660701)

        What's wrong with ripping off code? If Microsoft rips off code from these people and these people rip off code from microsoft in return, both (and by extension the end users) benefit.

        Nothing, but let's do an analogy.

        During coffee breaks, you get one cookie from the cookie jar. Microsoft is always talking about how everyone who shares cookies, is not American, and brings his own. Doesn't share them. One day, he's very hungry, forgot to bring his own cookies, and decides to take one from the cookie jar.

    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:32PM (#30451818)

      Clearly they have to give it back.

       

    • Plus it's ironic that Microsoft, the "king" of software development is having all those problems with subcontractors writing code for them.

      I don't think that you will find anyone who claims they are the king of software development. They are very willing to simply buy up someone's work to base their products on. They have done that ever since MS-DOS. It's just the proprietry version of the code reuse that happens in the open souce world.

      However, it is their Achilles heal because they cannot guarantee the origin of the code. I can't help but wonder whether they might start to shy away from this practice after the troubles that they have had. On

      • by Dorsai65 (804760)

        when developing for a different market like China, it makes sense to use local knowledge of language and mindset of the people.

        Considering the number of pirated copies of Windows reportedly in use in China, I think that's exactly what happened.

    • If the original coders back in 1960 to 1980 felt the same, you wouldn't be able to do a directory listing and windows would be a mythical dream still locked up in a Xerox research lab.

      Code should be reused. ANY code built on something that was given to the public domain should be free and public domain.

      Otherwise, they should buy every tool and properly license every library before releasing anything.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by MightyMartian (840721)

        Um, you're talking about two different things. It's one thing to copy a concept, like directories on a file system, but it's quite another to rip off code.

    • by euxneks (516538) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:01PM (#30452116)

      This case gives us a great window into what a world without copyright protection would look like: everyone ripping off everyone else's code. There got to be a compromise that works for both the GPL and the RIAA, so end users (us) win.

      The compromise is to require completely open source code from all software vendors. People will go to the place that has the best results for them, and if everything is open source, we don't have to worry about people "stealing" things - it becomes easy for everyone to see if everyone else is using or taking their code, and particularly inspired developers will add to the code.

      It would be like books now - there's copyright on them thar books and if you copy it and sell it under a different book title, it's plainly obvious.

      Closed source is a way for a company to hide their dubious practices. It's when shit is closed source like what microsoft normally does that it takes a lot of effort to tell if they're standing on the backs of the hardworking goliath that is open source developers.

      • by darkpixel2k (623900) <aaron@heyaaron.com> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:47PM (#30452570) Homepage
        ...

        if everything is open source, we don't have to worry about people "stealing" things - it becomes easy for everyone to see if everyone else is using or taking their code, and particularly inspired developers will add to the code.

        Spoken like someone who doesn't develop software for a living.
        My company (among other things) develops software. The sale of that software pays for our homes, electricity, computers, and the ability to continue developing programs that people need.

        Now if someone wants to pay my car payment, house payment, electricity bill, buy a few new computers, etc...then sure--I'll develop and release software for free.

        But as long as I need to feed my family, I need to continue earning money. If I can't do that by developing software, I'll go pump gas and you can live without it.

        If Microsoft couldn't make money from their software, and Bill had decided to pump gas instead, where would you be today?

        Would linux be where it is today?
        How about the iPhone?

        • Spoken like someone who doesn't develop software for a living. My company (among other things) develops software. The sale of that software pays for our homes, electricity, computers, and the ability to continue developing programs that people need.

          A programmer who claims he can only earn money by keeping the source closed is like a plumber who only wants to fix your sink when nobody's home and the door is locked.

          Although I sympathize with your desire to keep your business running, I think that there should be more to it than just the black box you're selling your customers right now. I'm not saying that everything should be open source (I don't know how that would work out), just that your arguments sound a bit RIAA-like: locking everything down is

          • A programmer who claims he can only earn money by keeping the source closed is like a plumber who only wants to fix your sink when nobody's home and the door is locked.

            I think your analogy is a bit off.
            It's more like a plumber that will only fix your sink if he isn't required to sit down and give you all the education, tools, and skills so you can go out and immediately start being a plumber yourself.

            Although I sympathize with your desire to keep your business running, I think that there should be more to it than just the black box you're selling your customers right now. I'm not saying that everything should be open source (I don't know how that would work out), just that your arguments sound a bit RIAA-like: locking everything down is better, because it forces people to keep buying from us.

            I think RIAA-like would be locking up the data entered by the customer, then charging them every time they want to make a copy...

            Anyways--I am selling customers a finished product that was made through the long hours, years of education, and great ideas of developers. I

            • A programmer who claims he can only earn money by keeping the source closed is like a plumber who only wants to fix your sink when nobody's home and the door is locked.

              'Only' is the key word here, I'm sorry if that wasn't clear. As you point out, there are lots of good, valid reasons for developing closed source software, but hiding your source can't be the only basis for your income.

              By the way, if I built a Gulfstream replica and sold it, I probably would get sued.

              • 'Only' is the key word here, I'm sorry if that wasn't clear. As you point out, there are lots of good, valid reasons for developing closed source software, but hiding your source can't be the only basis for your income.

                By the way, if I built a Gulfstream replica and sold it, I probably would get sued.

                Maybe I'm missing something, but if the source to my application is *not* hidden, anyone can do what I do with zero effort. If the plans to a Gulfstream are available, someone still has to purchase materials, pay for assembly workers, healthcare for the workers, etc... 'Compiling' a jet costs lost of money. Compiling software costs almost zero.

                Care to tell me how I can make money by spending months developing a program and then giving it away for free? I'm all ears. I love programming and I would do

                • Care to tell me how I can make money by spending months developing a program and then giving it away for free?

                  I didn't say you could. Still, I'll bite.

                  The same argument has been made over and over by writers and musicians, and yet there are some of those out there that make money while giving away their work. If you'd seriously consider going open source, the 'while' is important. It's different from 'by'. Nobody makes money by giving away their work.

                  Some options to make money are to sell support, advice, custumization, books, t-shirts, talks or (most probably) get hired for something new as you've proven to be a c

                  • The same argument has been made over and over by writers and musicians, and yet there are some of those out there that make money while giving away their work.

                    When was the last time you went to a the software equivalent of a rock concert? Every shell out $150 to get front-row seats to watch Linus write a patch for the kernel?

                    How do writers who give away their material make money? If they aren't making money on selling books, do they have day jobs pumping gas?

                    Some options to make money are to sell support, advice, custumization, books, t-shirts, talks or (most probably) get hired for something new as you've proven to be a competent programmer.

                    I'm skeptical of selling support. Has Red Hat turned a profit yet? I haven't checked in years. Is that money only coming from support contracts? Or is it from selling software as a service too? I h

                    • You asked me how to do something I didn't say you should and I answered anyway. Of course it's very easy to kill of all of my little ideas, especially when you've decided beforehand you won't even consider going open source.

                      That's where most people end up in this discussion. So far there's been no concrete way to support a business presented here. Just a few ideas and it gets left up to "What's best depends on you".

                      That's what you get when you remain vague about what your actual product is. If you'd tell me exactly what you sell, I might be able to be more specific. I might even tell you to forget about open sourcing altogether.

                      If you would be truly interested, there are ideas to be explored here.

        • That's your problem. Some businesses go bust. Its called creative destruction and is essential to free market capitalism. Find another job or become unemployed.

          How exactly would I be any worse off if "Bill had decided to pump gas instead"?

          I'll go pump gas and you can live without it.

          Can we know exactly what this software is so we can decide how terrible this threat is. I tried Googlong for your name and all I could find are open source and Ubuntu related stuff: i.e. your biggest impact on the world is thro

          • That's your problem. Some businesses go bust. Its called creative destruction and is essential to free market capitalism. Find another job or become unemployed.

            How exactly would I be any worse off if "Bill had decided to pump gas instead"?

            I'll go pump gas and you can live without it.

            Can we know exactly what this software is so we can decide how terrible this threat is. I tried Googlong for your name and all I could find are open source and Ubuntu related stuff: i.e. your biggest impact on the world is through free software.

            My name isn't on the products. ;)
            It's under the name of the company I work for.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          If Microsoft couldn't make money from their software, and Bill had decided to pump gas instead, where would you be today?

          This sounds a bit like saying that if Ford had to give away his plans to build a Ford, we'd still all be driving a horse and carriage. I'm not saying it'd be the same or necessarily great, but people might still end up paying for features because otherwise they wouldn't exist, companies would need software that support their business and support services around it, there's value in data mining, software as a service and so on. It might not drive the current commercial off-the-self or shareware market but it

          • This sounds a bit like saying that if Ford had to give away his plans to build a Ford, we'd still all be driving a horse and carriage.

            That's not what I'm saying at all.
            I'm saying what if Ford couldn't profit from selling their car because they couldn't patent or protect their ideas/designs...and they decided simply not to even build a car?

            I'm talking about not having the incentive to even build a product, because someone requires you to give your hard work away.

            I'll concede that Ford is a bad example though. If Ford makes a car and makes the plans available to everyone, big deal. You still have to buy the metal, equipment, assembl

        • by westyvw (653833)

          Not fighting with vendors about their crappy support for their half-assed software running on a poorly designed OS?

          If mathematicians patented and held secret every theorem and proof where would you be today?

          • Not fighting with vendors about their crappy support for their half-assed software running on a poorly designed OS?

            If mathematicians patented and held secret every theorem and proof where would you be today?

            Don't expect me to pour time, money, and skills into creating something only to give it away. And if you think what I've done is half-assed with and I provide crappy support--build something better and provide awesome support. I'll go bankrupt.

    • by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@wor[ ]et ['f.n' in gap]> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:14PM (#30452242)

      Plus it's ironic that Microsoft, the "king" of software development is having all those problems with subcontractors writing code for them.

      I think it's a good thing actually. Because it's revealing the problems of subcontracting. What Microsoft is seeing already has happened elsewhere. Just the victim is either too small, or the companies involved are smaller, so that news of stuff like this is lucky to make the news. Only big companies get the attention of the press.

      Code gets "reused" all the time, accidentally or maliciously. Just the parties are often too small or settle quickly to be more than a ripple. In fact, I'd guess Microsoft and other companies are looking at the three major code "reuse" issues in recent history - Microsoft and the USB/DVD Downloader Tool, this thing, and the BusyBox thing, to carefully audit their subcontracted code.

    • That the RIAA world is somehow the polar opposite of some GPL world.

      And that it's all about "us" users. The "end user."

      The consumer

      ugh.

      UGH.

      I am not merely a consumer, and I'm sure you're not either.

    • by pnewhook (788591)

      This case gives us a great window into what a world without copyright protection would look like: everyone ripping off everyone else's code.

      That's not a case for copyright protection, thats a case for not releasing source code. If the source code is not available, then it can't be stolen, can it?

      If you can recreate source code just by looking at the executable, then that falls under the category of 'obvious' and is not patentable. If you cannot recreate the functionality, then that is better protection than any patent can provide.

      Software patents are basically pointless.

    • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:59PM (#30452672) Journal

      You seem to be implying that this is what the GPL is working towards. It's not.

      BSD licenses are far closer, but no one forces you to release stuff BSD-licensed, either. In fact, I'd imagine many people who contribute to BSD projects are as appalled by Microsoft's behavior here as you are.

      And I've never heard Microsoft described as the "king" of software development before.

  • Oh the irony. I hope they get treated with the harshness they have shown to those caught "copying" their works. I also like how they say "copying" instead of "stolen" which I thought was their word for this sort of situation when it happens to them. Shoe on the other foot indeed.
    • by afidel (530433)
      It's actually much worse then the copying that normally goes on with MS's own software, at least there it's at most only a lost sale at stake, here MS is ripping off a direct competitor and hoping to use the stolen code to compete against them using their monopoly power and large warchest to get started in that new venture.
      • by daveime (1253762)

        Prior Art

        Doublespace vs Drivespace, where the only difference in the codebase was the 8 characters used for the MS-DOS filenames. IIRC drvspace.sys vs dblspace.sys

        • by afidel (530433)
          Uh, both those were MS files. MS WAS found to have infringed on Stac Electronic's patents for disk compression, but there were no allegations of copyright infringement.
    • Individuals in the company refer to their work being stolen, but official Microsoft statements and press releases are always more carefully worded and will talk about copying or infringment of copyright. Also, do you have any examples of Microsoft behaving harsher to others. If you copy their code in a similar way and then voluntarily cease and desist then they will not persue it further. Things go to court only if negotiation fails.

    • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:19PM (#30452284) Journal

      If you RTFA, the decision to copy the code was not made by MS itself, but by an independent Chinese contractor that was hired to do the job. I assume that said contractor will now be heavily fined for breaking the contract terms (TFA: "This was in clear violation of the vendor's contract with the MSN China joint venture").

      Furthermore, "Microsoft and our MSN China joint venture will be taking a look at our practices around applications code provided by third-party vendors".

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cbhacking (979169)

        While I don't know how this extends to contractors, internally Microsoft has extremely strict regulations about use of open-source (even if not GPL or other copyleft) code. If it were somebody internal to the company, they'd probably be looking for a new job right now.

        For a contractor, breach of contract conditions at the very least, and its unlikely they'll get any more MS contracts in the future. This sucks for them - there are a lot of small companies that make much if not all of their income doing contr

  • by abigor (540274) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:25PM (#30451734)

    I've said it several times before, and I'll say it again: dealing with Chinese vendors sucks. You never know if the code is original or not.

    At this point, when I run into Chinese code when working with whatever client, I assume it's been copied from somewhere. Often I recognise it as such (Busybox, various http servers, etc.) When confronted, they either deny it, or simply wonder what the problem is - it's "freeware", after all, particularly after stripping off that pesky GPL at the top of each file.

    • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:13PM (#30452230)

      I've said it several times before, and I'll say it again: dealing with Chinese vendors sucks. You never know if the code is original or not.

      Yeah you do. It's not.

      I realized how the Chinese think when I heard about the theme park they built in Beijing a couple years ago. They had several options. The most obvious is an all-Chinese theme, Chinese culture has so much history that there are so many things they could integrate into their own theme park to make a truly unique thing. The other option that comes to mind would be to license something from Disney or someone else, then you could sell all of the official merchandise, get cuts from other things, etc.

      But they didn't choose either of those options, they chose a counterfeit Disney park. Everything looks (sort of) like Disney, but it's not, and they can't sell any Disney merchandise. They could have made something truly their own, or licensed an existing brand, but they thought the best choice was to make a counterfeit product. That gave me some insight into the way things work in China.

    • by zullnero (833754) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @08:46PM (#30453028) Homepage
      I also have direct experience with this. For a short period of time, I worked in a team for a startup almost entirely comprised of Chinese developers hired mainly as interns under some shady L1 type of deal. (I don't even put this company on my resume.) The overwhelming theme is that the only way they can be successful is if their stuff works exactly like someone else's, and can be done super cheap and super fast. Cheap and imitative is pounded into their heads by management, and respect for licenses and other people's intellectual property is thrown out the door because the manager is always right. I guess it's the side effect of a culture that has been warped into a hyper-competitive assembly line mode of production in almost all aspects of industry.
  • It's just "extreme outsourcing."

    Can't beat the price, eh?

  • by Mr_Plattz (1589701) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:35PM (#30451848)
    So it turns out Chinese steal and pilfer IP from themselves as well. Not just the big US Corporations.

    Anyone who doesn't truely understand how this isnt MSFT's fault hasn't worked in Corporate IT for long enough.

    I hope the Project Managers and Developers are dealt with swiftly, but "Microsoft steals code"... I don't think so. I think you will find the real Developers in MSFT are offended that they are brought down by an under-evaluated project (why else would it be pawned off to China) run by a hand full of incompetent and unethical people.
    • I believe Plurk is actually Taiwanese [plurk.com], though whether or not Taiwan is really independent seems to vary based on who you talk to. China obviously doesn't feel they are. Either way, it's mostly semantics anyway - just thought I'd point it out.
  • Sadly, I'm not sure I'm joking.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      PRC, for the most part, has rule of law, and crimes for which you can be executed are explicitly enumerated. While they do use capital punishment for some things that no-one else does (e.g. large-scale fraud which incurs a lot of aggregated damage on the victims), I'm fairly certain that copyright infringement isn't on that list.

    • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:40PM (#30452490) Homepage
      Considering how much copyright infringement goes on in China, it's pretty safe to assume they don't execute people for it.
      • Large-scale execution in China frequently follow years of ignoring a problem. Look at the number of contractors who were executed after the Sichuan disaster last year. The Communist Party in China tends to think a massive over-reaction is the right response after years of neglect.
      • by cbhacking (979169)

        It's not the copyright infringement - it's the embarrassment of a major foreign business. I don't expect the contractor(s) to be shot for it, but that doesn't mean they'll walk away easy. The US is highly dependent on Chinese trade, but that doesn't mean the Chinese aren't dependent on us too. Anything that sends a signal to foreign companies against investing in China is going to be severely frowned upon.

  • by twosat (1414337)
    This is the first time that I read a post on Slashdot from a link on Google News - kdawson you're doing well!
  • Goddammit PCMAG. Where the frak is the microsoft post? All links in the article are back to PCMAG articles!!
  • Microsoft has been "stealing" code for a long time. Does anyone expect any "real" punitive measure for this?

    I mean after all. Microsoft has been "borrowing" code, well, for EVER. Does ANYONE really expect anything different?

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