Plurk Plundered! Microsoft Pulls Plug on Pilfered Property Posthaste [UPDATED]
“Here’s what we know at this point. Our MSN China joint venture contracted with an independent vendor to create a feature called MSN Juku that allowed MSN users to find friends via microblogging and online games. This MSN Juku feature was made available to MSN China users in November and is still in beta.
Because questions have been raised about the code base comprising the service, MSN China will be suspending access to the Juku beta feature temporarily while we investigate the matter fully.”
– Microsoft’s statement on the Plurk-Juku debacle
If Microsoft didn’t know what a Plurk was before, it knows now.
The software giant has suspended MSN Juku, its Chinese microblog site, following accusations that it copied the design and code of Plurk, a Twitter rival popular in Taiwan and Indonesia.
In a blog post earlier this week, Plurk alleged that Juku bore an uncanny resemblance to its service, right down to the code base and data structures.
“From the filter tabs, emoticons, qualifier/verb placement, Karma scoring system, media support, new user walkthroughs to pretty much everything else that gives Plurk its trademark appeal, Microsoft China’s offering ripped off our service,” the company claimed in a blistering blog post.
“We’re still in shock asking why Microsoft would even stoop to this level of wilfully plagiarising a young and innovative upstart’s work rather than reach out to us or innovate on their own terms,” the post continued. “Of course, it just hits that much closer to home when all your years of hard work and effort to create something unique are stolen so brazenly. All the more ironic considering Microsoft has often been leading the charge on fighting for stronger IP laws and combating software piracy in China.”
Indeed. If this is a theft, it’s a serious and embarrassing infraction for Microsoft (MSFT)–even if, as the company claims, Juku’s code was provided by a third-party vendor hired by its MSN China joint venture. Microsoft should have vetted the vendor more thoroughly, particularly since the software giant just suffered a similar embarrassment with its Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool, which borrowed a bit too heavily from the GPLv2-licensed ImageMaster project.
UPDATE: Microsoft has determined that the company that developed MSN Juku did indeed copy Plurk’s code. “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.”
Microsoft said it is now suspending access to Juku “indefinitely. We are obviously very disappointed, but we assume responsibility for this 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.”
On Monday, December 14, questions arose over a beta application called Juku developed by a Chinese vendor for our MSN China joint venture. We immediately worked with our MSN China joint venture to investigate the situation.
The vendor has now acknowledged that a portion of the code they provided was indeed copied. 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.
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 a company that respects intellectual property and it was never our intent to have a site that was not respectful of the work that others in the industry have done.
We will be suspending access to the Juku beta indefinitely.
We are obviously very disappointed, but we assume responsibility for this 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.
In the wake of this incident, Microsoft and our MSN China joint venture will be taking a look at our practices around applications code provided by third-party vendors.