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It was just last month when Microsoft got into an <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/windows/microsoft_news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=222002621">embarrassing incident</a> with a utility they offered in their store site -- it was filched from open-source code. This month we find that the design and code for the MSN Juku service offered in China was <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/windows/microsoft_news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=222002621">mostly copied</a> from a small

Dave Methvin

December 17, 2009

2 Min Read

It was just last month when Microsoft got into an embarrassing incident with a utility they offered in their store site -- it was filched from open-source code. This month we find that the design and code for the MSN Juku service offered in China was mostly copied from a small startup named Plurk.How could this happen? Well, I covered some of the reasons a month ago. The work was done by a Chinese contractor, not by Microsoft employees. That makes a lot of sense; the product is intended for the Asian market and the contractor would at least theoretically have a better handle on the cultural issues involved. Microsoft has said that the copying that the contractor did was a violation of the contract that MSN China had with them, and I believe that. Yet the damage is done.

When I mentioned the issue in the previous blog entry, a commenter took me to task for "raising the tired old bogeyman of the foreign contractor." I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the chances of this type of wholesale copying are higher with offshore developers, for at least a couple of reasons. Countries like India and China have historically had a lax attitude towards intellectual property. Given that background, it might be a somewhat innocent mistake by some low-level developer who thought it was fine to Google around for some code they could start from to get the job done faster. Developers generally don't see the the contracts, so it's management's job to make sure that the developers follow the terms of the contract. Everyone knows that America is the king of litigation. There are a lot of negative implications of that, but one of the positive ones is that few companies would be foolhardy enough to attempt the wholesale copying that took place here. Even a low-level developer knows enough to think twice about copying most of the code and design from another site. Could this happen in a US company? Sure, but I don't think it's as likely. Perhaps incidents like this are the "poisoned toys and toothpaste" moment of software development, spurring positive action to address the problem. Microsoft has certainly learned their lesson about contracting this year, and I'm sure they'll conduct even more oversight on projects they farm out to contractors.

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