I think this will become a major concern for all startups that are doing lots of client-side stuff. If people have determination they can copy your code (even if all your code is obfuscated, which Plurk's is). And I don't know what the solution is - other than stronger IP laws in emerging countries.
They're really going to have 3 ways to deal with this.
1. pull down the existing site while they retool.
2. Pay you a licensing fee while the rewrite from scratch.
3. Do nothing and get a ton of bad press
See if you can get 1 or 2 and maybe make some money off the deal.
People usually cite this reasoning for joining the government -- an organization whose mandate is toward the greater good of its people, but I've never heard it applied toward a corporate entity, whose mandate is solely profit.
Would you mind posting a bit more about your motivations and thinking? I would really like to hear.
I actually don't know much about Don Dodge - I haven't met him yet. All that I know is that he is well liked and respected.
I can only hope to earn a similar level of respect from the startup community.
Its cool that they have someone devoted to worrying about these issues.
* Apple sued Microsoft back in the day for stealing the look and feel of Mac OS, and failed. So that argument can be very hard to make.
Illegal copying can occur by exact copying of source or object code or by paraphrasing (misappropriating a program's structure or architecture, its inter-modular relationships, and/or its algorithms and data structures, at least insofar as these elements do not constitute unprotectable ideas - this can occur by copying the fundamental essence or structure of a copyrighted work even while rephrasing or restating it in immaterial respects).
Impermissible copying can also involve exact duplication of a user interface, or a "paraphrasing" of that interface (e.g., by creating screen displays and menu commands which are very similar but not identical to those of a copyrighted program).
Though interface elements can potentially be copyrighted, the advice you give is sound in most cases because of the courts' reluctance to give any party a monopoly on interface ideas in the guise of copyright (thus, Apple had sought unsuccessfully via copyright to gain exclusive use of a variety of interface elements, such as a visual depiction of a trash can). This is where "look and feel" cases become so difficult - who wants to give anybody exclusive rights via copyright, for example, to the basic ideas behind a spreadsheet? That is why many of those older cases failed.
In spite of this, I don't know that I would simply dismiss the look-and-feel aspect of this case based on the interface involved here. On its face, there appears to be more involved with this interface than mere ideas and, when there are creative forms of expression involved, and the copying is exact or so significantly "paraphrased" as to be almost indistinguishable, an interface infringement may have occurred.
All of the above, however, is based on a U.S. law analysis and may be irrelevant (at least legally) in China. If there is some way to bring U.S. legal principles into play, or anything analogous to them, then this would appear to be a fairly flagrant instance of illegal copying. While the costs of launching and pursuing a formal legal fight would be great, as long as you have a reasonable venue in which to launch it (i.e., one that respects IP rights) and the resources to carry it through to the preliminary injunction stage (usually 6 to 8 weeks into the case), winning a preliminary injunction would likely work its effect in causing Microsoft to fold, assuming it otherwise is willing before that to fight and is able to survive a horrible onslaught of bad publicity.
But that's just how it is in the design industry -- new designs come out quickly, so it's usually not worth the effort to fight knockoffs.
That's because design is an area covered by trademark, not copyright. You can trademark a design if it's distinctive or innovative enough, at least in the U.S., and have protection from imitation. You don't even have to register a trademark to establish rights, you can declare your rights simply by using the (TM) symbol, although you do have to register in order to defend the rights in federal court or claim international protection.
From a whois check on their domain name, however, Plurk Inc. appears to be Canadian. Anyone have details on the what differences there are in the Canadian trademark system?
But simply cloning a user interface is legal, at least in US case law.
Can you give us citation that it is legal, or are making your claim based on the above lawsuits?
Having a look and feel that is "similar" but "not the same" is open to debate, but having 90% of the interface ripped off, pixel by pixel can't be just "ok". We don't know that because something so dumb didn't happen before in the highest level.
>None of the source code or machine code that generated the menus was copied, but the names of the commands and the organization of those commands into a hierarchy were virtually identical.
In this case MS not only copied the interface of plurk, but from the look of it they also stole the code. Such a blatant copyright infringement has never happened before at this level to the best of my knowledge.
Your claim that it is "legal to copy UI in US law", based on the above example, is false.
Copying a menu, its command name and hierarchy is not the same as copying an interface. A menu is only small sub-set of user interface.
I feel for you, man. This is really awful to wake up and see.
China has totally different laws though -- do you know if this kind of copying is legal there? I have a number of friends who have told me that the whole web startup scene in Beijing is totally different than the US because the rules of the market are completely different over there (rampant copying, theft, DDOS attacks among competitors, etc). One example of this I've heard is that game developers have to give away their games for free and then rely on in-game purchases to make money, because there's no chance of actually selling software upfront.
What are your thoughts?
Best of luck fighting this -- hopefully this will just be a funny war story in a few months time.
1) Your loyal community
2) The team that created this site in the first place
I highly doubt anyone near the VP level at Microsoft has any idea that some team in China did this.
If the "VP level" at MS doesn't have enough control to prevent an entire department in China from ripping off a popular site and going live with it... then damn. I see no difference between that and Ballmer himself copying and pasting the code.
From what I know, people inside Microsoft make sure they don't get in to any legal trouble before they make use of any code or idea that's already available.
Anyways, this episode is a blatant disrespect for IP. Copying the code is something awful. I believe this case deserves the attention of authorities at Microsoft.
Risks stifling innovative code?
Eventually they wrote an adapter; I don't have any idea how they got the API spec, since they swore up and down they couldn't look at existing code.
(and, to be honest, the initial released version of their DB2 adapter showed some serious issues which may be related to not understanding how the code was supposed to work)
A better (more effective) one is, surely, dont reuse restricted code.... :)
I've synced code for my projects from sourceforge/google code/github often.
It is true we are not supposed to look at anyone else's source code though.
I realise the policy is probably not as originally worded here: but I was taking it somewhat literally to point out the fallacy of it.
At some point we have to trust devs to do their own work. This should show that no amount of policy can stop people ripping off work! Whatever the intention.
Reading code is always good; there is usually a net gain as long as it is ethical (i.e. not copied)
By the way, what do you mean by obfuscation?
Because this is really weird,
This was the best available option at the time we wrote Plurk. We will take a look at Google Clouse Compiler, thanks.
OTOH, I may be completely wrong :)
It will be interesting to see Microsoft's response, but suspending the MSN club service is probably the best immediate response, if plurk's blog is correct.
I'd personally never heard of Plurk until now, and wouldn't have known myself that a contractor had ripped it off had I commissioned the work.
It's still an egregious violation, but I doubt this will even need to go to trial. Microsoft stands to gain little from alienating startups in this manner. If it comes to it, I'm sure aggressively shaming them publicly will be far cheaper than suing and eventually as effective.
"According to a source familiar with the situation, the Juku application was created for MSN China, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and a Chinese company. However, the source says the application was not designed by Microsoft or the joint venture, but rather by a third-party Chinese vendor hired for the task."
Plurk should sue and win. If M$ could have had issues over phonetically rhyming domain name and take the kid to court, why not plurk taking microsoft into court for something serious. You just can't excuse yourself by saying someone in my company's xyz office is responsible.
* is not generally known to the public;
* confers some sort of economic benefit on its holder
(where this benefit must derive specifically from its not
being generally known, not just from the value of the
* is the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy.
Plurk has a very small team of less than 10 guys and in my eyes this is nothing less than MS bullying. This is not right.
The dev's knew what they were doing but I doubt the rip-off percolated very high up. As a SW manager I'm not sure how I'd know that this was ripped off wholesale if I wasn't very familiar with the ripped off site.
Don't get me wrong, this is bad. But expose it to MS and let them clean house. I don't doubt that they will.
Considering the ripped off site is a chief competitor of this software, I suspect the rip-off was aware at least by mid-level managers.
Well, either they were aware of the rip-off, or they were wildly incompetent to the point where they didn't even know their chief competitor's site.
I really don't think for example Google China would do this.
Edit: for what it's worth, I personally agree with the theory that this was probably done by a local team that was under a lot of pressure but wasn't getting enough oversight.
More frankly, this concept doesn't really exist.
It's not that the culture is more tolerant of ripping others off, but rather that when it comes to creative works, it's not seen as ripping off. Being able to take, adapt, and re-release the work of others, even for-profit, is a matter of course for the majority of the population. Many are not even aware of the moral issues surrounding it, and as far as they are concerned, none exists.
In all likelihood this wasn't so much a team under pressure and stealing out of desperation - in all likelihood someone just did it without very much thought... and it flew under the radar of those who know better.
That's generally true of the Internet tho'. So many photographers I know have had someone rip off their galleries, the usual excuse is just "I found it".
In the case of a representation office, employees are hired through a Human Ressource company (eg: FESCO) but not in the case of WFOE (which requires quite a bit more capital to open though: around 45 000$ minimum invested over a period of 2 years in Shanghai)
I'm just starting here, so I'm not exactly sure yet of the limitation of FESCO contracts in term of how much of the culture you can dictate in the chinese office...
The scenario/timeline you outline above is reasonable enough to assume - as is the idea that, as Farecast came out before Kayak, that Kayak was actually copying Farecast. What actually happened though is different. Farecast had a completely different model - they were banking on their ability to forecast whether or not you were likely to get a cheaper fare for the same route if you waited. Their original UI was based around that idea and it didn't go over incredibly well. After the Microsoft purchase and before the launch of Bing Travel they did a major redesign and got rid of most of the old Farecast. The old Farecast price predictor idea is reduced to one line at the top of the flights list on the page center.
I wrote about this and posted to HN shortly after Bing Travel went live and because of that I've been introduced to more information about the whole situation than I had when I originally brought it up. In a nutshell, the Microsoft team blatantly copied Kayak's UI and has pretty much gotten away with it.
Having said that though, someones head should roll at MS for not checking this out properly before go-live and I'm pretty certain MS themselves are ultra embarrassed and will try to solve this as soon as possible.
I hope that the Plurk guys get something worthwhile out of this ... maybe even more than the copious amounts of free advertising they're currently seeing.
3. MSN.cn outsourced the microblogging to an independent vendor.
If your biggest asset is your UI, not only do you have to appreciate you have a tenuous competitive advantage but you should have a battle plan, both technical and legal, for when the theft invariably does happen.
They got lucky that it was a big operation like MS with a public reputation to maintain (laugh all you like) rather than some no-name. It's easy to put public pressure on the Apples, Google and MS' of the world.
Removing whitespace != Obfuscating
Don't take their claims at face-value, get your facts straight.
Disclaimer: I'm not claiming that obfuscating (or not) makes any difference with regards to MS infringing on their codebase, just pointing out that it's not actually very obfuscated as claimed by their developer.
Whether he obfuscation code or not has absolutely zero importance in this context.
Yes, because ignorant stereotyping is fun! Remember kids, it's not racism if it's not targeted at a member of the List Of Races We Should Be Sensitive About!
But I seem to understand that here, that type of humor seems to be discredited even if its insightful (especially if its not).
b) The comment is not adding anything to the conversation, it's just snarky. HN values insights, not snark.
There are plenty of places on the internet for trading snark, this isn't intended to be one of them.