Top Asian micro-blogging service Plurk has apparently been subject to brazen plagiarism by Microsoft China, in a case which raises unsettling questions about the business ethics of both Microsoft and its Chinese developers.
Plurk explains its grievances:
• Microsoft China officially launched its own microblogging service, MSN Juku/Hompy/Mclub, some time in November, 2009.
• The service’s design and UI is by and large an EXACT copy of Plurk’s innovative left-right timeline scrolling navigation system. (see screen captures below)
• Some 80% of the client and product codebase appears to be stolen directly from Plurk! (see evidence below).
• Plurk was never approached nor collaborated in any capacity with MS on this service.
• As a young startup, we’re stunned, shocked, and unsure what to do next and need your support and suggestions.
A little overly inspired, wouldn’t you agree? Of course, we understand others will always be motivated to emulate and take bits and pieces of visual and functional elements from widely successful services and carve out localized versions.
Plurk was already Taiwan’s biggest microblogging service, 10x bigger than Twitter in that market alone, and emerging as Asia’s answer to Twitter in many of the biggest countries in East Asian, so naturally Microsoft probably saw some potential in piggybacking off the success of our unique service and launching something similar in a related market like China.
If this was just a case of visual inspiration gone too far, we could probably have lived with it. We would have taken the time to reach out to Microsoft, get colour on the matter and try to amicably resolve it.
That’s not the case here. This is something far more sinister. On closer inspection, we found that MUCH of the codebase and data structures that Microsoft’s MClub uses are identical snapshots of our code.
Microsoft has taken Plurk’s custom developed libraries, css files and client code and just ported them directly over to their service without any attempt to even mask this! Here are just 3 small examples of literally hundreds we have found.
Some users in the blogosphere even speculated that Microsoft Mclub/Juku was some sort of official partnership we’d struck with Microsoft to clear a re-entry into China after our earlier censorship in the region behind the Great Firewall of China, prior to which we were the #1 microblogging service in the country.
Let’s clear the air around this. While many reputable internet companies have forged solid partnerships with Plurk, valuing our innovation and market leadership in Asia, Microsoft was absolutely not one of them.
We were never contacted by any party at MS to collaborate on such a venture nor did we give any prior written or verbal permission to anyone on their side to take our code, take our CSS, and copy the essence and ethos of our service.
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.
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.
The site has since been “temporarily” pulled by Microsoft in what is presumably a tacit admission of guilt.
Microsoft may already have earned much infamy for its “embrace and extend” approach to borrowing or copying whatever it feels like, but rarely has it stooped to this level of plagiarism.
With Microsoft’s China subsidiary being at fault, many will doubtless be wondering whether this had the blessing of Microsoft head office, or if it is instead merely business as usual by Chinese developers…