Curious Programmers Face Legal Tangles with Leaked Windows Code

 
 
By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-02-14 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

While they may feel tempted to view the leaked Windows code, developers who do so could compromise their projects, face legal risks around copyright infringement and trade secret violations, experts advise.

With portions of Microsoft Windows NT and 2000 source code running wild on the Internet, programmers are battling the temptation to peek at the operating systems code. Doing so, legal experts warn, could thrust developers and their software projects into a legal hotbed. "Theres no legitimate reason to look at it," said Phil Albert, a partner at law firm Townsend and Townsend and Crew LLP, in San Francisco. "For a programmer or a company that develops software, theres too much risk to even touch it." The Windows source code leak, discovered this week and confirmed on Thursday by Microsoft, has led to debate among developers on Internet message board about whether to view it and about the implications of doing so.
One poster on Slashdot speculated, like many others, that enough people will view the source code to make it difficult for developers to remain disassociated from it.
"It will be essentially impossible for anyone to do virgin development on windows-like features for anything, as the information on precisely what the Windows version does will only be two steps of association from the programmer," the poster wrote. Perhaps most at risk is the open-source community and particularly Linux, which are built on the trust among code contributors that none has breached other software copyrights in their development work, said Mark Radcliffe, a partner at law firm Gray Cary, in Palo Alto, Calif. "The opportunity to give Microsoft an enormous hammer over the open-source community is just waiting there," he said.
To read eWEEK.com Linux & Open Source Center Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols take on viewing the stolen code, click here. By viewing the Windows source code, open-source and commercial programmers alike would raise the question of whether they used any of the code directly in their own work or if the works were "substantially similar" in their organization or structure, Radcliffe explained. Either could be enough for claims of a copyright violation. Next Page: Copyright Infringement Isnt the Only Risk



 
 
 
 
Matthew Hicks As an online reporter for eWEEK.com, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for eWEEK.com. Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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