Curious Programmers Face Legal Tangles with Leaked Windows Code

By Matthew Hicks  |  Print this article Print


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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 system's code. Doing so, legal experts warn, could thrust developers and their software projects into a legal hotbed.

"There's 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, there's 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.

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.

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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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