Gadget site resolves Microsoft secrets dispute

Electronics news site Engadget.com has resolved a dispute with Microsoft in which the software giant sent a letter demanding Engadget remove screen shots concerning the future of Windows mobile software, according to the founder of Weblogs, Engadget's parent company.

The letter, which Microsoft also sent to other Web sites that posted the item, suggested Microsoft is attempting to crack down on those who use content that the company considers proprietary. Apple Computer recently had a similar response to unauthorized publication of future product information, filing suit Jan. 4 against the owner and the editor of Apple fan site Think Secret.

"We have been talking to the people at Microsoft and we've basically worked it out. We're not making any changes to the article," said Jason Calacanis, founder of Weblogs, Engadget.com's parent company. Engadget did not steal any information and was simply reporting on information that it had found elsewhere on the Web, he said.

"At least in the mobile group (of Microsoft), they know that if they have issues, they can talk to us," Calacanis said.

The item, under the heading "Sneak Peek at Windows Mobile 2005 (Magneto)" contained a screen shot and brief article about a future mobile version of Windows, along with a link to an item at Windows fan site Neowin.com. The Engadget item, posted on Jan. 5, said the operating system would be previewed by Microsoft President and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that day. It was not, and has not yet been previewed.

On Jan. 18, Engadget received a letter from a law firm representing Microsoft. The letter, a copy of which was posted on Calacanis's own weblog, said the news item "includes material which is in violation of Microsoft's intellectual property rights" and that "content currently residing within your computer system infringes on the trademark rights of Microsoft Corporation." It identifies the infringing content as screen shots of Windows Mobile 2005. The letter requests that the Web sites remove the information and warns, "you may otherwise be liable for trademark infringement, trade secret misappropriation, and/or other remedies at law, including civil and criminal penalties."

After Calacanis posted the letter and his own comments on his weblog, he was contacted by Robert Scoble, a blogger who works at Microsoft, who introduced him to other Microsoft employees for a discussion, Calacanis said.

Neowin, as well as smart phone information Web site Modaco.com, removed their news items after receiving similar communications from Microsoft. Administrators of those sites could not immediately be reached for comment.

In response to a request for comment, Microsoft said legal requests not to post proprietary material are common in the industry.

"In this particular case, it is important to note the information in question was comprised of stolen images that were obtained illegally from a Microsoft server. While many sites cooperated fully and immediately removed these images, given the viral nature of these illegally obtained images, we were required to take additional steps," Microsoft said in a prepared statement. "It is our preference to address these issues through personal contact and when we cannot, to do so in a respectful manner," the statement said.

Calacanis said this was the first significant case of Engadget receiving such a letter. He fears such tactics will have a "chilling effect" on smaller Web sites that post information about products and industry news.

"They're trying to go after individuals who they don't think will have the wherewithal to handle these kinds of situations," Calacanis said. Weblogs, based in New York and Santa Monica, California, operates 70 weblog sites.

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

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