Software Plagiarism Strikes Mozilla Community

Chris Pederick, the creator of the very popular “Web Developer” Firefox extension, recently found out that his software had been ripped off.

A company, known as Aevita, took his extension and modified it to work with Internet Explorer instead of Firefox. In the process, they reused his original icons, much of the code (or so we’re forced to assume) and even the documentation/marketing materials.

Even though the extension is released under the GPL, which allows reuse of the code, the pirated product, known as “Web Inspector”, was released under a traditional shareware license, a violation of the GPL. Also, no credit was given as to the source of the code or images, a violation of both the GPL and common decency.

Fortunately, the matter seems to be resolved. A letter-writing campaign hastily organized by Mozilla Foundation head Asa Dotzler helped encourage Aevita to remove the software from their site. Things seem to be right again in the land of Mozilla and peace is slowly returning.

However, the incident points to a very serious problem with software plagiarism. Though software is protected by copyright law, most end users don’t see the actual code that makes up the programs they use. Where comparing two poems, essays or pictures for plagiarism is easy, software plagiarism can be buried very deep in a program. It’s very possible that two pieces of software can look nothing alike, have two very different functions, but share a great deal of their code, legally or illegally.

This is a case where a software plagiarist was so sloppy that his lifting was easily spotted by casual end users. Most software plagiarists won’t make such a simple mistake, making it more important than ever to find ways to discover plagiarism buried within the code of the programs we use.

After all, good code is a work of art and it deserves our respect and our protection.

[tags]Plagiarism, Mozilla, Firefox, Internet Explorer[/tags]
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