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Yet another Microsoft lawsuit, with a twist

Chile Mapuche’ people want to sue over Windows language pack.

By , Network World
November 27, 2006 11:42 AM ET

Network World - Seems hardly a day goes by without Microsoft being involved in a lawsuit somewhere – but this time, the legal battle comes from a rather unique place: a group representing a Chilean native language.

Seems the Mapuche’ people are none too happy the software giant this fall launched a Windows language pack in Mapudungún, a Mapuche language spoken by about 400,000 indigenous Chileans. Mapuche’ representatives were so incensed they tried to sue Microsoft locally on human rights violations this month, but the local jurisdiction moved the case to a higher court where a judge could decide whether or not to actually try the case in December.

The Chilean government helped Microsoft with developing the service pack support, but Mapuche’ tribal leaders say Microsoft has violated their cultural and collective heritage by translating the software into Mapudungun without their permission or at the very least working with tribal leaders to develop the language software. Microsoft has not commented on the lawsuit which basically hinges on the notion of whether or not anyone can really “own” a language.

Microsoft has developed many such native language software packs and in fact included Mohawk (Mohawk), Nepali (Nepal) , Pashto (Afghanistan) and Romansh (Switzerland) support in the same release. It has never been faced backlash like this before.

Microsoft also finds itself at the center of this controversy as the Mapuches’ fight for a national voice. The group has been campaigning to have Mapudungún recognized as an official Chilean language and in the past five years there have been many armed clashes between Mapuches and Chilean police over ownership of large areas of land claimed by the natives, published reports say.

Such local clashes have also involved other large international companies. The multinational technology and offshoring hub of India – Bangalore – recently changed the city’s well-known name to Bengalooru, its original vernacular name, in an attempt to appease locals disturbed by the tremendous influx of outsiders to the city in the past few years. The name change also came to mark the 50th anniversary of the formation of Karnataka state, where Bangalore is the capital.

Other large Indian cities have changed their names in recent years to appease local groups -- Bombay became Mumbai and Madras became Chennai.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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