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Skype Blocks, Threatens To Sue Fring (Update: Skype Says Fring Is Lying)

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Late last week, mobile communication services provider fring released an updated iPhone app that enabled iPhone 4 owners to engage in unrestricted 2-way video calling over Wi-Fi or 3G internet with other iPhone, Android or Symbian devices. This garnered a lot of attention, mainly because Apple’s native FaceTime application works only over Wi-Fi and between iPhone users.

Hours after its release, the company said it saw a huge spike in video calling that it was forced to “temporarily reduce support” to Skype, a third-party provider it has long supported.

Now, they no longer have to worry about that extra network strain, as fring says Skype has apparently blocked fring and threatened legal action against the startup.

In a press release issued moments ago, fring says that it is thus being forced to stop its 4 years of Skype interconnectivity, referring to the move as an anti-competitive ambush. They go further than that in the complementary blog post, calling them out for being ‘cowards':

They are afraid of open mobile communication. Cowards.

Needless to say, we are very disappointed that Skype, who once championed the cause of openness is now trying to muzzle competition, even at the expense of its own users.

We’re sorry for the inconvenience Skype has caused you.

We’ve contacted Skype and are awaiting an official response from the company.

Update: a Skype spokesperson tells us that they’ve been debating with fring about whether they operate in accordance with its terms of use and license agreements for some time now, and that these discussions were ongoing.

Surprisingly, Skype also claims the decision to no longer offer Skype interconnectivity was entirely made by fring and that they had nothing to do with it. Fring disputes this and say Skype demanded them not to restore access.

The company’s spokesperson emphasized that they encourage developers to build products that work with Skype so long as they’re in accordance with its various licenses, and that they are keen on enforcing its terms when developers do not comply with them.

Something tells me this won’t be the end of this particular story.

Update 2: Skype just put up a blog post from its legal chief Robert Miller:

An hour or so ago, Fring reported on its blog that we had blocked their access to Skype. I want to make one thing absolutely clear: this is untrue.

Fring was using Skype software in a way it wasn’t designed to be used – and in a way which is in breach of Skype’s API Terms of Use and End User License Agreement. We’ve been talking with Fring for some time to try to resolve this amicably.

However, over time, Fring’s mis-use of our software was increasingly damaging our brand and reputation with our customers. On Friday, for example, Fring withdrew support for video calls over Skype on iOS 4 without warning, again damaging our brand and disappointing our customers, who have high expectations of the Skype experience.

We actively encourage developers to build products that work with Skype, acting, of course in accordance with our various API licences. At the same time, Skype will rigorously protect our brand and reputation, and those developers that do not comply with our terms will be subject to legal enforcement.

In this case, however, there is no truth to Fring’s claims that Skype has blocked it. Fring made the decision to remove Skype functionality on its own.

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