Microsoft has been accused of "intellectual piracy" over its launch in October of a Windows language pack in Mapudungun, a Mapuche language spoken by about 400,000 indigenous Chileans.
The language pack, available from the company's Web site, is part of Microsoft's language localization scheme, which has seen it create Windows interfaces in languages such as Mohawk, Quechua, Inuktitut and Maori.
The Mapudungun project, however, has put Microsoft in the middle of a battle over the control and preservation of Mapuche culture. Mapuche representatives attempted to sue Microsoft on human rights grounds in the city of Temuco this month, but the court ruled the case should be considered in Santiago. A judge there will decide in December whether to try the case.
Lautaro Loncon, a Mapuche activist and coordinator of the Indigenous Network, an umbrella group for several ethnic groups in Chile, told CNN the case would be taken to Chile's supreme court or an international court of human rights, if necessary.
The Mapudungun translation was carried out under a deal with the Chilean government, but Mapuche traditional authorities have objected to the plan since it was first announced in 2005. While acknowledging Microsoft's good faith in the matter, their argument is that Mapudungun is an essential part of Mapuche cultural heritage and decisions about it should be made by the Mapuche themselves, who weren't consulted and didn't participate in the development process.
The Chilean government was happy to appoint specialists to create a Mapudungun grammar for the software, but fails to educate Mapuche children in their own language, and doesn't allow the Mapuche to create their own educational system, Mapuche authorities said.
The tribe is campaigning to have Mapudungun recognised as an official Chilean language, fearing that otherwise it will end up dying out.
Aucan Huilcaman, from the Mapuche organization the Consejo de Todas las Tierras (Council of All Lands) and an attempted presidential candidate in the 2005 Chilean elections, criticized the project last year. "I'm not against the Internet. But Mapudungun is part of our cultural heritage and it is us who should decide whether or not it appears on the Internet," he told OpenDemocracy.net.