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Lawsuit: Microsoft software links black couple to monkeys

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A lawsuit accuses Microsoft of including a "racially-charged" message linking black people to monkeys in its Publisher 1998 software. The company has agreed to alter the program.

John Elijah, 32, filed the suit Tuesday in San Diego federal court, claiming users will see images that include a black couple sitting on monkey bars when they type "monkey" to access pictures of the animal."I felt the blood rushing out of my whole body," said Elijah, a black construction worker who was shown the image by a co-worker. "I was humiliated."

Microsoft spokesman Greg Shaw said the company already has offered a software update to anyone who requests it. He said the Publisher 2000 software itself does not contain the image.

"We regret any offense or inconvenience," Shaw said. "We are deeply committed to doing everything possible to prevent this in the future."

Elijah is demanding that Microsoft pay $75,000 in damages and alter the software, which is used to create newsletters and documents with graphics and pictures.

Elijah's attorney, Harvey Levine, is seeking approval of a class action lawsuit for the estimated 4 million customers who bought the software.

Levine suspects the picture was specifically programmed to appear as "some sort of sick insider joke."

But Shaw said the link was unintentional. He said the software contains images that can be accessed by using several key words. A computer user who searched for "couple" may have accessed the photo as well as someone who typed "bar."

In this case, "monkey" brings up an assortment of pictures including monkeys in trees, a gorilla and the closely-cropped photo of the black couple.

Elijah, who is married and has two children, said his wife was extremely upset over the incident.

"Her biggest fear is that maybe skinheads or people like that will face off with me," he said. "She's afraid people will think I'm doing this for the money, and not because I want it fixed."