Audacity’s new owner is in another fight with the open source community

Enlarge / MuseScore (the web site) presents entry to tons of of 1000’s of sheet music preparations. MuseScore (the appliance) permits simple modifying and modification, MIDI playback, and extra.

Muse Group

Muse Group—proprietor of the favored audio-editing app Audacity—is in sizzling water with the open supply neighborhood once more. This time, the controversy is not over Audacity—it is about MuseScore, an open supply software which permits musicians to create, share, and obtain musical scores (particularly, however not solely, within the type of sheet music).

The MuseScore app itself is licensed GPLv3, which supplies builders the appropriate to fork its supply and modify it. One such developer, Wenzheng Tang (“Xmader” on GitHub) went significantly additional than modifying the app—he additionally created separate apps designed to bypass MuseScore Professional subscription charges.

After completely reviewing the general public feedback made by each side at GitHub, Ars spoke at size with Muse Group’s Head of Technique Daniel Ray—identified on GitHub by the moniker “workedintheory”—to resolve the controversy.

What’s MuseScore?

Earlier than we are able to discuss how Muse Group acquired itself in bother, we’ve to speak about what the MuseScore app itself is—and isn’t. The MuseScore software offers entry to sheet music, together with official entry to sheet music copyrighted and owned by massive teams equivalent to Disney.

It is essential to notice that the appliance itself and the sheet music to which it offers entry are usually not the identical factor, and they aren’t offered underneath the identical license. The appliance itself is GPLv3, however the musical works it permits entry to by way of have all kinds of licenses, together with public area, Artistic Commons, and totally business.

Within the case of economic, all-rights-reserved scores, Muse Group isn’t typically the rightsholder for the copyrighted work—Muse Group is an middleman which has secured the rights to distribute that work by way of the MuseScore app.

In line with Muse Group, MuseScore is the preferred software of its sort—it claims greater than 200,000 musicians discover scores on it daily, from a repository of greater than 1,000,000 publicly accessible scores. It additionally claims greater than 1,000 new scores are uploaded to the service every day.

What’s Muse Group’s beef with Xmader?

Whereas Xmader did, in actual fact, fork MuseScore, that is not the foundation of the controversy. Xmader forked MuseScore in November 2020 and seems to have deserted that fork fully; it solely has six commits complete—all trivial, and all made the identical week that the fork was created. Xmader can be presently 21,710 commits behind the unique MuseScore mission repository.

Muse Group’s beef with Xmader comes from two different repositories, created particularly to bypass subscription charges. These repositories are musescore-downloader (created November 2019) and musescore-dataset (created March 2020).

Musescore-downloader describes itself succinctly: “obtain sheet music from at no cost, no login or MuseScore Professional required.” Musescore-dataset is almost as easy: it declares itself “the unofficial dataset of all music sheets and customers on” In less complicated phrases: musescore-downloader permits you to obtain issues from which you should not be capable of; musescore-dataset is these recordsdata themselves, already downloaded.

For scores that are within the public area or which customers have uploaded underneath Artistic Commons licenses, this is not essentially an issue. However most of the scores are solely accessible by association between the rating proprietor and Muse Group itself—which has a number of essential implications.

Simply because you may entry the rating by way of the app or web site doesn’t suggest you are free to entry it wherever, anyhow, or redistribute that rating your self. The distribution settlement between Muse Group and the rightsholder permits official downloads, however solely when utilizing the positioning or app as meant. These agreements don’t give customers carte blanche to bypass controls imposed on these downloads.

Additional, these downloads can usually value the distributor actual cash—a free obtain of a rating licensed to Muse Group by a business rightsholder (e.g., Disney) is mostly not “free” to Muse Group itself. The positioning has to pay for the appropriate to distribute that rating—in lots of circumstances, based mostly on the variety of downloads made.

Bypassing these controls leaves Muse Group on the hook both for prices it has no approach to monetize (e.g., by advertisements at no cost customers) or for violating its personal distribution agreements with rightsholders (by failing to correctly monitor downloads).

What’s the OSS neighborhood’s beef with Muse Group?

In February 2020, MuseScore developer Max Chistyakov despatched Xmader a takedown request—which Xmader republished as a problem on GitHub—for musescore-downloader. He declared that Xmader “illegally use[s] our personal API with licensed music content material.” Chistyakov goes on to state that a lot of the content material in query is licensed to Muse Group by main publishers equivalent to EMI and Sony, and that Xmader’s downloader violates these rightsholders’ rights.

Chistyakov then threatens that, if the repositories in query are usually not closed, he should “switch details about you to our legal professionals who will cooperate with and Chinese language authorities to bodily discover you and cease the unlawful use of licensed content material.” (This cryptic reference to the Chinese language authorities will come up once more later.)

In June 2020, MuseScore’s Daniel Ray (aka workedintheory) responded to the GitHub situation “to see if we could possibly resolve this example with out want for additional processes.” Ray mentioned authorized problems with copyright and distribution with Xmader and varied Github customers for a number of months. For probably the most half, these discussions had been devoid of acrimony. In October 2020, Ray declared that he “gave ample time for response, however now should proceed with requesting takedown from GitHub.”

Sadly, this proved much less easy than Ray imagined—whereas musescore-downloader facilitates unlicensed downloads of DMCA-protected works, it doesn’t itself include these works, which suggests GitHub itself can ignore DMCA takedown requests. This stalled takedown efforts at Github, and within the months-long absence of continued suggestions from Muse Group, commenters on the GitHub thread declared themselves victorious, and the thread languished untouched from December 2020 to Could 2021.

The dormant controversy returns

In Could 2021, curiosity within the GitHub situation returned, probably as a result of cross-referencing by GitHub person “marcan” from the telemetry pull request on the Audacity repository (that repository can be owned by Muse Group). In June, the musescore-downloader extension for Google Chrome was faraway from the Chrome Net Retailer as a result of a trademark declare, and in July, freelance journalist Arki J. Kirwin-Muller (aka “kirwinia”) requested permission of all concerned to cite their Github posts.

Kirwin-Muller’s request introduced Ray out of the woodwork once more, to supply additional clarification of Muse Group’s facet of the controversy. Ray states that musescore-downloader and musescore-dataset violate US Code Title 17, which regulates copyright enforcement within the US, linking on to § 1201 (circumvention of copyright safety methods) and, extra severely, § 506 (prison offenses).

Ray goes on to state that he has “hesitated” (for effectively over a yr) in prosecuting these alleged offenses due partly to Xmader’s private standing. Along with the doubtless draconian authorized penalties related to Title 17 itself, Ray fears that prison prosecution may end in Xmader being deported from his present nation of residence.

Deportation, too, might be worse for Xmader than most—he’s extremely and publicly crucial of the Chinese language authorities and, in one other Github repo, notes himself that he may sooner or later be arrested for that criticism.

Ray winds up addressing Xmader straight, stating that he’s “younger, clearly vibrant, however very naive,” and asking, “do you actually wish to threat your total life so a child can obtain your unlawful bootleg of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme for oboe?”

There are two apparent methods to interpret Ray’s closing query. Is it an earnest attraction, or is it a thinly veiled and really public menace? Many of the neighborhood seems to have opted for the latter.

It’s in regards to the content material, not the code

Earlier than penning this piece, Ars spoke to Ray himself by way of cellphone. Throughout our dialog, Ray got here throughout as earnest and captivated with each music and open supply software program. Unprompted, he made clear that Muse Group has no situation with forking the code itself—in actual fact, the corporate encourages doing so; Ray expressed unconflicted understanding and appreciation of forks as a significant a part of “how free software program—I am a free software program man particularly, and I think you recognize the distinction—is completed.”

Ray went on to level out that, when Muse Group first acquired MuseScore, not one of the content material was correctly licensed—briefly, MuseScore was a piracy hub. In line with Ray, the unique MuseScore was “on the verge of being shut down by music publishers and rights teams” when it was acquired by Muse Group. This turns into essential each to elucidate Muse Group’s essential due diligence in responding to musescore-downloader and likewise to his clumsily expressed concern for Xmader—even when Muse Group ignored musescore-downloader, the chances of rightsholders equivalent to Sony, Disney, and BMI ignoring it as soon as it involves their consideration appear near nil.

We pressed Ray about licensing. We needed to get a greater concept of his—and Muse Group’s—true open supply bona fides. One controversial facet of Muse Group’s current acquisition of open supply audio editor Audacity concerned a license change—from GPLv2 to GPLv3. Ray defined that the GPLv3 license change was essential to permit incorporation of the VST3 digital sign processing library, which is itself licensed GPLv3.

Ray additionally defined that Muse Group reached out to all 117 particular person contributors to the Audacity mission to request permission for the license change. He stated that greater than 90 of these contributors responded and that each response was a “sure”—and the remaining contributions had been simple sufficient to easily refactor.

A fast “sniff test” with git-blame makes this sound cheap—roughly talking, 99 p.c of Audacity’s complete code comes from solely 30 individuals. As is the case with many open supply tasks, nearly all of particular person contributors are “drive-bys” who write a number of traces of code to unravel a right away drawback, then disappear. As well as, Audacity’s most prolific contributor—who’s single-handedly chargeable for 28 p.c of its complete traces of code and greater than 50 p.c of the final two years’ commits to the mission—is a present full-time Muse Group worker.


We won’t make absolute statements about the true intentions of Ray or Muse Group. We will solely touch upon their actions. That stated, we have spent hours reviewing the corporate’s interactions with the open supply neighborhood in addition to talking on to Ray himself—and it appears troublesome to make a case for malice, somewhat than easy ham-handed public relations.

Ray (for MuseScore) and Tantacrul (head of design for Audacity) every spent monumental quantities of time patiently interacting straight with the upset open supply neighborhood, trying to elucidate the takedown request of musescore-downloader and the proposed addition of fundamental telemetry in Audacity. Tantacrul himself is a widely known composer and software program designer (for instance, he contributed closely to Ubuntu Touch), and Ray is clearly each enthusiastic and educated about open supply software program.

The worst side of Muse Group’s try to take down musescore-downloader is its dialogue of Xmader’s standing as a Chinese language expat and warnings of the potential draconian penalties for him ought to litigation start. On face worth, it is easy to interpret this as a thinly veiled blackmail try—however given Muse Group’s repeated and prolonged makes an attempt to interact with the neighborhood on a direct, private degree, we do not discover that seemingly.

It appears more likely that Ray’s statements ought to be taken precisely at face worth—as earnest if ham-handed concern a couple of vibrant younger developer’s future, and a need to keep away from hurting him within the technique of exercising Muse Group’s personal essential due diligence. Assuming that is the case, Muse Group’s subsequent acquisition ought to most likely be a public relations agency as a substitute of a software program mission.

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