Muse Group—proprietor of the favored audio-editing app Audacity—is in scorching 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 proper 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 totally reviewing the general public feedback made by either side at GitHub, Ars spoke at size with Muse Group’s Head of Technique Daniel Ray—recognized on GitHub by the moniker “workedintheory”—to resolve the controversy.
Earlier than we are able to speak about how Muse Group acquired itself in hassle, we now have to speak about what the MuseScore app itself is—and isn’t. The MuseScore software gives entry to sheet music, together with respectable entry to sheet music copyrighted and owned by massive teams resembling Disney.
It is vital to notice that the applying itself and the sheet music to which it gives entry usually are not the identical factor, and they aren’t offered below the identical license. The appliance itself is GPLv3, however the musical works it permits entry to through musescore.com have all kinds of licenses, together with public area, Inventive Commons, and absolutely industrial.
Within the case of business, all-rights-reserved scores, Muse Group is just not typically the rightsholder for the copyrighted work—Muse Group is an middleman which has secured the rights to distribute that work through the MuseScore app.
In response to Muse Group, MuseScore is the preferred software of its type—it claims greater than 200,000 musicians discover scores on it day-after-day, 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 reality, fork MuseScore, that is not the foundation of the controversy. Xmader forked MuseScore in November 2020 and seems to have deserted that fork totally; it solely has six commits complete—all trivial, and all made the identical week that the fork was created. Xmader can be at the moment 21,710 commits behind the unique MuseScore challenge 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 musescore.com at no cost, no login or MuseScore Professional required.” Musescore-dataset is sort of as simple: it declares itself “the unofficial dataset of all music sheets and customers on musescore.com.” In less complicated phrases:
musescore-downloader allows you to obtain issues from musescore.com 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 below Inventive Commons licenses, this is not essentially an issue. However lots of the scores are solely accessible by association between the rating proprietor and Muse Group itself—which has a number of vital implications.
Simply because you possibly can entry the rating through the app or web site does not imply you are free to entry it anyplace, anyhow, or redistribute that rating your self. The distribution settlement between Muse Group and the rightsholder permits respectable downloads, however solely when utilizing the location or app as supposed. These agreements don’t give customers carte blanche to bypass controls imposed on these downloads.
Additional, these downloads can typically value the distributor actual cash—a free obtain of a rating licensed to Muse Group by a industrial rightsholder (e.g., Disney) is mostly not “free” to Muse Group itself. The positioning has to pay for the proper to distribute that rating—in lots of instances, primarily based on the variety of downloads made.
Bypassing these controls leaves Muse Group on the hook both for prices it has no technique 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 difficulty on GitHub—for
musescore-downloader. He declared that Xmader “illegally use[s] our non-public 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 resembling EMI and Sony, and that Xmader’s downloader violates these rightsholders’ rights.
Chistyakov then threatens that, if the repositories in query usually are not closed, he should “switch details about you to our attorneys who will cooperate with Github.com 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 concern “to see if we could possibly resolve this case 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 essentially the most half, these discussions have 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 comprise these works, which implies 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 concern returned, probably as a consequence 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 consequence 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 rationalization of Muse Group’s aspect of the controversy. Ray states that
musescore-dataset violate US Code Title 17, which regulates copyright enforcement within the US, linking on to § 1201 (circumvention of copyright safety techniques) and, extra severely, § 506 (prison offenses).
Ray goes on to state that he has “hesitated” (for properly over a 12 months) in prosecuting these alleged offenses due partly to Xmader’s private standing. Along with the possibly draconian authorized penalties related to Title 17 itself, Ray fears that prison prosecution may lead to Xmader being deported from his present nation of residence.
Deportation, too, may very well be worse for Xmader than most—he’s extremely and publicly important 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 instantly, stating that he’s “younger, clearly vibrant, however very naive,” and asking, “do you actually need to danger your complete 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 enchantment, or is it a thinly veiled and really public risk? 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 through telephone. Throughout our dialog, Ray got here throughout as earnest and keen about each music and open supply software program. Unprompted, he made clear that Muse Group has no concern with forking the code itself—in reality, the corporate encourages doing so; Ray expressed unconflicted understanding and appreciation of forks as an important a part of “how free software program—I am a free software program man particularly, and I think 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—in brief, MuseScore was a piracy hub. In response to 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 vital each to clarify Muse Group’s obligatory due diligence in responding to
musescore-downloader and in addition to his clumsily expressed concern for Xmader—even when Muse Group ignored
musescore-downloader, the chances of rightsholders resembling 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 thought of his—and Muse Group’s—true open supply bona fides. One controversial side of Muse Group’s latest acquisition of open supply audio editor Audacity concerned a license change—from GPLv2 to GPLv3. Ray defined that the GPLv3 license change was obligatory 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 challenge 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 have been straightforward sufficient to easily refactor.
A fast “sniff verify” with
git-blame makes this sound affordable—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 resolve a right away downside, 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 challenge—is a present full-time Muse Group worker.
We won’t make absolute statements about the actual intentions of Ray or Muse Group. We are able to 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 tough to make a case for malice, quite than easy ham-handed public relations.
Ray (for MuseScore) and Tantacrul (head of design for Audacity) every spent monumental quantities of time patiently interacting instantly with the upset open supply neighborhood, trying to clarify the takedown request of
musescore-downloader and the proposed addition of primary 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 aspect 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 attainable draconian penalties for him ought to litigation start. On face worth, it is simple 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 possible.
It appears more likely that Ray’s statements must be taken precisely at face worth—as earnest if ham-handed concern a few vibrant younger developer’s future, and a need to keep away from hurting him within the strategy of exercising Muse Group’s personal obligatory due diligence. Assuming that is the case, Muse Group’s subsequent acquisition ought to in all probability be a public relations agency as a substitute of a software program challenge.