Muse Group—owner of the fashionable audio-editing app Audacity—is in sizzling water with the open source community once more. This time, the controversy is not over Audacity—it is about MuseRating, an open source software which permits musicians to create, share, and obtain musical scores (particularly, however not solely, in the type of sheet music).
The MuseRating app itself is licensed GPLv3, which supplies builders the proper to fork its source 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 MuseRating Pro subscription charges.
After totally reviewing the public feedback made by each side at GitHub, Ars spoke at size with Muse Group’s Head of Strategy Daniel Ray—identified on GitHub by the moniker “workedintheory”—to get to the backside of the controversy.
Before we are able to speak about how Muse Group acquired itself in bother, we have now to speak about what the MuseRating app itself is—and is not. The MuseRating software offers entry to sheet music, together with respectable entry to sheet music copyrighted and owned by massive teams akin to Disney.
It’s essential to notice that the software itself and the sheet music to which it offers entry aren’t the identical factor, and they aren’t supplied below the identical license. The software itself is GPLv3, however the musical works it allows entry to by way of musescore.com have all kinds of licenses, together with public area, Creative Commons, and absolutely industrial.
In the case of economic, all-rights-reserved scores, Muse Group is not 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 MuseRating app.
According to Muse Group, MuseRating is the hottest software of its type—it claims greater than 200,000 musicians discover scores on it each day, from a repository of greater than 1,000,000 publicly out there 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?
While Xmader did, in reality, fork MuseRating, that is not the root of the controversy. Xmader forked MuseRating in November 2020 and seems to have deserted that fork fully; it solely has six commits whole—all trivial, and all made the identical week that the fork was created. Xmader is additionally presently 21,710 commits behind the unique MuseRating mission repository.
Muse Group’s beef with Xmader comes from two different repositories, created particularly to bypass subscription charges. Those 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 MuseRating Pro required.” Musescore-dataset is practically as easy: it declares itself “the unofficial dataset of all music sheets and customers on musescore.com.” In easier phrases:
musescore-downloader helps you to obtain issues from musescore.com which you should not have the ability to;
musescore-dataset is these information themselves, already downloaded.
For scores that are in the public area or which customers have uploaded below Creative Commons licenses, this is not essentially an issue. But a lot of the scores are solely out there by association between the rating owner and Muse Group itself—which has a number of essential implications.
Just as a result of you possibly can entry the rating by way of 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 website or app as supposed. Those agreements don’t give customers carte blanche to bypass controls imposed on these downloads.
Further, 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 typically not “free” to Muse Group itself. The website has to pay for the proper to distribute that rating—in many 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 adverts at no cost customers) or for violating its personal distribution agreements with rightsholders (by failing to correctly observe downloads).
What’s the OSS community’s beef with Muse Group?
In February 2020, MuseRating 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 akin to EMI and Sony, and that Xmader’s downloader violates these rightsholders’ rights.
Chistyakov then threatens that, if the repositories in query aren’t closed, he should “switch details about you to our legal professionals who will cooperate with Github.com and Chinese authorities to bodily discover you and cease the unlawful use of licensed content material.” (This cryptic reference to the Chinese authorities will come up once more later.)
In June 2020, MuseRating’s Daniel Ray (aka workedintheory) responded to the GitHub difficulty “to see if we might be able to 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 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.”
Unfortunately, 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 implies GitHub itself can ignore DMCA takedown requests. This stalled takedown efforts at Github, and in 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 May 2021.
The dormant controversy returns
In May 2021, curiosity in the GitHub difficulty returned, probably on account of cross-referencing by GitHub person “marcan” from the telemetry pull request on the Audacity repository (that repository is additionally owned by Muse Group). In June, the
musescore-downloader extension for Google Chrome was faraway from the Chrome Web Store on account 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 aspect of the controversy. Ray states that
musescore-dataset violate US Code Title 17, which regulates copyright enforcement in 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 nicely over a yr) in prosecuting these alleged offenses due in half to Xmader’s private standing. In addition to the doubtlessly draconian authorized penalties related with Title 17 itself, Ray fears that prison prosecution might end result in Xmader being deported from his present nation of residence.
Deportation, too, may very well be worse for Xmader than most—he is extremely and publicly crucial of the Chinese authorities and, in another Github repo, notes himself that he would possibly in the future be arrested for that criticism.
Ray winds up addressing Xmader immediately, stating that he is “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 enchantment, or is it a thinly veiled and really public menace? Most of the community seems to have opted for the latter.
It’s about the content material, not the code
Before scripting this piece, Ars spoke to Ray himself by way of telephone. During our dialog, Ray got here throughout as earnest and obsessed with each music and open source software program. Unprompted, he made clear that Muse Group has no difficulty with forking the code itself—in reality, the firm encourages doing so; Ray expressed unconflicted understanding and appreciation of forks as a significant a part of “how free software program—I’m a free software program man particularly, and I think you recognize the distinction—is achieved.”
Ray went on to level out that, when Muse Group first acquired MuseRating, none of the content material was correctly licensed—in quick, MuseRating was a piracy hub. According to Ray, the unique MuseRating 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 clarify Muse Group’s essential 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 odds of rightsholders akin 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 source bona fides. One controversial facet of Muse Group’s current acquisition of open source 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 straightforward sufficient to easily refactor.
A fast “sniff examine” with
git-blame makes this sound cheap—roughly talking, 99 p.c of Audacity’s whole code comes from solely 30 individuals. As is the case with many open source tasks, the majority of particular person contributors are “drive-bys” who write a number of traces of code to resolve an instantaneous downside, then disappear. In addition, Audacity’s most prolific contributor—who is single-handedly chargeable for 28 p.c of its whole 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 cannot make absolute statements about the actual intentions of Ray or Muse Group. We can solely touch upon their actions. That stated, we have spent hours reviewing the firm’s interactions with the open source community 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 MuseRating) and Tantacrul (head of design for Audacity) every spent monumental quantities of time patiently interacting immediately with the upset open source community, making an attempt to clarify the takedown request of
musescore-downloader and the proposed addition of fundamental telemetry in Audacity. Tantacrul himself is a well known composer and software program designer (for instance, he contributed closely to Ubuntu Touch), and Ray is clearly each enthusiastic and educated about open source 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 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 have interaction with the community on a direct, private degree, we do not discover that possible.
It appears more likely that Ray’s statements needs to be taken precisely at face worth—as earnest if ham-handed concern a few vibrant younger developer’s future, and a want to keep away from hurting him in the strategy of exercising Muse Group’s personal essential 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 mission.