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July 22, 2021 12:02 am

Audacity's New Owner Is In Another Fight With the Open Source Community

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Muse Group -- owner of the popular audio-editing app Audacity -- is in hot water with the open source community again. This time, the controversy isn't over Audacity -- it's about MuseScore, an open source application that allows musicians to create, share, and download musical scores (especially, but not only, in the form of sheet music). The MuseScore app itself is licensed GPLv3, which gives developers the right to fork its source and modify it. One such developer, Wenzheng Tang ("Xmader" on GitHub) went considerably further than modifying the app -- he also created separate apps designed to bypass MuseScore Pro subscription fees. After thoroughly reviewing the public comments made by both sides at GitHub, Ars spoke at length with Muse Group Head of Strategy Daniel Ray -- known on GitHub by the moniker "workedintheory" -- to get to the bottom of the controversy. While Xmader did, in fact, fork MuseScore, that's not the root of the controversy. Xmader forked MuseScore in November 2020 and appears to have abandoned that fork entirely; it only has six commits total -- all trivial, and all made the same week that the fork was created. Xmader is also currently 21,710 commits behind the original MuseScore project repository. Muse Group's beef with Xmader comes from two other repositories, created specifically to bypass subscription fees. Those repositories are musescore-downloader (created November 2019) and musescore-dataset (created March 2020). Musescore-downloader describes itself succinctly: "download sheet music from for free, no login or MuseScore Pro required." Musescore-dataset is nearly as straightforward: it declares itself "the unofficial dataset of all music sheets and users on" In simpler terms: musescore-downloader lets you download things from that you shouldn't be able to; musescore-dataset is those files themselves, already downloaded. For scores that are in the public domain or that users have uploaded under Creative Commons licenses, this isn't necessarily a problem. But many of the scores are only available by arrangement between the score owner and Muse Group itself -- and this has several important implications. Just because you can access the score via the app or website doesn't mean you're free to access it anywhere, anyhow, or redistribute that score yourself. The distribution agreement between Muse Group and the rightsholder allows legitimate downloads, but only when using the site or app as intended. Those agreements do not give users carte blanche to bypass controls imposed on those downloads. Further, those downloads can often cost the distributor real money -- a free download of a score licensed to Muse Group by a commercial rightsholder (e.g., Disney) is generally not "free" to Muse Group itself. The site has to pay for the right to distribute that score -- in many cases, based on the number of downloads made. Bypassing those controls leaves Muse Group on the hook either for costs it has no way to monetize (e.g., by ads for free users) or for violating its own distribution agreements with rightsholders (by failing to properly track downloads).

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