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Hall of Shame: companies violating the ffmpeg license (GPL/LGPL) (ffmpeg.org)
85 points by mbrubeck on Aug 27, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

MediaCoder is a really great piece of freeware encoding software on Windows. The author is quite clearly trying to understand and help out with the licensing problems and instead comes up against the free software Spanish inquisition:

Some people just have no social skills!

The MediaCoder author would be a great example of such a person.

If the author of MediaCoder uses someone else's software, it's quite reasonable he obeys their rules for that software. He obvisously didn't read the licence for the software (even when asked multiple times). He even makes claims about various software being in the public domain.

Seriously the ffmpeg authors are quite within their rights to be rude to someone VIOLATING THEIR COPYRIGHT. You make it sound like MediaCoder author is the injured party - he is not.

OK, sure, they're within their rights to be rude. Everyone has that right (it's America, dammit!)

But why bother having a wall of shame, if you're actively hostile to people who try to fix the problem?

Maybe I'm just biased (as a OSS developer who has had my software ripped off), but I don't see he is trying to fix the problem. His first comment on the issue essentially was: "It does not violiate license of FFmpeg." Personally I'd be more then a little hostile against someone who started from that position.

If he was he'd do what he was advised to do many times in the issue tracker: * Read the licences involved * Hire a lawyer if he doesn't to understand it * Follow it's terms

Argueing and tweaking things in his EULA isn't part of that solution. It's really not ffmpeg's position to offer him legal advice on how to comply with the licences.

If he genuininly believes he is following the licence, maybe he should talk to his lawyer about defamation?

Here's that one HN article about how it's best to ask nicely first, and make it an issue of respect.


You can't really expect anyone that is distributing software free of charge to get a laywer to understand the (L)GPL. As I see it, everyone is on the same side here, donating free time to create software that is offered free of charge. I don't see how that warrants rudeness.

Open source is/was never about the money. It's about the freedom of having the source. The license is pretty easy and simple if you distribute your modified soft with the same open source licence.

The concept of the gpl is: I show you my code, if you show me yours. It's about sharing and repriocity.

It's not about snatching the nice tools built by the community, putting a nice gui layer and some extra features on it and closing the source. The fastest way for our friend here to adhere to the license is dropping ffmpeg or releasing his code as gpl. He doesn't seem to be willing to do that.

How would you like people who copy your sourcecode without permission and sell it to anyone?

Free of charge? He charges $399 for a premium version (which consists almost entirely of ripped-off open source software), and you think he doesn't have money to pay a lawyer?

Based on the linked issue thread, the MediaCoder author also makes money by bundling commercial crapware in the "free" version's installer.

It seems like the attitude in those posts is of someone looking to litigate. They would have to tell their lawyers where MediaCoder is breaking the GPL so why not just tell the MediaCoder author and check later if it's compliant?

Seems like pretty shameful behaviour to me.

Like they said, they're not obligated to consult for the guy for free.

It's still rude to tell someone that they are wrong but refuse to tell them why.

I understand that the other side is not helping by consistently misunderstanding everything.

At some point, if I was representing the GPL side in the argument, I'd realize that my attitude is not helping the cause and I would either change my attitude or ask another supporter to take over in a more polite way.

It takes energy to remain polite and nice in such discussions, but that's the price for convincing people. Otherwise, you are just an arrogant brat, even if copyright law is on your side (think RIAA - technically, the law is on their side).

In fact, if it does come to a legal situation, it may be detrimental to them if they do.

So what, basic human social skills are lacking in that thread and it's certainly not stanley who's lacking them.

Personally I would feel ashamed to know any of them, especially diego who seems to be an abhorrent troll.

So much for 'open'.

The amount of time they spent saying "read teh GPLs" they could have easily spent saying: You EULA is wrong, you need x, y, z. They've done the work to find out he's violating but unlike their source they're not sharing why he's violating.

I think it is a bit unfair to expect everyone to know the score all the time. A lot of us humans are pretty rubbish. To be honest I think there is a certain amount of vitriol in their writing that makes me think they are enjoying the feeling of superiority and making the guy squirm. Sure they have the moral high ground but they drag themselves down towards his level with their attitude.

False. This is an example of an overworked dev who has to explain the same things over and over again to people who refuse to read the relevant docs.

This has nothing to do with GPL inquisition. The exact thread could have happened on OpenBSD mailing lists.

The person who submitted that particular issue is a pretty active HN user (DarkShikari).

Dark is also the primary and original dev for x264, IIRC. I remember talking with him last year on IRC when I was working on a little patch for ffmpeg (memory leaks). Very nice and helpful (especially since ffmpeg as a whole is very sloppy and disorganized). A++ would buy again.

Just to note, though, diego was really being an asshole in that thread. Yeah the guy was violating the license, but it's not like suing him is going to do anything other than make him comply with the license. Might as well take 10 seconds and type out what he needs to do and save some time and energy. That kind of rudeness makes me not want to work with the project again as I don't like people being needlessly aggressive over people who aren't actively being malicious. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Not the original dev. Laurent's the original dev, and Loren's the dev who has done the most work over the years. I'm theoretically the secondary dev though I do more work nowadays than Loren does, by and large.

With respect to the topic Diego is being somewhat rude, but it's definitely within his rights; one cannot expect a person to be friendly to those who pirate his software. This is primarily the result of hundreds if not thousands of programs infringing ffmpeg copyrights; it has gotten out of control. Almost every single shareware media converter infringes ffmpeg's copyright, for example. After a while, one loses all patience whatsoever--so while I don't fully agree with his approach, I understand completely where he is coming from.

I don't understand the "within his right" response that was made in a few comments here. Everyone is within his right to behave like an asshole; it isn't against the law. You see people like diego behaving the way they do, and other devs supporting this behavior, and you reach your own conclusion.

I'm not talking about laws, I'm talking about reasonableness.

As a simple example, if you insult someone, they are "within their rights" to get mad at you. You may disagree with them getting mad, but the fact that they got mad was not unreasonable.

I completely agree that it's reasonable to get mad at someone who's willfully violating the license to your code. But there's getting mad, and there's consistently behaving like a trollish asshole. If you think diego's behavior at the link above is reasonable, our notions of reasonable behavior are incompatible.

Jeez, I don't even know what MediaCoder has done wrong here. If they're not linking against ffmpeg, just piping to it, MediaCoder's code doesn't need to be GPL'd, right? Anyone care to explain? These ffmpeg guys sure aren't.

Did you read the FIRST post in the issue tracker? http://roundup.ffmpeg.org/roundup/ffmpeg/msg5911

He is shipping binary only versions of a modified version of ffmpeg. He needs to comply with the licence for that code, which (vastly simplified version) means he needs to supply source in some way.

[Usual disclaimers apply about lawyer, and not being same, especially with regards to the legal obligations]

No he isn't - he's shipping unpatched ffmpeg, compressed with UPX.

The first post says they modified MPlayer (not ffmpeg)

From the discussion, it sounds like MediaCoder needs to ship source for mplayer and ffmpeg.

I used ffmpeg for a project and their mailing list is the worst I've ever come across. Fantastic product once you get it dialed though.

Let's be honest here. Some of the blame goes back to the FFMPEG folks. They choose the LGPL which is certainly a less known/understood license and they tack on a bunch of extra requirements. I'm looking at their license policy page and I don't see any obvious link to a non-English version. If you're not a license expert and you happen to lookup LGPL on the wiki for some guidance you get:

The main difference between the GPL and the LGPL is that the latter can be linked to (in the case of a library, 'used by') a non-(L)GPLed program, and regardless of whether it is free software or proprietary software.[1] This non-(L)GPLed program can then be distributed under any chosen terms if it is not a derivative work. If it is a derivative work, then the terms must allow "modification for the customer's own use and reverse engineering for debugging such modifications."

I'm not arguing that the FFMPEG folks don't deserve respect and adherence to their license terms. Just seems like they aren't really helping themselves here either. If you make a situation confusing you cannot be angry when people get confused. My personal feeling is if you want to do "free software" you should remember the whole free part. The GPL and it's variants are too overtly political for my tastes. The BSD license seems a bit more intellectually honest.

Actually, they're being a little hypocritical too. They are very protective of their license, but I know for a fact that a number of developers work in the United States where large portions of the codec library violate US patent law. Can't have it both ways guys...

Actually, you can and should. Its the difference between patents and copyrights. The (L)GPL pertains to the copyright on the actual code and the laws are (in comparison) fairly universal and well understood.

Patents on the other hand pertain to a method of doing something (separate from actual code) and are far from certain and vary widely between jurisdictions. The outcomes are decided in local courts based on a mix of precedent and who can spend the most on lawyers.

In short, copyrights and patents have nothing whatsoever to do with each other.

Well, I wouldn't say they don't have anything to do with each other. They are both forms of intellectual property law. While I would agree that patents are often subject to different regulations and burdens of proof, your assumption that all patent cases are flimsy is without basis. First, you mistake software patents for many traditional patents. For example, patents on drugs are routinely upheld in US courts.

You are correct that software patents can be nebulous. However, in the case of codec patents, like that of H.264, the new MPEG video standard, SCOTUS and patent cases have routinely upheld the validity of similar software patents.

For an overview of relevant statutes, I would point to the USPTO documents, which outline the standards that most software patents are viewed under (by the USPTO and many practicing US patent lawyers)[1]. While In re Bilski[2], recently granted a writ, may present a new view on some of the more spurious (and business-oriented) software patents, it seems that SCOTUS is more than willing to uphold the patents in practical implementation cases[3][4][5].

If this were a discussion based purely on ideology then upholding copyright but ignoring patent rights may be defensible, however to suggest that they will bring legal action to defend their copyright but to ignore or refuse that they should be held accountable in patent litigation is a tad hypocritical.

[1] http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/documents/2100.htm

[2] http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/opinions/07-1130.pdf

[3] http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1980/1980_79_1112/

[4] http://digital-law-online.info/cases/32PQ2D1031.htm

[5] http://digital-law-online.info/cases/31PQ2D1545.htm

Patents do not apply to the developers, they apply to the users of the software; this is generally the model that open source works under in general (see, for example, LAME). In many jurisdictions, users can and do pay MPEG-LA licensing fees when using ffmpeg; no "infringement" takes place. I have worked for companies that have used ffmpeg and x264 in their systems; this is extremely standard procedure.

Also, most of the developers are based in Europe, where software patents are much more dubious than in the US.

Also, most of the developers are based in Europe, where software patents are much more dubious than in the US.

Most? I was aware that many were, but I know at least a couple are not. However, in my first comment I was very clear that I was speaking only to US developers -- Europeans, feel free to ignore.

Patents do not apply to the developers, they apply to the users of the software

Not in the United States. "Except as otherwise provided in this title, whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent."[1]

[1] http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/35/271.html

But they're not making the patented invention; they're making a description (the source code) of the patented invention. They're distributing the source code. Hence the moniker: "Lame Aint an MP3 Encoder" (it's a description of one).

On the other hand, distributors of binaries do have to take into account patent laws.

That is their claim, yes. As far as I know, no one has ever tested this in a US court. I would not be hopeful. Also, the initial term "Lame Ain't an MP3 Encoder" referred to their use of the original ISO code along with a patch. Since one would have to use the MPEG/ISO code and you couldn't encode mp3 files only using the LAME patch/library, they avoided the patent issue. Since 2000 they have instead shipped source code with a complete rewrite of the ISO code. They also post a notice that an MP3 patent license may be required for use in some countries. According to the conventional interpretation of US patent law, the US would be one of them.

Edit: By the way, don't be fooled, our small legal disagreement doesn't affect my very positive view of you as a person and developer :)

> Patents do not apply to the developers, they apply to the users of the software

"Under certain jurisdictions, there is a particular case of patent infringement called "indirect infringement." Indirect infringement can occur, for instance, when a device is claimed in a patent and a third party supplies a product which can only be reasonably used to make the claimed device."


You can infringe on a patent without any knowledge of said patent (by now, in software, I'd say this is the norm). Its a bit harder to do that when it comes to copyright! Plus ffmpeg is an international project. The SCOTUS (and its rulings on patents), while important, is still SCOTUS. That was all I was getting at.

No not really, most of the devs are european...

> They choose the LGPL which is certainly a less known/understood license and they tack on a bunch of extra requirements.

If it had extra requirements, it wouldn't be using the LGPL (and I don't think it would even be compatible). Those are just restatements of parts of the license; you can see which sections just by reading it, as it's quite short.

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