The Inquirer-Home

Kiss Technology accused of stealing free software

Open sauce pot calls closed sauce kettle black
Tue Jan 06 2004, 10:10
THE FRONT PAGE of the website of MPlayer, the popular multimedia player software for Linux, is running a story accusing Kiss Technology of using Open Source software in their set-top boxes without conforming to the terms of the relevant licences.

An analysis of the software in the Kiss devices appears to reveal astonishing similarities to the software written by the Hungary-based MPlayer development team. The source code that Kiss is allegedly using is licensed under the GPL Licence, which would require Kiss to provide their customers with the relevant source code.

Since the source code of the software isn't available to buyers of their video machines, Kiss may be in breach of the MPlayer copyright.

Kiss could resolve this fairly simply by including a CDROM with every set-top box that includes the relevant sources. To the extent that they even notice, most of their customers would likely be rather baffled by receiving many thousand lines of pretty much impenetrable C code, but Kiss probably feels that its competitors would be more interested, not least because the provisions of the GPL might require Kiss to reveal its own software too.

The 'viral' nature of the GPL means that if you mix your own code with GPL-licensed code, then you either have to keep the results to yourself or you have to reveal your own code too. The former would rather restrict sales of machines, while the latter means revealing the Kiss 'crown jewels', or at least the software part of them.

Curiously enough, the MPlayer team itself has a mystery all of its own. The Open Source keyboard bashers have a download page for binary codecs (the software modules that decode all the weird and wonderful video and audio data you can find on the net). Those codecs are mostly written and copyrighted by other people, 'people' like Microsoft, Real and Apple. Their EULAs don't as a rule grant special distribution rights to Hungarian Free Software crusaders.

It is apparently for this reason that MPlayer isn't bundled with very many Linux distributions - companies like Redhat prefer not to get involved with dodgy copyright situations, preferring to let their users do their own downloading and installing of such software. Since many of the codecs don't have Open Source equivalents there is a lot of multimedia web content that you can't watch on an out-of-the box Linux system. The process of writing such codecs is hampered by the secrecy and patents that often surround multimedia data formats.

No comment was available from Kiss Technologies at the time of going to press. µ


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