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Beware of "Backspaceware" 257

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the we-hates-it-so-much dept.
SubLevel writes "Since conception in 2004, Paint.NET has been generously been offering the software community the taste of successful freeware, by allowing anyone to download and decipher the entire working of their extremely popular photo editing program. As posted in the Official Paint.NET blog by Rick Brewster, "Backspaceware" as he has so coined has become a tremendous issue. "Paint.NET's license is very generous, and I even release the source code. All free of charge. Unfortunately it gets taken advantage of every once in awhile by scum who are trying to profit from the work of others. I like to call this backspaceware*. They download the source code for something, load it up in to Visual Studio (or whatever), hit the backspace key over the software's name and credits, type in a new name and author, and re-release it. They send it to all the download mirror sites, and don't always do a good job covering up their tracks.""
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Beware of "Backspaceware"

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  • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:04AM (#21708376) Homepage Journal
    to the solution [gnu.org] to your problems.
  • by explosivejared (1186049) <hagan.jaredNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:06AM (#21708396)
    Unfortunately it gets taken advantage of every once in awhile by scum who are trying to profit from the work of others

    When there is profit involved, that is going to happen. If you can be scammed expect to be scammed. You just have to hope that users are informed and intelligent enough to realize who was really responsible for the software. Welcome to capitalism. If one can get away with it, one can make as much money as they want
  • by tepples (727027) <tepples@gmaiBLUEl.com minus berry> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:09AM (#21708406) Homepage Journal

    The majority of copyright licenses used for popular free software applications require people who redistribute the software to preserve the original author's copyright notice. Failure to do so is plagiarism, and the license treats plagiarism as copyright infringement.

  • by Richard W.M. Jones (591125) <rich@noSPAm.annexia.org> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:13AM (#21708440) Homepage

    His "solution" to this seems to be to close the source for parts of the program, which is a major overreaction to this joker.

    I don't think he should be worried - as long as his (the "genuine") program appears higher up in Google for the name and the important search terms, people will ignore the plagiarist.

    Rich.

  • by webmaster404 (1148909) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:15AM (#21708464)
    Yes, thats wrong, but does it hurt you that much? Not hardly at all. Sure its not nice but the real question is, did you lose any money or users that would contribute and such. I highly doubt that. This probobly happens to almost all F/OSS software at one point in time, but the people who do that don't have the coding talent to keep up with releases. I am not saying that it is not bad, but for a title of "beware of backspaceware" is kind of overstating that.
  • by BlueParrot (965239) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:22AM (#21708510)

    Welcome to capitalism. If one can get away with it, one can make as much money as they want


    That isn't a feature of capitalism, it's a feature of human nature. Yes, it does mean you can't blindly trust a capitalist system from sorting everything out, but it is the very same principles which causes communist countries to go corrupt, and it is also why extreme liberalism will be taken advantage of by those who have the power/influence/money whatever to game the system.

    Corruption isn't a matter of how governance is organised or how you set prices in your economy, it is a matter of transparency, openness and people being held responsible for their actions. If that does not apply it matters fuck all what economic system you use, you will just get different people screwing you over.

    Now before people start suggesting direct democracy or some far-fetched ideal about having every company democratically controlled by the workers, you need to take into consideration that for democracy to work you need a transparent electoral system you can trust. Thus it still boils down to government transparency and people being slapped when they break the rules. There is no way around that.

  • WTF? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:24AM (#21708524)
    It's usually called copyright infringement, if this guy is too stupid to assert his authorship rights... that's his problem.

    What an asshole!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:27AM (#21708556)
    As a freeware author, reputation is all you can expect to get in return for your work. It's bad enough that so many ad-laden download sites exist which make users jump through hoops to get the actual file or find a link to the homepage, all the while bombarding them with banners and popups. Never mind that the file is usually available from the well-sorted homepage without a hitch. But now some people even rip you off for the attribution. Quite frankly, be thankful for every piece of freeware that is still out there, because most authors wouldn't take that kind of shit if they got paid for it.
  • by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:28AM (#21708566) Homepage

    but the real question is, did you lose any money or users that would contribute and such

    Fortunately, for most people, money is not everything, nor even that important. A big reason for working on free software is simply to get your name out there. To be recognized. This is exactly what the person robs you of, doing this.

  • by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:28AM (#21708568) Homepage
    This is of course no different than what can be done with a hex editor on a binary. Somehow, being able to see the source code gives a lot of people the sense that they can do whatever they want with it. There has always been that mistaken notion that source code is the keys to the kingdom; for example, companies take great pains from letting their source code leak out, especially to their competitors. There are rarely secrets contained in source code (except for Microsoft's NSA backdoors), and if a competitor got it, more power to them wasting their time trying to reverse engineer it.

    But there's something new contributing to this perception, which is the general disdain for copyrights these days. It's the record companies' fault, of course, for withholding sales of digital audio during the entire dot-com boom. Now they're struggling to sell singles for a fourth the price they were selling for 25 years ago, adjusting for inflation.

    People think they have an entitlement to commercial music, and they think catching a glimpse of the source code gives them full rights.
  • by kryptkpr (180196) * on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:38AM (#21708638) Homepage
    I've had this happen to projects I lead. Adware/spyware is almost always bundled (it's distribution is the primary motivation for Backspaceware), and this definitely causes harm. Fortunately, sites like download.com have a review process and they found my email address buried in the 'about' dialog, I guess the backspacers missed one...
  • by doshell (757915) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:43AM (#21708662)

    There has always been that mistaken notion that source code is the keys to the kingdom; for example, companies take great pains from letting their source code leak out, especially to their competitors. There are rarely secrets contained in source code (except for Microsoft's NSA backdoors), and if a competitor got it, more power to them wasting their time trying to reverse engineer it.

    It is orders of magnitude easier to reverse-engineer source code in a high-level language than it is to reverse-engineer machine code or even assembly code (especially when you have software at your disposal that can obfuscate the compiled machine code). That's why leaaking out source code is much more dangerous from the point of view of the proprietary software company.

  • by zakkie (170306) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:59AM (#21708786) Homepage
    Sometimes there is a direct loss when work is plagiarised. Also, Google has odd algorithms for determining how high one should place in their rankings. I release all my data under the GPL and often legitimate copies and absolute ripoffs both rank higher than I do for most search terms I would expect people to find my site with. Monetary loss aside, the fact that someone is trying to pass off another's hard work as their own is simply despicable.
  • by BorgCopyeditor (590345) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:00PM (#21708790)
    You're the nitwit. The GP mentions the law, but the focus of the comment was on harm, which the GGP keeps insisting is what is relevant instead of the law.
  • by JesterXXV (680142) <jtradke AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:03PM (#21708820)
    If you RTFA, you'll see that this guy violated Paint.NET's current license, so putting a different license in there would solve absolutely nothing.
  • by Neoprofin (871029) <neoprofin&hotmail,com> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:07PM (#21708846)
    I think rather than the problem be "I am not getting my due recognition and payment (if applicable)" is that someone else is taking all the time an effort of someone else which allows them to get the recognition and potentially payments if they incorporate a program they got for free and simply slap a $5 price tag on it.
  • by Threni (635302) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:13PM (#21708892)
    > His "solution" to this seems to be to close the source for parts of the program, which is a major overreaction to this joker.

    Exactly. It's a free program. Why should anyone care? Is this an ego thing?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:18PM (#21708936)
    Corrected your title.

    And to provide instruction to ones who will. You see, the GPL does not offer protection. Courts can. If you don't have the 'nads to go to court, you don't get protection.
    http://lkml.org/lkml/2000/8/5/75 [lkml.org]
  • by Mr2001 (90979) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:26PM (#21708998) Homepage Journal

    I am a Slashdot participant. Information wants to be free. I can download other people's music and movies, and share them with millions of my friends via the Internet. Why can't somebody else do the same with software?
    You're trolling, of course, but here's an answer anyway. The objection is not that the software is being shared -- Paint.NET is freeware anyway, it's supposed to be shared -- but that someone else is taking credit for the real author's work.

    That's fraud: the "backspacer" is lying to every person who downloads the modified software from him (and probably infecting them with spyware too). Many Slashdot participants, like myself, believe that copying and redistribution should be legal with or without the author's permission, but that doesn't mean we approve of fraud. Sharing copies of Star Wars is not the same as telling everyone you're George Lucas.
  • by caseih (160668) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:35PM (#21709042)
    Glad to see the moderators correctly marking your post as funny. On a serious note, though, this "prominent North American Enterprice Linux vendor" doesn't own the copyright on most of the software they distribute to begin with. Both they and CentOS properly attribute the copyright owners. And despite the removal of trademarks (done at this "prominent North American Enterprice Linux" vendor's request), they do still attribute copyright to RedHat on programs and scripts that RH created.
  • The solutions easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rucs_hack (784150) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:38PM (#21709052)
    Just have a project so obscure or specialised that no bugger's going to think its worthwhile nicking in the first place. Like mine for instance /sob.

    Actually licensing is the way to go. True no license will stop someone stealing it, but it will give you the right to send 'cease and desist' notices to any site hosting the offending code. Its very hard to spread a usurped version of a program if reputable download locations won't host it.
  • by rucs_hack (784150) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:43PM (#21709070)
    It certainly didn't hurt Microsoft when they ripped off FreeBSD's TCP/IP networking stack and called it their own, no? /sigh

    Here we go again.

    Microsoft did not rip off the BSC TCP/IP stack. They, and every other OS vendor were *expected* (almost required I think) to use it, AND they left the copyright notices in, as required. The idea was that everyone would be on the same page, as it were. OK Microsoft buggered it a bit with their darn silly extensions, but even these did not stop network connections from other OS's from working properly.
  • by Xaositecte (897197) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:43PM (#21709074) Journal
    Here's the thing:

    1. Various people in this thread cannot see the harm in distributing software without giving credit for it.

    2. The Author of the software sees this practice as harmful, whether as a material loss, a potential to lose copyright by not defending it, The principle of the thing or any number of other reasons. The only thing that matters is the author believes he has been harmed by this copyright infringement.

    3. These are contradictory viewpoints, and amount to little more than opinion when placed in a vacuum. The rational, logical discussion you think you're looking for is impossible. We are forced to look at how disputes like this have been settled in the past, an appeal to the majority in the form of looking at established laws.

    Therefore, the law IS relevant, and is pretty clear cut in this circumstance. Society judges harm has occured.

    If you want to make an arguement without considering established law, all you're doing is intellectual masturbation. If you want to make an arguement about how the law should be changed, by all means, make it.
  • by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:15PM (#21709356) Homepage

    Yeah. I think this is an interesting example of how underdeveloped and pathetic the OSS scene on Windows is. It's like going back in a time machine to 1988, when nobody had ever heard of the Gnu Project, nobody had ever heard of copyleft, and "free" software meant a mixture of illegally copied closed-source software and legally downloaded closed-source nagware, tipware, and crippleware. I sympathize with the author of Paint.NET, but he's fighting against a culture where most people have no idea what OSS is, and where all the social mechanisms the Linux/BSD community has developed don't exist. It's as though some British banker showed up in the Trobriand Islands in 1880 and announced that he was going to build a stock exchange. This whole thing would be a nonissue if this was Linux rather than Windows. Paint.NET is apparently a very popular piece of software with an active user community, so if it was Linux software, it would certainly have been packaged for Debian by now. People would be getting the latest version by doing an "apt-get install paint-dot-net." Imagine if someone made a backspaceware version of The Gimp -- obviously it just wouldn't work.

    I used to be interested in the idea of spreading the word about OSS by making cross-platform apps available on both Windows and Linux -- the kind of thing that theopencd.org used to do. I had a a GUI app I'd written for my own use on Linux, and while I was at it, I made sure it ran on Windows. On the one hand, it was surprisingly successful. Judging by the emails I was getting, the vast majority of my users were on Windows. On the other hand, it was a huge amount of work to support those Windows users, and I started to question whether I was really accomplishing anything useful. When you write OSS that runs on Linux, you get that warm fuzzy feeling of belonging to a community and building something big and exciting. When you write OSS that runs on Windows, the users are not a community that has the same philosophical goals and is working toward the same ends; the users are people who typically couldn't care less about OSS (that's why they run Windows) but who simply want something for free. I ended up putting a notice on the web site saying that I would no longer provide support for Windows users; the source is still open, and they're welcome to try running it, but if it doesn't work, I don't have any motivation anymore to put in time helping a community that doesn't care about the things I care about. I don't think I'm alone in having this kind of experience. For instance, theopencd.org's site now says they're no longer actively developing the CD, and just has links to ubuntu, etc.

    What's sad about the Paint.NET story is that the author seems genuinely pained and bewildered by the situation he's in, and since he doesn't seem to care about free information per se, it's like he doesn't have a compass to guide him. He runs up against this issue, and his reaction is, "oh well, I'll take the software closed-source." That's what the whole Windows OSS scene is like -- a bunch of people wandering around without any common vision of what they're trying to accompish. It's like watching the Israelites wandering around in the desert without Moses.

  • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:21PM (#21709400) Homepage Journal
    Except the GPL has a posse, and GPL violations generate far more publicity than just some guy getting ripped off. Corporations are scared of it for a reason.

    Copyright clauses are hardly a license. If he cares so much about plagiarism that he's now crippling the source, maybe community ownership is preferable to controlling a string with his name in it.
  • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:25PM (#21709442) Homepage
    His copyright notices yes, but the "About" box is not a copyright notice. You can replace any about box with "Backspacesoftware Deluxe, (c) Backspacecorporation Inc. This software contains code licensed from third parties, click link below for details". All you need to do is to notify people is to obfuscate yet still technically inform people it's under the GPL and have a source file available and you're home free. Example would be to hide it behind a separate page "License details", and during installation not mention the intent of the license or the name, just that this is a licensing agreement you need to click through like other closed source software.

    Technically there's nothing the GPL can or should do about this, for example because Debian had some trouble with the Firefox trademark requirements, they released iceweasel. Iceweasel is in pretty much every form of definition "backspaceware", even though there's nothing malevolent about it. Nor is "backspaceware" really distinguishable from a fork in its infancy. The good guys of course give credit and say "this is baed on..." but the bad guys don't. But trying to make that a formal requirement would probably lead of pages of everything all your software and libraries once upon a time was based on.
  • by skeeto (1138903) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:37PM (#21709518)

    If you can be scammed expect to be scammed

    The only scam here is the removal the copyright notices, not the profit. The Paint.NET guys gave permission for anyone in the world to make money selling their software. Legally, this is simple copyright infringement. Nothing new here.

    Unfortunately it gets taken advantage of every once in awhile by scum who are trying to profit from the work of others

    Looks like Rick Brewster doesn't understand the MIT license, under which Paint.NET is distributed. Besides it not being "freeware" as stated in TFA, the MIT license allows anyone to sell the software and re-brand it however they want (while preserving copyright notices). I believe there is a name for "scum" who do this: Red Hat.

  • by joe 155 (937621) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:55PM (#21709658) Journal
    "If you want to make an arguement without considering established law, all you're doing is intellectual masturbation. If you want to make an arguement about how the law should be changed, by all means, make it."

    Well, I would have to say that I disagree here. If we can discuss what justice requires in a situation without using current law then we end up having a very strong argument for change (assuming that what is and what should be differ). Normative arguments don't have to lack force so long as they are sufficiently consistent.
  • by rucs_hack (784150) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @03:43PM (#21710534)
    Wow, way to have blinkered vision.

    FYI they were under no obligation whatsoever to include the copyright notice. They did though. Also, so what if it was in a DLL? Is that important?

    I do so tire of people claiming it was ripped off though. As I said, they were supposed to take it, that was the whole idea. It was why BSD was asked toi implement it in the first place, to avoid each vendor having their own implementation and buggering up TCP/IP. Microsoft didn't actually have to, and I believe they were using their own stack to begin with, but as soon as possible they switched.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @04:02PM (#21710692)
    Every single time I see this kind of bullshit it's Windows software.

    I think Windows, on top of the occasional technical or other necessity of using it, attracts the sort of people I saw in a Pound Shop today.

    In the Pound Shop everything costs £1 exactly. The people I saw were buying branded orange squash in 1 litre bottles. Here's the problem, in any supermarket, or large grocery store those bottles cost less. In you're buying several bottles (as some customers were) you can get 3 for £1.80 in a store just five minutes walk from the Pound Shop. That's a 40% saving.

    The Pound Shop's brand positioning is that it's a discount store, everything is cheap, volumes are high, staff knowledge is zero, aisles are narrow, it's intended to give the impression that overheads have been cut to the bone in order to reduce prices. The reality is that only a few products are ever discounted to the point where other stores can't match them. Everything else is actually selected on very simple criteria - it should not have a visible price indication and it should have a retail value of close to but less than £1.

    That's what this backspaceware is all about. It's the hunt for people who are so stupid, that if you say "Here's a dollar bill, I usually sell these for $5, but today I'll do a special offer, three for $10" they'd actually buy it.
  • by sumdumass (711423) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @04:34PM (#21711020) Journal
    Well, why I just don't like the term Backspaceware, I can see the point of labeling it something. It is a piece of code or a program that someone merely changed the credits for. I mean it isn't as if the code in itself were changed and someone else wanted credit too, it is that they just deleted the credit and placed their names in there for whatever reason.

    I think that should be distinguished from someone who actually improves the code and wanting credit. I don't think it really matters what license it is under, or if it is allowed, there is a certain amount of respect for the type of person doing it that should not be displayed. I think that should be differentiated from someone who actually touched the code in some meaningful even if insignificant ways other then removing copyright credits.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @06:18PM (#21711834)
    Actually, several of the Supreme Court Justices have cited cases from other jurisdictions in their opinions. The citations are to the legal or ethical reasoning, not to the precedent, of course. In the sense of precedent, cases in foreign jurisdictions get less consideration than a bucket of spit in U.S. courts (a bucket of spit could conceivably get in to the courtroom as "Exhibit A", a foreign precedent won't).

    But if you get a good judge, he might just crib parts of his opinion from a well-written opinion by a foreign judge.
  • by moosesocks (264553) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @06:40PM (#21712024) Homepage

    But the GPL has been "tested" in court, while Paint.NET's current license has, I assume, not been yet. Also there are organizations that will help you in court if it's a GPL violation. So in part it's a matter of practicality, not principle.


    That, my friend, is FUD. Even though it's a tactic generally condemned by the Free Software, RMS and his FSF cronies occasionally drag it out to promote their cause.

    Free and Open-Source software is fantastic, although too-liberal licenses can often leave developers with a somewhat bad taste in their mouths for reasons such as this. The Paint.Net source code was released expressly for academic purposes, and it's a shame to see the license being abused in such a manner.

    I'd love if some sort of creative commons license for source code could be developed so that developers could easily choose how they would like their software to be used/modified/redistributed. Although a completely free license is "perfect", developers have more than a few reasons not to go the whole way....

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