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Beware of "Backspaceware" 257

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 drspliff ( 652992 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:14AM (#21708456)
    I've seen this a number of times, shady people who only want to make a quick buck or have entirely unrealistic expectations of what software development costs or how it's done. At the root of this problem are either the shady people trying to make a quick buck, or the shady freelancers trying to meet the requirements on a non-existant budget.

    Lets take the average scenario:
    - Shady person sees a piece of software and thinks they can make some money if they made their own.
    - Shady person has no programming knowledge, so posts on rentacoder or similar.
    - Because they have no idea of what software development entails, or in order to make money it must cost next to nothing.
    - Shady freelancer or outsourcing business wins the bid.
    - Shady freelancer re-brands an existing piece of software in a day and the job's complete.

    Quite a few times this is down to freelancers knowing they can just re-brand an existing open-source project, or even the shady business knowing they can get it cheap if freelancers do that.

    Some times they get lucky and their "product" gets more success than the original project, but it's origins are now hidden and will be forever because you can't just come clean 6-12 months down the line when it's making money.

    I've long called this pump and dump software, companies or individuals trying to build up a large portfolio of software under a common brand covering the widest market possible in the remote hope that they'll profit from some.
  • Statutory damages (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:23AM (#21708514) Homepage Journal

    Yes, thats wrong, but does it hurt you that much?
    Under United States law, whether it hurts the author does not matter, except in the narrow reckoning of fair use (17 USC 107). Some free software maintainers are smart enough to register major releases of the software with the United States Copyright Office. If such a release gets backspaced, a jury may award the author $750 to $30,000 in statutory damages (17 USC 504(c)) despite that the author cannot prove economic harm.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dosius ( 230542 ) <bridget@buric.co> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:51AM (#21708730) Journal
    Nah, it's worse (imho) than copyright infringement.

    Most of us who casually infringe copyright don't delete the existing copyright notices and claim the stuff to be our own. These people do, making it plagiarism, which to me is copyright infringement compounded by *fraud*. I could care less about copyright infringement myself, but woe betide anyone who takes my work and calls it theirs!

  • this happened to me (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drtsystems ( 775462 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:00PM (#21708788)
    I spend a lot of time writing a PHP script for myself and decided to release it to the public. I think I threw a GPL notice on it but the source was included either way due to it being PHP. Well I put it up on my website and a few months later go back to update it. I search online and find someone selling it for $50. He refused to take it down when I asked him to which really added insult to injury. (He claimed he downloaded it from limewire therefore its fair game? wtf?) Considering he was actively advertised "his program" (mine with my name and stuff backspaced) he got a lot more people to download it then I did even though mine was free. I eventually got him to take it down by sending a cease and desist notice. (Thanks for the template RIAA)
  • by pkadd ( 1203286 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:00PM (#21708796) Homepage
    Regardless of the lisence, people still breach it by making backspacewar eof it. I've seen it happend to alot of my work, which is why i avoid making it opensource unless people ask for it, or when it's a project i don't really care about. I don't make much commercial software, although i like to keep my name on my work to receive credit where credit is due.
  • by mysticgoat ( 582871 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:49PM (#21709106) Homepage Journal

    OTOH, his behavior is consistent with having first decided to close the source, and then coming up with this as an acceptable excuse to lay out before his user base.

    Perhaps the people at his day job, at Microsoft, have offered to buy his copyright. There would be a need to close the source in a way that would not offend potential purchasers of any Microsoft product that would be marketed as a follow-on to the users of his original work.

    Either the author of TFA is incredibly naive about the software community, or he is attempting to do something clever in the way of marketdroid spin. I doubt very much that he could have gained sufficient experience to write a major piece of software without losing his naivety along the way. OTOH, he works in an environment that values cleverness in exploiting markets and marks above honesty, ethics, or legalities.

    Just saying.

  • by drtsystems ( 775462 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:59PM (#21709214)
    well he completely got rid of any GPL notices. The fact that it was a PHP script meant that the source was there but he was trying to sell "licenses." I would have no problem with someone adding features to my script and releasing it as a derivative work. I'm obviously not trying to make money off of this seeing as I released it for free in the first place. Its the fact that he pretended it was his, gave me no credit, and tried to make money off of it without doing anything besides backspacing a few lines in the code.
  • by TopherC ( 412335 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:15PM (#21709346)

    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.

    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.

    Also Paint.NET should consider exactly how they want legitimately derived works to happen. If the GPL prevents certain kinds of derived works that they might like to see others create, then it's not the right license on principle.

    Hmm, currently they're using the MIT license [opensource.org], which is extremely permissive. I don't even see a prohibition against re-branding and re-crediting in the license. So it's not obvious to me that the current license is being violated. Perhaps it is and I'm just not seeing it because IANAL. Anyway, consider that the current license provides next to nothing in terms of protection, and that's what the authors chose. The GPL provides substantial protection against abuses, and if paint.net wants to whine, they should "sublicense" (which is explicitly permissible under the MIT license) first to demonstrate that they really don't want this stuff to happen. The MIT license looks to me like a big "kick me" sign.

  • by Albanach ( 527650 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:38PM (#21709542) Homepage

    Umm.. no. The GPL has not been tested in court. At least, not in the way you are implying
    I'm sure some courts would disagree, as would those who have won compensation [www.jbb.de] in court for GPL violations.
  • Sugar Public License (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lullabud ( 679893 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @02:10PM (#21709744) Homepage
    Incidentally, this is exactly why SugarCRM left GPL v2 to move to a proprietary license called the Sugar Public License which had an attribution clause in it. The community gave Sugar mad shit because they weren't "true" open source, but low and behold GPL v3 included that type of protection and all the sudden Sugar is back within the good graces of "true" open source software.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @02:10PM (#21709746)

    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.

    Ah, yes, the need for recognition. You have finally gotten to the heart of the discussion. No one else has seem to have gotten it except perhaps the OP webmaster404, who didn't communicate it well. Everyone else is off on "it's wrong because the law says so."

    In the words of Maslow [wikipedia.org]: "A musician must make music, the artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualisation.". This happens after the various esteem needs, love needs, safety needs, and physiological needs are met.

    I have contributed a lot of code, writings, music, artwork, and even new math theorems to the public domain. I usually state explicitly (since no one seems to get it) that you can use my stuff for commercial or noncommercial purposes, with or without acknowledgment. You'll have to take that statement at face value since you don't know who I am, but my stuff is "around", from background music in people's home pages (where sometimes perhaps I'd prefer not to be recognized :) ) to discussion forums to Wikipedia (where they acknowledge it). Why should I be upset if you use my stuff helps you become successful? I am reasonably successful in life otherwise, and the things that I do are done because I want, even need, to do them, not because of what recognition I may or may not receive.

    And to quote another nameless AC [slashdot.org]: "the average reasonably-successful-slashdotter-guy gets stuck with the 'esteem needs' stage aiming for Karma. Only us self-actualized 'Anonymous Coward' guys rise above this with insightful and informative posts such as this one without whoring for karma."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @03:22PM (#21710354)
    They wrote Altair BASIC using computer time they didn't pay for and cribbed from public domain sources to do it. As for QDOS, it was a CP/M clone [about.com] and although there are rumors of an out of court settlement with DRI many years later, there's no evidence Microsoft paid Kildall anything at the time.

    Everyone here (esp you) already knows this - so stop trolling!
  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @03:34PM (#21710450) Homepage

    Why yes, because linux and bsd code have never been ripped off.
    I didn't say that linux and bsd code had never been ripped off.

    Nor does the author talk about taking the software closed source; if you read the article he talks about distributing part of the project as a binary, the bits that people can easily use to just change the copyright messages, the installer and other small bits. The removal of the current source is a stopgap until he decides which option to take.
    Here I agree that you have more of a point. However, if you cripple the source code distribution so that it's no longer possible to compile the whole thing from source, to me that indicates that the software is no longer open source. Pick any high-profile OSS project such as the Gimp or gcc, and ask yourself what would happen if the leaders annouced that they were taking just a little of the code closed source. Nobody would say, "Oh, that's all right, gcc is still 90% open source." They would say, "That's ridiculous -- I'm switching to llvm," or maybe "That's ridiculous, I'm forking the fully open-source version."

  • by a_nonamiss ( 743253 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @08:12PM (#21712728)
    As a Windows IT professional, I am offended by your comment. I love the open-source community. I support it as much as I can as often as I can. I'm becoming more and more proficient at Linux, too, but there's an element of snobbery in the Linux community that drives intelligent people away. It's unfortunate, too, because I think that those elitists are in the minority.

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it. -- John Keats