Audacity Fixes Issues, Community Still Scrutinises Over Threats

MuseGroup, who now own Audacity, have been making anger-inducing decisions around the program

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Free audio software Audacity was recently acquired by Muse Group, a conglomerate of various open-source audio programs, including Muse Score, a piece of music composition, and notation software. Since April 2021, multiple decisions on the back-end have consistently angered people who have been using Audacity or even just support the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Audacity has been around since 1999, offering a free alternative to heavy-duty digital audio workstations (DAW) and the primary choice for many, many YouTube video voiceovers. The feature set, while limiting to someone deep within the industry, is perfect for anyone who just needs to quickly turn something around, with its big record button and surprisingly good background noise removal tool.

Muse Group was set up in 2021, slotting Audacity into its Avengers Infinity Gauntlet of music software, now owning six different brands.

So where’s the issue? There wasn’t one until Muse Group decided to update Audacity with under-the-hood stuff that went against the GNU License and angered the community at large.

Because of the GNU License, software that falls under it is prevented from being monetized and age-limited. While Muse never intended to monetize it, they did add in a requirement to the privacy policy of needing to be 13 and then did something that would make Richard Stallman, the pioneer of the GNU license, do an incredibly angry backflip:

They added analytics that sent your data to their servers.

This isn’t new for software, but an unneeded online component that not only scraped your data for OS version, country (based on IP Address), CPU, error codes, and crash reports (which would contain more data), but then sent it between offices in the USA and their main office in Russia.

I don’t really need to explain why people weren’t thrilled with their data being sent to a server in Russia.

FOSS Post, a news site dedicated to supplying news on free open-source software (FOSS), quickly published a post claiming it to be ‘spyware’ and to uninstall. Since this happened, ‘forks’ – open-source software can be simply redeveloped – have begun to spring up, with ‘Tenacity’ being the break-out star of the bunch, focusing on privacy.

It took a few days, but Audacity has walked back the policy changes, changing the wording to be a bit more transparent about the data collected. Essentially, they’re attempting to ‘anonymize’ you once the data hits their servers during an update check, including not sending data to law enforcement and removing the age limit.

The age-old adage of it takes ages to build trust, but a moment to break it is very true here.

Threats over Copyright

Well, because Muse Group is now becoming more and more cagey over their software – there are scores that aren’t public domain – a member of the team deemed it worthy of threatening a developer whose project essentially downloads the data set from Muse Score with deportation back to China.

Xmander, a developer of Muse Score Downloader on Github, has come under fire after Muse Group took issue with the fact that it used a publicly available backdoor into their database to just actively download scores that Muse would have preferred you paid for.

The original thread has been active for the last year with it heating it up more and more as Muse Group begins poking their open-source projects with new privacy policies or planning future projects with the idea of making them closed.

Xmander is publically and vehemently against the Chinese government. It’s in his profile, comments, he makes no bones about his distaste for them. However, this does make him a very liable individual should he ever return back to China, with potential for the usual ‘disappearing’ that dissidents against the CCP usually have a habit of doing. That and prison.

Max Chistyakov, the Head of Strategy for Muse Group, sent a threat of transferring “information about you to our lawyers who will cooperate with and [the] Chinese government to physically find you and stop the illegal use of licensed content” it sat mildly gaining traction until Audacity’s updates.

The threats haven’t been acted on yet, but the fact that Muse Group has decided to take it upon themselves to bring this type of threat to a vocal protestor of the Chinese government, knowing full well what it could mean for the individual over an issue they could fix – as pointed out by a user – it’s worrying what idea of power or delusions of grandeur that Muse Group has regarding their software.

It’s an incredibly messy situation, made worse by external factors like political threats and a continued march towards alienating the community at large. A discussion of the copyright of music scores on Muse Score has been utterly upended by the fact that Muse Group’s Head of Strategy has waded in with threats of a highly dangerous political threat.

Joel is a a lover of janky games, Magic the Gathering, and going down rabbit holes. For PC Guide he has written about peripherals, the Steam Deck, retro games, news and more.