Fantastic Media Player vs GPL

I was looking for updates to my Media Gate MG45 media player and stumbled across a site of people (hackers) who have taken to modifying and developing their own ROM for the MG45. Cool! They probably added a lot more functionality than the manufacturer had.

MediaGate MG-450HD Digital Media Adapter with 802.11 G Wireless Network Connection

As I was exploring the site, I came across this page: http://mediagate.pbwiki.com/GPLViolations, This is a list of the violations to the GPL in the Media Gate software that these hackers have come across. They are using this information to try and sue the manufacturer so that the manufacturer releases the full source code for the device.

Ok, a little back story for the uninitiated is probably in order here. The Media Gate MG45 is a glorified hard drive enclosure that can play the music and movies that you stored on the hard drive. Just like a computer, but it plugs into your TV and has a remote control. A fantastic little device. The software that runs the device is written on top of the Linux operating system. Most of the components and utilities that play the movies on the device are already built into Linux.

Now, in some cases the company slightly modified these utilities, in some cases they modified them not at all, and in some cases there is a lot of original code that was written.

Why this matters is because the Linux operating system and most of the common utilities that run on Linux are licensed under a license called the GPL, the GNU General Public License. In short this license says that all software that uses this license must distribute its source code. It further says that anyone who makes software that was made from bits of other GPLed software or that modified GPLed software must also release their source code.

Well, this company has done exactly that. They have modified GPLed source code and did not in turn release the new source code.

I say I am of two minds about this because the MG45 is a fantastic, low cost, device that does everything such a device needs to do, is slim, and quiet and powerful. This device more than likely would not have been possible to make without the free, open source Linux platform. If the developers of the MG45 had to write all this software from scratch, well, they would still be writing it.

What this web site has done by taking over the development of the MG45 software and demanding the release of the modified source code is, essentially, consign this company to being nothing more than a hardware provider. Any differentiation this company wanted to make or features they wanted to add, on a device they created, now must compete against another group of people who are developing their own features and functionality.

I am of two minds about this because I like the device and I want the company to make more things like this. At the same time, I like the idea of competition and rapid improvement and lots of people working on the device to make it better. This company knowingly used GPLed software and chose not to release the source. In this day and age that is ridiculous, there is no way to pretend ignorance of the rules.

I just hope it doesn’t discourage them from improving their products and putting out more great devices.

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YouTube’s Revenue Model

It is widely reported that YouTube makes no money. It is also widely mocked that being an “internet star” has absolutely no financial benefit. You create a great, funny, viral video, upload it to YouTube, get four or five million views, but no profit.

Often in life, when you have two problems, they can solve each other.

Seems to me it would be easy for YouTube to start making money in the exact same way Google currently makes all its money – sell advertisements.

Now, YouTube sells advertisements today. But apparently very little money comes from these ads; certainly not enough money to pay the bills.

What I see instead is an opt-in program for video content creators. People who upload their videos can also choose to have a 5 second ad displayed either at the beginning or the end of their video.

Then, just like with Ad Words, people can bid on the types of videos they want their ads displayed on, and then they pay per view of their advertisement.  Pay per click won’t work in this scenario, of course, because if someone is watching a video they are not going to want to be taken away from watching that video.

People bid on video keywords. Their ads are displayed up to the daily budget they set. And, best of all, the people who uploaded the videos get some of the money that their video made. This way, the next time someone like the Star Wars Kid has their incredibly humiliating video uploaded and viewed millions and millions of times, he can at least make some money based on the people who watched his humiliation.

There are a couple issues with this I can think of. The first is technical – I don’t know how hard it would be to dynamically splice together videos at the point where it is requested. Certainly the server requirements on that would be enormous. But this is Google. Surely they can figure out a clever way to solve it. And it would need to actually be embedded, IMO. Showing two videos in a row like most sites do is just painful and annoying. It often takes longer for the video to buffer than it does to play. Part of YouTube’s success is that videos being to play immediately. They can’t lose that.

The second issue I can think of is legal. People create derivative works, they re-upload videos. They upload videos they don’t own and are owned by large corporations.  They use licensed property (like songs and clips from other movies) without permission or payment to the license owners. People could make a tidy buck simply by taking videos that get a lot of views and re-uploading them using their own accounts.

If Google / YouTube could somehow get themselves out of the middle of this legal headache and leave the license wrangling up to the individual uploaders and license owners that would be ideal. Unfortunately, Google’s pockets are *way* too deep for that to ever happen.

But if Google could overcome these issues – then making money with YouTube would work.

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