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22 July 2008

Fantastic Media Player vs GPL

by Patrick

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.

tags: oldposts