A moral dilemma

Disclaimer: the question presented in this post does not affect me in any way but it’s still perplexing enough to make it public. Also please note I don’t mention names (neither of people nor software) as this post is not about shaming them.

As any other area of human activity, multimedia has its own share of, ahem, eccentric people that are obsessed a bit too much about their project. For example, there’s a guy who constantly informs the world about even the slightest advancements of his image codec with his own unique image quality metric. Theoretically it should be interesting but the author keeps ignoring the useful advice he gets (like making his code work with a different image size or explaining how his metric is better than the others) in hope that somebody else will get interested enough to fix that for him, as his lack of free time prevents him from doing anything but minor improvements to the code. Maybe it’s not the wisest approach but it does not harm anybody so good luck to him, maybe one day there will be a breakthrough and it will get at least a limited fame. But there’s another example that came to my attention recently, which is significantly more disturbing.

So there’s a certain codec that has niche popularity for its speed and decent compression ratio. Since it was proprietary and somewhat popular, a certain person (not me) has reverse-engineered it and added decoding support for the format to FFmpeg. The reaction from the creator was rather baffling at the time, it was like he felt the control of that codec was wrestled from him. Oh well, enough time has passed with no other issues arising. But last week the same person who REd the decoder announced about that he’s working on an opensource encoder for it, and that’s when the situation exploded. The format creator in a tone that I think is called passive-aggressive told that it’s essentially a stolen work and that it made him stop on a new version of the work. And what is significantly worse and greatly disturbing, his words sound like he got a depression from it or even suicidal thoughts. Even while I have reasons to believe that the encoder in question is going to be an original work (i.e. not a plagiarism; REing format to ensure compatibility is also permitted by the law in many countries) the possible consequences are still deeply disturbing, to say the least.

Thus several questions arise: what should be the best course of action to resolve situations like this one? Was an opensource implementation even for a decoder a mistake and should it be removed entirely? Should the author better communicate his wishes that there should be no alternative implementations whatsoever in the first place and should the others honour it if the product becomes too popular for its own good? Even if the law permits it, what about the morals?

I can only be happy for the fact that I’m not involved in it at all. In either case it would be nice to know the answers—and even nicer is they will never ever be useful.

P.S. Corporations are not people so do not try to project the situation to them. And if they feel offended their lawyers will tell you that (so far I think only N*llym*ser tried it).

P.P.S. If you think I also suffer from similar psychological issues—maybe you’re right, I’m not be eligible to judge. At least I do not try to force my stuff onto others, I don’t even post anything at public places except in this very easy to ignore blog.

2 Responses to “A moral dilemma”

  1. Peter says:

    The fascinating thing about about codecs, is that in order to share them with fellow humans, one must at minimum provide a sample file and/or a decoder implementation. Perhaps next time the individual concerned will consider an integrated-circuit only implementation (hello D-STAR) or “Codec-as-a-Service” type shenanigan.

  2. Kostya says:

    I think the best approach in this case is the same as with Jai programming language—you can keep up the hype by demonstrating it but never letting anybody else try it.