XVID leader: Despite code release, Sigma GPL problem still isn’t resolved

By Grant Gross

The XVID development team is still considering legal action against Sigma Designs even though the company issued a press release Thursday saying it would release the source code for its MPEG-4 video codec. Although release of the code would correct part of the GPL violation the XVID team is alleging, Sigma’s press release doesn’t mention that the code in question came from the XVID project.
XVID project leader Michael Militzer says the group is getting legal advice from the Free Software Foundation on what step to take next. Meanwhile, XVID has suspended all development of its MPEG-4 video codec until the issue is resolved.

“If you’ve read Sigma’s press release, you might have noticed that XVID is not mentioned in one word therein, and that Sigma still tries to trick the public to believe that REALmagic is ‘their’ codec,” Militzer says. “But the press release is not worst: Meanwhile, the source code for REALmagic MPEG-4 Video Codec is indeed downloadable from Sigma’s Web site, but all our copyright notices have been removed from our files and replaced by ‘Copyright Sigma Designs 2002’ although the REALmagic MPEG-4 Video Codec source code distribution is in wide parts identical or near identical to XVID source code.”

Sigma Designs representatives did not immediately return a phone call and an email asking for an interview.

In its own press release released earlier Thursday, the XVID team links to a couple of code comparisons on its Web site. Here’s the first comparison and the second. [Both PDF.]

Militzer says Sigma Designs has used some tricks to try to disguise the code, but it’s still easy to see that Sigma’s REALmagic comes from XVID code. “A lot of code has been rearranged (change of variable names, loop unrolling etc. — every student programmer once tried those tricks if he’d face the situation when time was running out and he had a working copy of a colleague’s [work] and had to modify it for his/her own needs — but very seldom does this work out),” he says. “Those code changes have no real use, they add no functionality, they don’t improve anything — they are just there to disguise the stealing of intellectual property.”

Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman dislikes the term, “intellectual property,” but Sigma’s substituting XVID’s copyright notice for its own violates Stallman’s GNU GPL, Militzer charges.

“So even though Sigma Designs’ released some source code in the meantime,
basically nothing has changed at all: Sigma Designs’ is still violating
both the copyright of XVID authors and the GNU General Public License,” Militzer says.

Militzer says the XVID team discovered the Sigma problem by accident. One of the coders tried the Sigma REALmagic program, but couldn’t get it to run on his machine. When he looked at REALmagic’s CPU detection code, the programmer “was very
surprised that the CPU detection code was identical to XVID’s,” Militzer says.

The XVID team contacted Sigma in July, and Militzer says a manager there told XVID that the copied code was a new employee’s mistake, not an intentional GPL violation. The XVID team then asked Sigma to stop distributing REALmagic until the copyright issues could be resolved, and Militzer says the company promised to contact XVID with a decision. But that was a week ago, Militzer says, and Sigma’s cut off contact with the XVID team since then.

“So the steps Sigma Designs have taken yesterday had only one goal: trick the
public into believing that everything would have been resolved,” Militzer says. “This is
wrong: The community has to know that Sigma Designs’ still needs some
further assistance so that their source distribution finally conforms to the