Efforts to wrest control of the open-source Audacity audio editing project from corporate owner Muse Group have hit a stumbling block after the maintainer of one of the more popular forks stepped down over alleged physical harassment.
The trouble began when the two-decade-old Audacity project was acquired by Muse Group in May, a freshly launched parent company holding commercial services Ultimate Guitar, MuseScore, and others. Audacity seemed like a natural enough fit, and new maintainer Martin "Tantacrul" Keary promised it would remain both free and open source.
Days later, the company added telemetry to the software, which uploaded unspecified metrics to third-party servers including Google in the US and Yandex in Russia. The fact the telemetry was optional did little to pacify critics, and it was was quickly reversed. Then came a change to the privacy agreement, which included an attempt to prevent under-13s from using the software – on the face of it an apparent breach of the GNU General Public Licence 2 under which the software is published.
The responses to these moves was entirely predictable: the project was forked, multiple times, taking the source code from either before the telemetry was introduced or after it was removed and spinning it into a new project under a different name – outside Muse Group's control.
Since the introduction of telemetry, the Audacity project has been forked more than 50 times – including into the Tenacity project, created by pseudonymous programmer "cookiengineer." It's this fork which attracted the attention of notorious anonymous forum 4chan, resulting in what cookiengineer claims is real-world harassment – and his abandoning of the project.
Doorstep 'harassment' prompts departure
"I really thought long about this, and I haven't slept in two days due to ongoing harassments of 4chan," cookiengineer claimed in a post to the Tenacity GitHub Issues page some 13 hours ago. "As the first people were literally arriving at my place of living, where they knocked on my doors and windows to scare us, I am hereby officially stepping down as a maintainer of this project.
"The safety of my family is worth more than an open source project. They found out my address via a YouTube video where someone was posting my nickname combined with my real legal name (which meanwhile got taken down due to my asking). The incident happened shortly 23:00 CEST [21:00 UTC], today; and the police took over this case."
The cause of this alleged harassment? A disagreement over the project's name. Being unable to use the Audacity trademark, now owned by Muse Group, cookiengineer ran a poll to find a new name for the fork. Those on 4chan who can never pass up an opportunity to influence the outcome of a poll took it into their hands to ensure Sneedacity, a reference to a throwaway Simpsons gag in which a store is signposted "Sneed's Feed & Seed, formerly Chuck's", won.
When cookiengineer deleted the poll and picked Tenacity as the project's name instead, it didn't go over well. The initial response from involved 4chan members, who are by nature of the board anonymous, seemed entirely measured: forking the Audacity project themselves, and creating the Sneedacity of which they had felt robbed.
A tale of two forks – and 4chan
If things had ended there, the two projects could have lived side-by-side – but cookiengineer claims 4chan members took things considerably further, including into physical harassment. He claimed: "It was attempted murder with an illegal butterfly knife. In the whole state of Germany, butterfly knifes are considered an illegal weapon. There were three witnesses in place that saw the incident. I was slit in the arm. On private property, that you have to physically break into in order to enter."
While a search of the forum shows no evidence of cookiengineer's address being shared nor calls for physical violence, there were several calls for action to see him banned from GitHub, multiple threads on the topic are filled with vitriol – mostly aimed at cookiengineer, but with the 4channer responsible for Sneedacity targeted, too.
"They are cyber terrorists, not cringe cancel kiddos," cookiengineer alleged in his announcement. "They physically tried to harm me in real life, and this has gotten out of hand. They are physically harming people, in real life. Be aware of anything you do BEFORE trying to do the right thing.
"I am in contact with GitHub and the German BKA (federal police) as of now, therefore I will not disclose any more information publicly about what happened to anyone. Evidence has been gathered, submitted and will be acted upon. I will not legally let go of this."
4channers, meanwhile, claim cookiengineer's allegations are largely made up.
The Tenacity project will appoint a new maintainer, should anyone still want the job. Muse Group, meanwhile, is potentially wondering just what it has got itself into. ®