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Chinese TikTok company caught violating OBS Studio’s GPL license (what a surprise!)

TechnologyChinese TikTok company caught violating OBS Studio's GPL license (what a surprise!)

Last week the launch of TikTok Live Studio was made public, the new desktop application for video game streaming developed by those responsible for the popular social network of short videos with the aim of starting to compete with Twitch and YouTube Gaming.

However, now this software is in the news again, and not because it has come out of the current private beta phase… but because not all the credit for its development goes to the programmers hired by ByteDance. As reported on Twitter by streamer Naaackers, TikTok Live Studio (or rather parts of it) is nothing more than an unrecognized fork of OBS Studio, a popular recording and streaming software.

ByteDance seems to be unaware that the GPL is a ‘viral’ license

Why is this problematic? Well, because OBS is free software (which, of course, allows us to create our own forks)… but that also means, in this case, that it is subject to the GPL (GNU Software License) which requires sharing the source code of any derivative product.

That is why the GPL is called a ‘viral license’: any derivative of a GPL software is ‘infected’ with the same four freedoms (of use, distribution, access to the code, and modification) that it guarantees. This prevents, for example, companies from reusing free code in their own proprietary products (not all free licenses are so restrictive in this respect).

Some users on social networks are talking about “TikTok stealing from OBS”. The term ‘theft’ is inaccurate and overblown in this case… but yes, there has been a license violation of the OBS code by ByteDance.

So a spokesperson for the OBS development team has decided to intervene in the networking debate to get it back on track, making it clear that they are committed to a policy of dealing with GPL violations in good faith on the other side.

In Hacker News, another member of the OBS team explained the reasons why they had scanned the TikTok Live Studio installation files for evidence of use of their work:

“I saw a tweet yesterday from someone who is in [the user group for] the beta version, and as with any desktop live streaming software (and especially with “Studio” in the name) I was curious if they were using any OBS Studio code or if they had developed everything internally.”

OBS code in TikTok Studio

“Without even installing it, upon opening the setup files I immediately noticed red flags, in particular files like ‘GameDetour64.dll’, ‘Inject64.exe’ and ‘MediaSDKGetWinDXOffset64.exe’ that look frighteningly similar to the way our game capture system in OBS Studio works, based on ‘graphics-hook64.dll’, ‘inject-helper64.exe’ and ‘get-graphics-offsets64.exe’.”

“I don’t make it my business to check these things on everything I find, but when something becomes so obvious it demands further investigation, and after a bit of decompiling I was able to confirm that OBS code was present in their binaries.”

For now ByteDance has not officially commented on the matter, although we will be watching for further developments.


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