Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
America Online

AOL And The GPL 127

Posted by Hemos
from the harsh-criticism dept.
Phantasm writes "AOL seems to have forgotten about the GPL in its linux powered Device sold by Gateway. Reported by Observers.net AOL made every attempt to credit other program copyright licenses such at the MIT and BSD License but forgot to mention the "little people" that created the utilites essential to getting the system to work." As is obvious, Observers.net is an AOL watchdog -- but the article is quite interesting.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

AOL And The GPL

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    But nobody enforces GPL compliance do they?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This is an important time.

    What bigger target can the FSF attack lawyers want? Either the GPL will stand up in court or it won't - if they have faith in the divine work of Stallman they will prosecute this AOL parasite to the fullest extent of the law.

    They won't, of course. (and we all suspect why not, too). But they should.

    *Sigh*. Another day, another GPL violation.
    Do ThinkGeek produce a tShirt for this yet? It could say 'I violate the GPL' on the front, and have a crucified penguin on the back. That would piss RMS off on two levels.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    No, thats pretty spot on.

    They also have to be careful that they don't link any closed source application against a GPL'd library, as thats also a violation. You can link non GPL against LGPL'd libraries though.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    IANAL, but as I understand it they already owe damages. The copyright notice included in the GPL license information was notification. They ignored it, and didn't meet the requirements of the license that would have allowed copying.

    Whoa! Slow down there cowboy. IF a copyright holder comes forward and files suit for copyright violation AND IF the case is not laughed out of court AND IF the judge finds the GPL legally binding AND IF the judge/jury finds that the GPL was actually violated AND IF the judge/jury finds that there was any damage, monetary or statutory, THEN they owe damages.

    Second, the article claims the reporter called AOL and Gateway and asked about this, and received a dismissive answer. Doesn't sound like they intend to fix it until forced to.

    Idiot. They called technical support. Technical support knows sweet fuck-all about technology, and a damn sight less about the legalities of Open Source. Technical support for AOL knows three things:

    1. If you can't get on AOL, the number's probably busy. Try try again.
    2. If you are running AOL 6.0, then maybe it's incompatible with your computer/modem/monitor/power supply, so you should install AOL 5.0. If you use 5.0, then you must need 6.0. We'll send you a CD.
    3. If it still doesn't work, you should probably call your computer manufacturer. Or Microsoft. Or the Telco. Or anybody but us. Bye.

  • by Phroggy (441)
    Don't forget that the MPL allows AOL to take the Mozilla code, modify it, package it up as a proprietary closed-source browser (or include parts of it in another proprietary closed-source app) and either give it away or sell it.

    Explain to me why this is less ominous than the APSL?

    --

  • by Don Negro (1069) on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @01:04PM (#204875)
    AOL has never been good at hiding things, especially if they're important and even more so if they're potentially embarrassing if publicly released.

    An understatement if I ever heard one.

    Don Negro

  • by Squash (2258) on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @12:53PM (#204876) Homepage
    This unit is being discussed quite heavily at
    http://www.kenseglerdesigns.com/cgi-bin/UltraBoard /UltraBoard.pl [kenseglerdesigns.com].

    Check in for discussions on hacking these, and other, internet appliances and related electronic toys.
  • The DivX;) codec is illegal because it contains Microsoft's MPEG4 code, and MS hasn't given their permission for anyone to redistribute modified versions their proprietary software, thus distributing the DivX;) codec is a copyright violation. There might also be problems with the EULA not allowing reverse engineering of the original software, but that boils down to the validity of clickwrap agreements and other less clear-cut stuff.
    --
    Niklas Nordebo | niklas at nordebo.com
  • Since they are distributing binaries, they also have to distribute the source, even if they made no modifications.

    Out of curiosity, why do you say that the free software movement is a hypocritical joke?
  • Actually, #1 is incorrect. The reason commercial people can write applications is because they link with libc, which is under the LGPL, not with the kernel.

    However, simply having kernel calls is _not_ linking, because nothing with that is inherently tied to Linux. It's just a system call number, provided by libc (LGPL). There are many OSs which implement the same system calls, and its easy enough just to say you were linking to them. Because there are no direct ties between the program and the kernel, you can't say that there is linking. On the other hand, there are direct ties between an application and a library, because the application must include the library's headers. I imagine that if you managed to produce an appropriate executable without using _any_ library headers, even if the linking information pointed to that library, you wouldn't need to follow the GPL or LGPL.
  • Different Unixes have different syscall numbers, but many of them are adding Linux's. Solaris, for example, can run Linux binaries. I think FreeBSD has the same thing.

    There's no real need to have the kernel headers to write a C library. It's a maintenance nightmare, but it would work.

    As for whether or not it's legal to link in a binary fashion if you don't actually use headers from the original library, of couse it's okay. Why? because the program isn't using anything, and therefore no copyright protection can be claimed. The _user_ is the one doing the linking, and according to the GPL, there is no restriction on what the user can do.

    This actually has happened. Sun released a compiler that built Linux device drivers into the Sun kernel. Obviously, if you distributed such drivers in binary form, you would have a problem. But any individual user has full rights to compile it in such a fashion.
  • by johnnyb (4816) <jonathan@bartlettpublishing.com> on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @01:43PM (#204881) Homepage
    It's more complicated. I don't know what you're background is, so this may or may not make sense:

    Linux (just the kernel, not the O.S.) is GPL'd. Any change to Linux has to be made available under the GPL to anyone who gets a binary copy. Applications written on top of the kernel do not have any restrictions imposed on them.

    For any distinct program, the same applies. For a library, there are two licenses to deal with, the LGPL and the GPL. If you use a GPL library, your whole application has to be redistributed under the GPL. If the library is LGPLd, you only have to redistribute the changes you made to the library itself.

    My guess is that they used a modified kernel, standard LGPL libc, and some standard utilities. So, the only thing they would have to supply the source for would be their kernel modifications, and the existing sources to the libraries and utilities.
  • So you going after IBM, Oracle, etc for not GPL'ing their SW? No? Good, because they link to libc - LGPL.

    Apps do NOT need to be GPL'd / LGPL'd to run on Linux.
  • I still haven't seen any proof that this device violates the GPL. It runs Linux, but so what? The GPL, as I understand it, doesn't require you to do anything until you make modifications to GPL code, or use it in your own software,

    Wrong. Take a look at the license sometime, it isn't too long. Here's a relevant excerpt for ya:

    3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

    a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange;

    In a nutshell: if you distribute the software, you have to provide the source.

  • Come to think of it, I never got a list of "thank yous" with my TiVo,
    In all likelihood, my post points out a violation of the GPL. It doesn't constitute a defense for every inflammatory statement in this story's article.
    and it doesn't constantly remind me of the socialist pile of crap license that it's innards are licensed under every time I hit the TiVo button.
    There's probably a big difference between a discrete message at startup time, and this sort of weird overkill. Luckily the GPL addresses this issue rather sensibly. I won't quote it for now, since we've had plenty of that already.
    Instead of looking for reasons to beat on AOL, the "free" software community needs to be more vigilant in watching out for offenses, instead of picking its enemies at random.
    Are they in violation, or aren't they? Is there something you'd like to get off your chest?
  • I have to admit that this article is quite humorous to me. AOL/Time Warner, a company large enough to fend off any sort of attack that the highly vocal, yet tiny slashdot (and "free" software) communities can produce would simply ignore the GPL and give a nod to the other less restrictive (and truly more "free") licenses that covered the software in their device.

    I still haven't seen any proof that this device violates the GPL. It runs Linux, but so what? The GPL, as I understand it, doesn't require you to do anything until you make modifications to GPL code, or use it in your own software, in which case it becomes a virus, requiring you to release the entire program containing the "free" code to the public under the same viral, "free" license.

    Either way, slashdot and the "free" software community has been waiting for a case to try out the GPL in court, and it's possible you'll have one here. And the opponent certainly couldn't be much larger, well funded, or difficult to fight. Good luck; you'll need it.

    (Also, please note the difference between free and "free", as used in the above rant. As mentioned many times before, the "free" software movement is a hypocritical joke, severely in need of a clue beating. May AOL be the ones to give it to you.)
  • Come to think of it, I never got a list of "thank yous" with my TiVo, and it doesn't constantly remind me of the socialist pile of crap license that it's innards are licensed under every time I hit the TiVo button. You know what? Nowhere at all in the interface is the GPL mentioned.

    Instead of looking for reasons to beat on AOL, the "free" software community needs to be more vigilant in watching out for offenses, instead of picking its enemies at random.
  • This, I think, is a flaw in the GPL.

    I'm not saying that your interpretation is incorrect (I don't know), only that if it is correct, it's asking AOL to do something that's totally impractical. Are they supposed to let you scroll through the text on the device?

    Their changes and improvements were given back, and the code is available.

    As Hank Hill said to his son Bobby when Bobby make a lame legalistic excuse, "Son, don't play lawyer ball."
  • I did think that it meant they had to provide the source, and I stand corrected.

    Thanks.
  • This is correct. AOLServer [aolserver.com] (the webserver behind aol.com, Digital City, etc.) is dual-licensed under the GPL and the MPL (Mozilla Public License). And it is an EXCELLENT webserver.
  • No, he's wrong. If what he said is true then libc would need to be GPL'd because that is "using" (in their terms) GPL'd code. And hence all applications would need to be GPL'd to run on a linux system because they all eventually interact the kernel.

    Only derived works need to be GPL'd which includes static libraries because you are in essence including the code.
  • by VValdo (10446) on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @01:00PM (#204891)
    Big companies are so good at getting their legal department to draft a serious-we-mean-business type of letter, maybe the FSF (or someone else) could write up a couple letters to send to companies when they violate the GPL.

    This isn't the first time it's happened, and won't be the last. It would be nice to be able to clear it up as quickly as possible.

    Ooh- Idea for site-- a GPL Violation site. Where you can choose from several different letters (by selecting tone, what clause has been violated, whether this is the first time they've done this) etc. Also, people could use it to exchange info about GPL enforcement issues & stuff.

    Just a thought,
    W


    -------------------
  • Not trying to be pedantic or anything, but under the terms of the GPL, the binary distributor is responsible for providing access to the source code; a link to another company's web site where the code can be obtained is not sufficient. I believe this opinion has been expressed several times by RMS, so it's not just my interpretation.

    While I realize you're trying to avoid trouble for AOL, since they do seem to have been cooperating with Transmeta, it still doesn't mean that they can ignore their obligations under the GPL.


  • And exactly where does it say that? "Transmeta has all AOL's fixes in its CVS tree" != "AOL has a contract with Transmeta to distribute source".

  • Shit, people, just READ the friggin' license, OK? To summarize: "If you distribute binaries, you must make available the source to those binaries to the people to which you gave the binaries."

    So, since AOL has included binaries of GPL'd software, they have to give the buyer either a CD or whatever containing the source, or somewhere to download the software (which CANNOT just be a pointer to "someone else's web site"; they have an obligation to guarantee access for three years, which they can't do for a site run by anyone but themselves).

    It has NOTHING to do with whether they modified the source or not, OK???

  • b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange;

    What part of that do you not understand? It does not say "you may leave it to somebody else who may or may not decide to let people have the source"; it says, "If you distribute binaries, you must guarantee that you will supply such people with source if they request it". What is so hard about this?!

  • No shit, Sherlock. What I'm saying is, where has anybody said in this whole affair that AOL is paying Transmeta to allow people to download the source? NOWHERE!!

    Sheesh.

  • One of the claims of the article was that AOL never, never releases anything to the Open Source community.

    What about AOLServer [aolserver.com], which was released under the GPL (I believe), thanks to a lot of work by Philip Greenspun and the folks at Ars Digita?

    -Dan

  • Linux is actually a special case because Linus has modified or clarified the GPL to allow certain things:

    1) Proprietary and non-GPL applications CAN include the kernel headers. Otherwise the entire system would have to be GPL.

    2) You can even load closed source modules directly into the kernel, something the Stallmanites would oppose, although the GPL totally unclear here.

    Like you said, this all hinges on the interpretation of "link". However, Linus has offered his opinion, and the developer community has gone along with it.

    (In my view, the "link" and "major components operating system" issues are the things in most dire need of clarification in the GPL. Both for binary runtime loading (plug-ins or modules or components) and also to accomodate optional runtime enviornments like Java.)
    --
  • So you are saying that anyone can defeat the GPL by writing LGPL wrapper code around the headers. Somehow I don't think so.

    It's true that user space developers don't have to worry about licence issues because libc is LGPL. However, the only reason LIBC can be LGPL is because of the Linus exception.

    Anyway, time to start getting chapter and verse on your ass. From the kernel's COPYING file:

    NOTE! This copyright does *not* cover user programs that use kernel
    services by normal system calls - this is merely considered normal use
    of the kernel, and does *not* fall under the heading of "derived work".

    Linus Torvalds


    Now, what's "normal use" versus GNU's idea of a "derived work"? AFAIK, the kernel is one of the few works that makes this distinciton, which most GNUites would reject.

    --
  • Whoops -- disregard some of the last post. I was conflating your post with grammar fascist's. Apologies.

    However, contrary to what you say, I don't think the system call numbers are standardized at all between unixes (although the names are), and I also doubt very much that you could build a libc for Linux without including the kernel headers. (And don't some programs like Oracle bypass glibc all together?)

    That's why it's essentially an exception. The GPL doesn't contain special language pertaining to kernels or components which follow documented Single Unix Specificaiton interfaces.

    (And there are people that have squinted at the GPL long enough to believe that it prohibits runtime binary loading or 'derived' works that don't actually link to the headers.)
    --
  • Not to challenge your main point but ... since when has the divx codec been illegal? AFAIK, divx is just MPEG4 compression. If I was mistaken in that, please give me details so that I can do further research.
  • Actually, TiVo fully complies with the GPL. You might want to check out www.tivo.com/linux for more information.
  • They do need to provide the source. They don't need to provide it in the machine. The GPL requires that the text of the GPL license be included with the distributed software and that either the source comes with the software distributed or is available by some other means by the distributor.

    So, AOL doesn't need to put the source or the license in the appliance. But they do need to put the license somewhere in the box and they need to provide the source code.
  • The article tries to make AOL look bad by implying they have violated the GPL. They probably didn't. The source to Mindori Linux is available, so there shouldn't be a problem there.

    AOL just didn't GPL their own software. It's perfectly legal for them to license their software anyway they see fit.

    The article's author was just trolling and we took the bait.

  • I'm glad to hear that AOL has been friendly and easy to work with; that makes me much more inclined to believe that this is an accident and soon corrected. However, sending patches back to be incorporated into Midori and giving a pointer to the source is insufficient.

    The GPL requires that they include a notice that the software is under the GPL and either the source or a written offer for the source.
  • AOL is likely assuming no one will have the money to properly sue them, or perhaps they think they'd be able to have the license found invalid, or possibly they think they're in the clear by putting it all in a box that's not supposed to be open.

    Or it just slipped through the cracks without being noticed, and will be fixed in the next release now that we've brought it to their attention.

    --

  • by Evro (18923)
    Why is the blame in this article being placed almost exclusively on AOL? With AOL and Gateway having invested such huge sums of money in Transmeta, perhaps they were able to secure a different license than GPL. Just because Transmeta released Midori Linux under GPL doesn't mean that that is the license under which AOL received it. This article is pretty screwy.

    __________________________________________________ ___

  • There are patches to use Python or Perl with AOLserver, but I don't know how well they are supported. PHP 4.05 supports "out of the box": server API versions for Apache, AOLserver, ISAPI and NSAPI [php.net].
  • If you are distributing binaries as distributed by someone else, you are not required to provide source, I thought.

    Like, if I give you a copy of debian, I'm not requried to obtain source and give it to you.

    Just the same, if AOL is including 'gnu tar' for instance, they do not need to provide source, only indicated that they are using 'gnu tar'. In this case, they can say they are using the Linux from Transmeta, which anyone else is free to go get.
  • This is correct as far as it goes, but there's more. If your code is linked to GPL'd code you must GPL your code as well. Even this is still an oversimplification. The complete license itself is here [fsf.org].
  • But they don't even give a list of the software that they found. How are the copyright holders suposed to know if /their/ code was stolen and put inside this box.

    You mean this link from the list of links at the bottom of the article?

    The exact violations [observers.net]
  • by schon (31600) on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @01:14PM (#204912)
    The source to Mindori Linux is available, so there shouldn't be a problem there.

    There is a problem there.

    The GPL says that the distributor of the binary has to make the source available.

    The article doesn't mention who they spoke to at AOL, but the response they got ("look on the web for info about the GPL") was the wrong answer.

    The correct answer should have been "You can download it from our server", or "we will send you out a CD with the source on it."
  • As is obvious, Observers.net is an AOL watchdog

    Forbidden
    You don't have permission to access / on this server.


    Observers.net may be an AOL watchdog, but something tells me they need to keep a better eye on their own site!
  • they make it available thru a link in the about box on the client. see this post : http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/05/22/15342 47&cid=78
  • I was my belief that under the GPL they only have to supply the GPLed code to people who actually buy the thing. AOL do not have to release the changes to everyone, they can keep them all under wraps till they sell the first one, after all they could just bundle a CD of the source code with the device, no reason why they HAVE to supply it on the internet. Most people do cause for them it is easiest.

    James
  • grr.. and I just got modded down as troll. Slashdot is so fuckin' owned.
  • Credit is not the issue. The issue is their product is closed source and Avery does not want to relicense his code to them because they are distributing the illegal divx codec with their product and Avery has worked very hard to disassociate VirtualDub with the divx codec and video piracy in general.
  • To go out on a limb here, Vidomi doesn't have any lawyers. They have no interest conforming to the GPL at all, except where they can get around it, and as such they're more than happy to misinterpret the GPL until they end up in court (which they obviously believe will never happen).
  • *cough* vidomi [vidomi.com] *cough* Ask Avery Lee how he feels [virtualdub.org] about GPL violators. Why does Slashdot not post a story on this regardless of the fact that a few hundred people have submitted it? You're guess is as good as mine. Maybe they're too busy posting linux is dying trolls to the front page.
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @11:37PM (#204921) Homepage Journal
    * 2001-05-22 22:04:28 Vidomi GPL violation of VirtualDub situation update (articles,news) (rejected)
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @01:56PM (#204922) Homepage Journal
    I don't get it. Why do you post this crap when real GPL violations [virtualdub.org] by shady companies [vidomi.com] are currently going on? How many times must the story of Vidomi ripping Avery Lee's GPLed code to VirtualDub be submitted before the Slashdot editors stop ignoring it?
  • IIRC, GPL v3 is in the works, according to the FSF.
    ------
  • What are those dastards trying to do, make a profit or something?
  • AOL is raising their prices by $1.95, up to $23.90 per month for their unlimited plan.
  • Furthermore, according to the article they didn't indicate any intention to correct this situation when the reporters called up to ask about it.

    Consider the source. Do you really think that observers.net contacted anyone at either company that understands what a License is? It's more likely they asked the salesman at the Gateway Country Store, and talked to some clueless, overworked phone support person at AOL. Observer.net doesn't strike me as the most objective source of information, and depending on how you ask the questions, you can pretty easily get the answers they got from techsupport, even if there were GPL notices all through the manuals.

    But in a civil suit, accident is not a defense -- it just keeps you from maybe paying triple damages for malice.

    IANAL, but pay damages there have to be damages. The software is free. AOL has not prevented anyone from getting the source, you can get it from Transmeta. Sueing AOL will likely get them forced to include a copy of the GPL, and make the provide access to the source, probably through Transmeta. A little diplomacy will likely achieve the same results, and save lawyer fees and court costs.

  • b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, ...

    I guess it depends on if you consider a link to Transmeta's web page to be a written offer. This is an internet terminal, and purchasing it requires that you have AOL's service. The only thing you're missing is a hard copy, and most GPL programs don't have that.

    ... a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    I think that the internet is safely considered a "medium customarily used for software interchange."

    The offer to provide the source is there. If allowing other people to provide the source, then anyone who uses 3rd party web/ftp servers to make source available is in violation too. It seem to me like observer.net is doing a great job of trolling.
  • I'm going to step out on a limb here and say that these people didn't like getting Slashdotted and locked out read permissions.

  • Why do slashdot editors post stories without backup research or verification, that are trollish, and probably for the sole reason that hundreds of people submitted it.

    In a perevious front-page post about some Mundie PR ass-talking, CmdrWeenie said the only reason he posted the damn thing was because he was inundated with requests. Goddamnit, that's just gonna make astroturfing easy and acceptable practice for MS and other lobbying groups.

    When MS really turns up the heat on linux even more than they have recently, expect Slashdot editors to follow like sheep and serve the purposes of Microsoft in their massive pr campaign. The proper behavior is to ignore trolls like Mundie and continue along on your merry way.
  • Here [vidomi.com] is a link to a dicussion about this topic on their site, including giving credit to those poor GNU souls. Probably added this after your post :)
  • Then now's the time to set legal precedence... because if you let one corporation get away with it, you've opened the doorway for others to do the same.
  • I had a Gateway MicroCube, a rebranded Cobalt Cube. In the back of the manual was the GPL v2 and the BSD license. There was probably an attempt to list which covered which, I didn't really pay that much attention.

    I doubt that this product didn't include it. If it is in the manual, that is probably acceptable, and I believe that a court would agree.

    You have no RIGHT to credit. Indeed, RMS CRITICIZED the requirement of the BSD license for giving credit. (Makes his position on GNU/Linux naming QUITE ironic, even if I agree with him 100%).

    I didn't see anything of a GPL violation there. The written notice clause is the only thing that you likely have on them. They make it available online, which is not sufficient. If you filed against them, you'd have a pretty hard time showing anything.

    Itemize your list of objections, but it BETTER not be that they didn't give you credit.

    The entire article was childish and obnoxious. Quite frankly, the "Open Source Community" he referred to (read, the Slashdot, foaming-at-the-mouth, Linux using, non-programming crew) can use any development model that they would like. AOL is under NO obligation to to play by your conventions, only to follow the GPL to the letter.

    Not complying with the spirt of the Open Source Community is IRRELEVANT to a discussion of a GPL violation.

    The author of this article is an idiot. This isn't a flame, merely my assessment of the article AND his comments in this thread.
  • There's been several stories about GPL violations in recent months - so what.

    Lots of complaining, of course, but I don't recall a story "Company X sues Company Y over GPL and wins." Does anything happen? Or does Company Y just tromp along on its merry way?
  • > The proper behavior is to ignore trolls like Mundie and continue along on your merry way.

    oh. The irony.
  • by DrXym (126579)
    How the hell can you claim AOL "is not friend of open source" when the very reason Mozilla exists is because of them?

    Mozilla is an epic 3 years in the making and conservatively must have cost AOL hundreds of millions of dollars to fund and promote. And yet despite this enormous cost to them, they're giving the thing away!

    And they're not doing so under the terms of some weasel-worded crappy Apple/Sun style licence, you can distribute the thing under the MPL or the GPL.

  • by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday May 23, 2001 @03:52AM (#204936)
    Don't forget that the MPL allows AOL to take the Mozilla code, modify it, package it up as a proprietary closed-source browser (or include parts of it in another proprietary closed-source app) and either give it away or sell it.

    No it doesn't, it says no such thing. The NPL might, but not the MPL which gives practically the same rights as the GPL. Most of the code is under the MPL except for a very few specific bits under the NPL.

    And even where the the NPL or MPL is used, it normally says in the boilplate on the top of the code that you can use the GPL instead if you want.

  • OK. AOL did something stupid/bad/annoying/lame/strage/etc. Wow, didn't see that comeing. Let's try to see what we can DO about it.

    So first up, who can sue them? I don't see how the GNU organization can because the are not directly involved in things, the only people that I can think who would be able to are the people who make the linux distro/etc. I think that it would be very hard for one of the programmers to get a suit even infront of a judge about this, at least in the US (strange considdering all the "pay me $1 mil because your manual didn't say I couldn't dry off my cat in the microwave and now you've caused me untold emotional damage" suits.)

    But as has already been said there is a good chance that they didn't have to change anything to make it run on the hardware. The only thing they probably did was not use the default install options (what to install and where), and if that is a violation of the GPL, I think most /.ers are violaters too. As for applicatoins they added, those aren't covered under the GPL, otherwise companies like MetroWorks with their CodeWarrior product would be required to give it away (and I could get some great commercial software with my budget).

    My suggestion of what we ACTUALLY do is this: scare them. We all know that if they did indeed violate the GPL (we don't know they did for sure) then something has to be done otherwise peverbial hell could break loose. Red hat would be able to change one line of code in the Linux kernel, for example, get a pattent on it (with one-click pattents, etc this can't be too hard) then sue everyone else who makes a Linux distro. Given RedHat is nicer than that but I know a few Redmonians who might not be...

    So how can we scare them? Petitions are good but there is nothing like (inter)national media to get the job done. Surely someone out there has a job in the news industry (even just a small local reporter). If so I think you should try to get the facts and write an unbiased article on it (which we don't have yet, because that isn't journalism through that link, it's an editorial masked as news). Maybe get a blurb on CBS News (not that Dan Rather is unbiased, but that's another story) or even The Daily Show or the news segment on SNL. If you can't do that then I suggest that all us /.ers do what we've been doing ever since we got brain cells: persuadeing everyone we know to give up AOL and any company they partner with (like Gateway in this case) and basically boycott them.

    PS: I realize some of the things I've said here (Dan Rather, etc.) you guys would probably like to discuss further, but this topic in this form is not the place. E-Mail me if you really care about it that much.

  • Make sure you root around the Internet and sue anyone who distributes a binary copy of a GPLed package while you're at it. You'll find thousands upon thousands of FTP sites that distribute binaries that don't explicitly distribute the (unmodified) source that was used to create them.

    If Transmeta has already rolled in the changes from AOL, then requiring AOL to provide yet another channel for distributing the source seems a bit on the pedantic side to me. It's not like they've made changes to the code and they're not giving them back to the root project. Perhaps they're violating the letter of the GPL, and that's not even all that clear, but I don't think they're violating the spirit of it.

  • There was a case a few months ago about some kind of GPL messaging client that some how ended up being ported to windows. No mention of GPL or the parent app was included in the comercial windows port, but the port was so compleat that in the About menu it had the url of the linux based gpl app. It was mentioned on slashdot at the time in its own story.
  • That's actually what I think, too, and I meant to put it in its own sentence at the end. And then, of course, I forgot. That's what I get for not using preview. Between AOL's choices of fighting a pointless lawsuit, and putting a few text files on a hard drive no one will ever look at (except these crazy ass observer guys), I think their choice is pretty obvious.
  • by startled (144833) on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @01:08PM (#204941)
    Actually, it's an extremely clear-cut license violation. First, from the article:

    While the inside of the Tech Pad was mildly interesting, most striking was what we didn't find. For software allegedly released by its manufacturer under the GPL, curiously missing were most of the things required by the license.

    No notices of copyright holders. No disclaimer of warranty. No source code and no directions on where and how to get the source code. No copy of the GPL, or at least none accessible or viewable from the interface provided by Gateway or America Online. No notice in the interface or help files about what is and isn't covered under the license.


    Now, from the GPL:
    3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

    a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)


    I don't see how there's any way you could claim this is anything but an egregious violation of the license. If you'd like to review the license yourself, it's at http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html [gnu.org]. AOL is likely assuming no one will have the money to properly sue them, or perhaps they think they'd be able to have the license found invalid, or possibly they think they're in the clear by putting it all in a box that's not supposed to be open.
  • You read worse beat-ups in Socialist newspapers, but not much worse.

    Just the opposite! Through ages capitalist newspapers have been poisoning our naive minds. Great socialist leaders like Josef Stalin have been vilified in these crappy magazines. It's time for revolution! Let the people own everything! Let's share Bill's belongings! Let's share source code! It's time for revolution. Josef Tito! Eric Honecker! Karl Marx! The Communist Manifesto!

  • by Daniel Quinlan (153105) on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @01:41PM (#204943) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I am not speaking as an official spokesperson of Transmeta.

    As one of the Midori developers, I feel the need to say something here.

    1. AOL has a pointer to Transmeta's Midori Linux site in the "About" box of their client (which is the primary GUI application on the box).

    2. All of the source code changes to GPL code made by AOL have already been rolled back into Midori. (In fact, AOL regularly sent us diffs of their tree.) The source code is at midori.transmeta.com [transmeta.com]

    3. No partitions are encrypted. It's just a different partitioning format to allow sub-partition upgrades of cramfs. (It's all part of "packcramfs" which is part of Midori Linux.)

    I should also add that we have enjoyed working with AOL.

    Dan

  • but I thought they already do have a monopoly... How can one company get 2 monopolies?

    They can be a ridiculously oversized corporation such as AOL-TW and thus have monopolies in more than one area.

    ---
    Check in...(OK!) Check out...(OK!)
  • by YetAnotherDave (159442) on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @01:03PM (#204945)
    As I understand it, if they just used the code then they just need to say 'we used this stuff' and point prople to where they can get the source. But if they modified it, they have to show the source for their modifications as well.

    This could be an over-simplification...

  • "You said the magic word and win the prize!"

    Yes, this will play into the whole MS debacle and their fight to undermine, criminalize, and destroy the GPL virus. Think on it: the GPL exists to foster the on-going creative process of programmers freely writing code for the community and allowing that in itself to enhance their own notoriety, taking on the task of being their own agent. This in contrast to MSerfdom, which is the preferred model for an existing large business.

    It is in AOL's interests to be sued by GPL authors and prevail. It is also in MS interests, and any other software house built on the traditional pyramid model. Once a court disqualifies the GPL as a valid contract, precedence will have been set, and then GPL will die.

    Do you imagine that there is a company that hasn't considered the business aspects of the GPL? I know many have. And what do you think they think about it? Travel with me, if you will, into the mind of a corporate CEO. Careful, don't step on it, it's pretty small..."

    "If I could only get the GPL code and keep it, it would be like having thousands of programmers working for me day and night for free! But if I can't keep what I write, then it would be like giving my profit away. Gee, if I could only find a way..." "Darla, get MyCongressman on the rotary phone."

    Yes, if they could only get all that lucrative software, use it in their products, and then not have to re-release it! That would work for about a week after the courts rule that the GPL is unenforceable. The courts would basically allow this to happen, programmers stop releasing code, and go to work for large corps, and things go back to the Way They Were.

    And Andy Grove, who scoffs at the thought of a New Economy, would be right. There is now a glimmer of hope that Linus and Richard's baby could re-invent this economic system, empowering people at the expense of corps.

    But if GPL-holders sue AOL and lose, this glimmer would die. It would also die if they failed to sue, given that AOL has actually violated the contract. It would be a signal to all other CEO's to scoff up what they could and use it, and then try to keep it.

    So it is very important here that the FSF win this one, a big case against a big company.

    Because if not, MS will be the next violater, if they aren't already.
  • Here it is:
    You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

    a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

    Which of these three did AOL do?

  • Reminds me how the meatpacking industry overlooks the contribution that cattle make. Well It seems like it is time to hold some feet to the fire.

    Although I wonder if this could play into the hands of Microsoft in their arguement against the GPL?

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [eplugz.com] comic strip

  • The observer.net article slagged the usefulness of the box, so I felt I should say something.

    I was one of the first people to buy one of these. I had been waiting since November 1999 for someone to come to market with a net appliance that would work for my mom. ThinkNIC? No. Audrey? No. MSN Companion? Dear God, no. IMac? Sorry, I don't know anything about Mac's, so I wouldn't be able to support her.

    I paid $650 for one of these as soon as it came out (it's way cheaper now, see below). The AOL-only factor is actually a positive for me, because it's great for old-lady types like my mom (and probably yours). No porn SPAM, no three hour calls trying to explain to my mom what a VBS script virus is, no Comet-cursor privacy crap.

    AOL and Gateway are marketing this as a second terminal for your household, but it works great as the only terminal. Built-in modem.

    The whole thing is just really well designed and rock solid. Well, it's rock solid and fully featured now after a few more months of software upgrades. Hell, the thing upgrades itself! Back in March, AOL/Gateway/Midori released an OS upgrade that downloaded itself (24 MB, ugh) and installed itself. She just let it chug for an hour and it was done.

    I'm 800 miles away and have better things to do than provide phone support to my mom.

    My only complaint is that it's a little slow.

    And now, if you try hard, you can buy one for $200 [kenseglerdesigns.com], and even hack it into a pure linux/windoze box if you're so inclined. Come on in guys, the water's fine.

  • a link to another company's web site where the code can be obtained is not sufficient

    And the Midori site couldn't be considered either an agent working to publish on AOL's behalf (or, more specificially, an agent working to publish on behalf of all contributors) or as an accepted means of software distribution? In the latter case, just pretend that AOL is publishing through the Midori website, in much the same way that J. Random OSS hacker publishes through SourceForge. Even if AOL were to directly mail you a disk, it'd still have to be done through a postal service.

    It's silly to worry about exactly which site the source is being provided through. It's also worth pointing out that AOL doesn't have to fork over a copy of the source until they receive a formal request. And providing them with a formal request, when they'll publically indicated that the source is available from Midori, is more or less just a means of being a pest.

    If there's one thing I'd worry about relating to the GPL, it'd be the loss of the build specific quirks. If I decided to create my own, identical copy of the binary they're shipping, how easily could I do it? What if we have the following hypothetical scenario:

    Midori release 1.
    Midori release 2: Contains patches A, B, C, and AOL-A.
    Midori release 3: Contains patches D and AOL-B.

    Where the AOL-prefixed patches indicate AOL's changes and the rest are Transmeta's or outside patches. Now imagine that AOL winds up building something that's equivilant to Midori release 2 PLUS AOL-B (in short, not bothering to incorporate patch D because they want to minimize non-critical software changes, as they've already done lots of formal testing, etc, etc). Under this scenario, even though AOL has published all their changes (certainly A Good Thing), it'd be difficult-to-impossible to recreate AOL's exact Midori Linux.

    Of course short of digging through the Midori site, there'd be no easy way to figure out whether or not the exact AOL version is documented somehow. But overall, it's things like this that I'd worry about, rather than whether it says "transmeta.com" or "aol.com" at the top of my browser window when I'm downloading the source.

  • by mizhi (186984)
    While I know AOL is no friend of open source (and I also don't like AOL)... it should be pointed out that they have not made any moves against Mozilla nor have they prevented Transmeta from releasing their Midori Linux with open source... they ARE using it, which I believe is perfectly acceptable under the GPL... they are allow to make closed source software for use on open source systems, correct?
  • Do you work for AOL?
  • Yeah, except that AOL is NOT writing anything except a set of applications that sit on top of Midori Linux (a Transmeta project). Gateway are the ones distributing the GPL software to users, they are the ones who have the responsibility to ensure compliance. But I guess it's much more fun to poke at AOL than it is to go after Gateway, eh?
  • I didn't see a long thank you list included with my Tivo either.

    More specificly, if I build a computer and install Redhat Linux on it, i'm not responsible for including a long list with it "thanking" every person who wrote every line of code in linux. Thats not my job, thats Redhat's. In this case, its Transmetas, and I bet you can get the information off their web site. I can even bundle a non-free program on my machine, as AOL did, without violating any licenses.

    The author of this article hates AOL more than Jon Katz hates his high school.

  • Yes, you are correct, but that isn't the point. The GPL places the burden of distributing GPLed code on the distributor, not the creator, which is Transmeta in this case. They also have to include a copy of the GPL and information about how to get the source code within their distribution, neither of which they did.
  • With the exception of the guy misusing the Quake source, has there been a single instance where one of these "Possible GPL Violation!!!" stories involved genuine malice? I think every one of them (excepting, again the Quake case) involved a simple oversight. Usually a legal department unfamilar with free software licenses throws in some boilerplate that conflicts with the license, sometimes a company neglects to post some source, sometimes the complainant is simply wrong.

    I think your idea would be great if the goal were to settle these matters in a polite, cooperative way that builds the free software community and makes companies want to involve themselves with it. In fact, the goal is to launch one jihad after another, boosting Slashdot's page hits and building the profile of whatever "advocate" started yelling first. Actually calling the company involved and finding out what they plan to do about the problem always gets postponed until, at the earliest, the Slashdot article has 150 rabid posts calling for blood.

    Unsettling MOTD at my ISP.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @01:54PM (#204963) Homepage Journal
    Whom to point the Gnarly-Finger-O-Blame at, though?

    Programmers? Only if they used GPL without notifying their Analysts.

    Analysts? Only if they failed to notify their Project Managers.

    Project Managers? Only if they failed to alert their Technical Writers.

    Technical Writers? Only if they failed to notify Marketing.

    Marketing? Only if they failed to notify the Lawyers.

    Lawyers? Don't be silly, lawyers are never to blame, and they'll sue your ass silly if you try.

    --
    All your .sig are belong to us!

  • Thank you, I was just looking to post that link. =)

    A few random comments to the overflowing posts here if I may....

    Yes we are called an "anti-aol" site. Yes many who work on the site are "anti-aol" or hate them, moreso I would say that the majority of us simply see the crap they pull on such a daily basis that we have become rather cynical in our views towards them. Some of us have been doing this, involvment with sites concerning AOL and its behaviours, for upwards of 7 years. After years of hearing the same thing daily by the same company screwing over yet more people, you do tend to sound like you "hate" them.

    The violations are listed in in the seperate link at the bottom of the page along with other previous articles on this Client/Appliance. Again the link: http://www.observers.net/gamera2/gpl.html

    Yes the site has had some issues with the onslaught of "attention" the readers here have chosen to give it, therefore there are mirrors in the following locations:

    For the article alone:

    http://www.hypr.net/observers
    http://www.kraproom.com/obs/

    For the entire site should anyone feel that masochistic to view :;grin::

    http://leguin.org.uk/mirrors/www.observers.net/

    For the downloads of the software:

    http://www.soldierx.com/gi.html
    http://eso.nu/~bball/gi.tar.gz
    http://kungfoo.net:2080/gi.zip
    http://wilmer.linuxfriends.org/gi.zip

    (Additional mirrors will be posted should the need arise)

    For those questioning the motivations behind the article we posted on observers.net, I have this response.

    When I originally received the "Baby G" as we call it, known to the open market as The Touchpad, we had already been tipped by an internal employee that there were possible infractions of the GPL. This is true of much information that comes through our site, not much of it is sought out, its normally handed to us.

    Truth be known, prior to our tip, our only interest in the appliance was the linux based client and if it would spread out beyond just the appliance.

    If there are any other questions or comments that anyone would like to have addressed, please feel free to contact me via email or to post it here and either I or a member of my staff will attempt to address it in a timely fashion.

    On the entire issue of AOL violating the GPL, my comment is simply an echo of another poster. And who is truly surprised by this?

    Sincerely

    Kelly Hallissey
    webmaster/owner
    www.observers.net
  • It was not my intent to debate the accuracy of the statement in the observers.net article, only weather it advisable to include it (using the specific condecending wording that was used).

    --CTH

    --
  • by hillct (230132) on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @01:19PM (#204968) Homepage Journal
    Regardless of weather or not AOL violated the GPL (and it looks like they have), I can't say I'm vary impressed wth Observers.net.

    In the article, instead of adressing the issues, they resort to an ad hominem attack, for no aparent reason:
    Not known as one of the industry's deep thinkers when it comes to technical issues, [Steve] Case nevertheless managed to sound enthusiastic and only mildly inept, claiming that AOL hoped to "rally even more support among developers in the open source community.
    OK, so the author thinks Case is an idiot (and he may not be wrong about that). Fine, but it doesn't add anything to the article, or the case the author is trying to make. In fact, it makes the author look petty and does damage to the creadibility of the organization. I'm not a big fan of AOL, but you have to wonder about watchdog groups what may be inappropriately biased, (or at least those who make the mistake to show that bias in public)

    --CTH

    --
  • by WillSeattle (239206) on Tuesday May 22, 2001 @03:46PM (#204970) Homepage
    The correct email address for AOL/TW shareholder concerns is: AOLTimeWarnerIR@aol.com in case you wanted to write a letter about this.

    I already did ...

  • Applications written on top of the kernel do not have any restrictions imposed on them.

    Sorry, just had to pick a nit. (The rest of your comment is great.) Applications written on top of the kernel DO have to have restrictions placed on them - they have to be released under the GPL or LGPL. The term "link" has very broad meaning, and it includes making direct system calls to the kernel.

    That's the reason that libc is released under the LGPL - so you can link to it without restriction. It serves as a technical buffer (to simplify and standardize OS calls), and also a legal buffer to people who want to write non-GPL software.
  • The article seems to go off on a rant about AOL with Netscape, but neglects to mention that they purchased NaviSoft and then allowed NaviServer to be revamped as an open-source package. I have been using AOLServer [aolserver.com] with Oracle for a couple of years, and am totally in love with it. If I remember right, there was a request by Philip Greenspun [greenspun.com] of MIT to AOL to release AOLServer as open source, and they said agreed to it.
  • According to the article, this device is an internet terminal running Linux with: "No notices of copyright holders. No disclaimer of warranty. No source code and no directions on where and how to get the source code. No copy of the GPL, or at least none accessible or viewable from the interface provided by Gateway or America Online. No notice in the interface or help files about what is and isn't covered under the license."

    If that is accurate (and I'm sure not spending $500 for a crippled laptop to find out for myself), that is 4 violations of the GPL. Maybe it's accidental -- like "I didn't know the gun was loaded" is accidental. But in a civil suit, accident is not a defense -- it just keeps you from maybe paying triple damages for malice. Furthermore, according to the article they didn't indicate any intention to correct this situation when the reporters called up to ask about it. That is, they are now getting into the situation where they provably know they are violating copyright, and keep right on doing it... IANAL, but if the copyright holders call up and get the same answer, it is definitely time to go to court.
  • just slipped through the cracks without being noticed, and will be fixed in the next release IANAL, but as I understand it they already owe damages. The copyright notice included in the GPL license information was notification. They ignored it, and didn't meet the requirements of the license that would have allowed copying. Since real damages are hard to prove for open source, I expect this would be the "statutory damages", a fixed minimum amount, which might not be worth a big court case.

    Second, the article claims the reporter called AOL and Gateway and asked about this, and received a dismissive answer. Doesn't sound like they intend to fix it until forced to.
    • about a week after the courts rule that the GPL is unenforceable [...] programmers stop releasing code, and go to work for large corps, and things go back to the Way They Were

    Please take the time to actually read about GPL copyleft [fsf.org]. Copylefted source is copyrighted. Even if a court rules that the "must give source" clause is void, that doesn't void your copyright. Go ahead and sue.

    The nightmare scenario is a really bonkers judge ruling that GPL code is public domain (which it explicitely isn't). However, that would have huge implications for all forms of corporate copyright, so it's hard to see even a US judge going that far.

  • So, if they did violate the GPL who can get them to conform?

    Would the GNU organization be able to sue for breach of licence? Or could someone else/organization do that?
  • We are currently looking for mirrors of this article. Our host was slightly overwhelmed by the readers from this website. ::cough::cough:: They had a stroke. If you are interested in mirroring this story, please contact me directly at jacob@observers.net Thanks, Jacob Observers Staff

The two most common things in the Universe are hydrogen and stupidity. -- Harlan Ellison

Working...