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GNU is Not Unix

Is UnitedLinux Violating The GPL? 382

Posted by timothy
from the have-they-released-anything dept.
mmayberry writes "NewsForge has posted an article, UnitedLinux might not be very GPL-friendly. With a closed beta that includes an NDA, UL may be on the verge of angering a large part of their target market. You'd think that the likes of Suse, Turbo, SCO, and Conectiva would get the point by now..."
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Is UnitedLinux Violating The GPL?

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  • Just chill, people (Score:5, Informative)

    by geekd (14774) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @01:24PM (#4291015) Homepage
    Leave your knee-jerk reactions at home for now, people. The FSF is on the case. Don't get all up in arms unless the FSF determines there is an actual problem.

    On the other hand, this [theregister.co.uk] Register story paints the upper brass at UL as clueless retards. But the Register always does that. :-)

  • Re:Stupid Question (Score:4, Informative)

    by leviramsey (248057) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @01:29PM (#4291077) Journal

    The GPL is enforced through private enforcement. Basically, someone who holds the copyright on GPL software sues for violation of the license. So Linus could sue in this case. The FSF could sue because, presumably, UL will be shipping gcc, glibc, and/or bash.

  • Re:Stupid Question (Score:5, Informative)

    by geekd (14774) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @01:32PM (#4291116) Homepage
    who is going to prosecute them?

    The FSF [gnu.org] asks that authors of GPL software tranfer the copyright to the FSF, so that the FSF can take action against violators.

    From http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/enforcing-gpl.html [gnu.org]

    So what happens when the GPL is violated? With software for which the Free Software Foundation holds the copyright (either because we wrote the programs in the first place, or because free software authors have assigned us the copyright, in order to take advantage of our expertise in protecting their software's freedom), the first step is a report, usually received by email to . We ask the reporters of violations to help us establish necessary facts, and then we conduct whatever further investigation is required.

  • Hardly unusual (Score:4, Informative)

    by leastsquares (39359) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @01:35PM (#4291140) Homepage
    Many Linux distributions first see light of day as closed betas. For example, the Xandros betas have been available to only a small number of people, all of whom have signed NDAs.

    As I see it, a closed beta is not a public release, and therefore not violating the GPL in any way.

    In these situations, making the full source available would not help anybody (1. slower development due to extra hassle, 2. most code is available from original sources anyway, 3. modified code will be in a state of unstable flux). At the point of full release, well, that's a different matter.
  • by tchuladdiass (174342) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @01:50PM (#4291289) Homepage
    Actually, you can sue for what would be a resonable ammount for you to charge for an alternate license. That is, you can license your code under the GPL, but if soneone doesn't want to be bound by it, they can negotiate a seperate license with you (i.e., if they wanted to keep their changes proprietary). Therefore, you could sue for what you would charge for this alternate license, plus treble damages.
  • by JoeBuck (7947) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @01:52PM (#4291305) Homepage

    We don't know whether any actual violation has taken place. However ...

    No Linux distribution can do anything without the C library, which is owned by the FSF; they would have grounds to shut down UnitedLinux totally if, in fact, UL has violated the LGPL. All they have to do is invoke the clause saying that a violator permanantly forfeits rights to distribute the work in question. Without the right to distribute glibc, you can't ship a Linux distribution (unless you want to write your own C library from scratch or try to port one of the BSD C libraries).

  • by nuggz (69912) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @01:53PM (#4291321) Homepage
    The GPL gives you the right to distribute the source and binary to anyone YOU choose, and does not allow anyone to restrict you from doing so.

    If the NDA does not permit them to use the GPL redistribution clause, then they were not provided with the software under the terms of the GPL and hence UnitedLinux was distributed illegally, in violation of copyright law.
  • Re:Ironic... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 19, 2002 @01:57PM (#4291364)
    If they beleive the GPL is invalid, then they beleive they have NO right to distribute the software at all since they are not the copyright holders. The GPL gives them the right to distribute so they have to beleive in its vallidity.
  • by bwt (68845) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @02:05PM (#4291439) Homepage
    You actually have to actually be a company and they have to actually be employees. You can't just pretend you are a company. That is a sham and trying to pull that in front of a judge would not be wise.

    They can't even be "contractors", because the GPL forbids you to distribute to people with additional conditions, which your contract would impose.
  • by MrResistor (120588) <peterahoff@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday September 19, 2002 @02:06PM (#4291444) Homepage
    It is you who are incorrect.

    The only way you can release GPL code under an NDA is if you are the origional author of every single line of the code. Otherwise the origional author can invoke the GPL death penalty, removing all your rights to whatever code they wrote, and thus invalidating your NDA.

    Since UL obviously isn't the origional author of all, most, or likely even a significant amount, of the code in their distro, their NDA can probably be shot down quite easily.

    Do you give the source code for GPL programs to everyone who works for you? Doubt it.

    If you have the employees install the software themselves you are legally required to provide them with source if they request it. If you are installing it and they are merely using it, then you aren't distributing it and there is no requirement for you to provide source.

  • by justins (80659) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @02:09PM (#4291466) Homepage Journal
    SuSE. The distribution that prides itself on a half-baked, closed-source installer and too many installation CDs to count is also a distribution that has no future.

    Of course, it's not actually closed source. Unless your definition of closed source is "not GPL."

    Hint: the yast*src.rpm files have what you seem so worried about. ftp://ftp.suse.com/pub/suse/i386/8.0/suse/zq1/
  • by Frater 219 (1455) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @02:10PM (#4291474) Journal
    All they have to do is invoke the clause saying that a violator permanantly forfeits rights to distribute the work in question.

    I don't see a clause like that in the GPL [fsf.org]. Could you point it out?

    I do see section 4, which says that "[a]ny attempt otherwise to copy, modify, sublicense or distribute the Program is void, and will automatically terminate your rights under this License." However, that provision does not imply that the violator is attainted against receiving a new license ... which is as simple as downloading a new piece of the covered software.

    (In programmatic terms, you need an instance of permission in order to legally redistribute copyrighted works. If you violate GPL, you destroy your instance of permission (and, more importantly, you break the law in so doing). However, just because you destroyed an object doesn't keep you from getting a new object of the same class later on ... and you get a new GPL license with every copy of the software.

    License * foo; /* pointer to a license instance */
    foo = new License(LGPL, glibc); /* get a license */
    foo->violate(); /* implicitly deletes foo */
    foo = new License(LGPL, glibc); /* can still get a new one */

    To summarize: The GPL does not contain any terms which "taint" violators from re-accepting the license in the future, nor which withdraw the offer of future licensing. The GPL's "teeth", basically, are not license revocation but copyright law.

  • by Subcarrier (262294) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @02:16PM (#4291527)
    I've read the GPL a couple times, and have never gotten the perception that it prevented a company from preserving its right to sell a product and not offer Joe Q. Hacker full rights to recompile the source.

    If a company reuses GPLed software written by others, there is no such right in the first place, so it cannot be preserved. The GPL is very clear on this:

    "To protect your rights, we need to make restrictions that forbid anyone to deny you these rights or to ask you to surrender the rights.
    These restrictions translate to certain responsibilities for you if you distribute copies of the software, or if you modify it.

    For example, if you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that you have. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the source code. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights."
  • by fault0 (514452) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @02:24PM (#4291629) Homepage Journal
    > SuSE are not exactly huge supporters of the GPL, what with a non-Free installer and configuration tools.

    But they are heavy contributors in two of the largest free software projects in XFree86 (through Keith Packard, etc) and KDE (Waldo Bastian, Kurt Granroth, etc..) Of course, XFree86 is X11-licensed, and only parts of KDE are GPL, but the point is that SuSE makes many contributions to free software (The GPL doesn't matter here because SuSE doesn't release their installer under a X11 or BSD license either)

    > Wasn't Ransom Love bashing the GPL a few years ago, while at Caldera and saying that the BSD license is better?

    He said that the GPL was bad for buisness, but good for development. I wouldn't doubt that most other CEO's or CFO's would agree with him.
  • by rossz (67331) <ogre@geek b i k e r.net> on Thursday September 19, 2002 @02:24PM (#4291631) Homepage Journal
    SuSE. The distribution that prides itself on a half-baked, closed-source installer and too many installation CDs
    That half-baked installer is the best, easiest to use installer of all the Linux distros. I always recommend SuSE to Linux newbies because of their outstanding installer. Too many CD's? There's a funny argument. They're giving you too much! Stop this evil! What bullshit. Three CD's for the personal version, that includes source code. Seven CD's for the professional version (or a single DVD), again the source code is included. You don't have to spend hours downloading everything if you want to do some kernel bashing.

  • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Thursday September 19, 2002 @02:33PM (#4291725) Homepage
    Er, both Mandrake and SuSE use RPM for package management. I think you are talking about whatever layer they slap on top for resolving dependencies and the like. Mandrake has urpmi (which is free software); SuSE has some new thing for their upcoming distribution (which will probably be non-free, like YaST).

    BTW - if you value package management so highly, why dismiss Conectiva? They're the folk behind apt-rpm.

    (I realize the parent post may have been a troll but if so it was a fairly cogent troll and worth replying to.)
  • by Misch (158807) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @02:41PM (#4291801) Homepage
    They would have to be rewriting from the ground up. And they'd have to rewrite everything.

    *******

    GPL FAQ [gnu.org]

    Q: Does the GPL allow me to distribute a modified or beta version under a nondisclosure agreement?

    A: No. The GPL says that anyone who receives a copy of your version from you has the right to redistribute copies (modified or not) of that version. It does not give you permission to distribute the work on any more restrictive basis.

    ********

    Or, they're distributing their version of Linux without any GPL'ed code in it. That would be kinda like giving someone a goldfish in a tank with a shiny plastic castle in it, except that there is no tank, no water, no goldfish, and no shiny castle inside of it.
  • by deego (587575) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @02:44PM (#4291829)
    From the FAQ [gnu.org] --->

    Does the GPL allow me to distribute a modified or beta version under a nondisclosure agreement?

    No. The GPL says that anyone who receives a copy of your version from you has the right to redistribute copies (modified or not) of that version. It does not give you permission to distribute the work on any more restrictive basis.

  • by deno (814) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @06:08PM (#4293537) Homepage
    Not only that - we are in fact sensible enough to understand that RH isn't a big red devil either. .-)

    These games with closed beta testing, NDAs, and such are really bad, because they hamper the development. I'll leave SuSE in peace this time, but let's recal the Correls mistake:

    1) Take a KDE as it is, then quietly change it in-house, never releasing anything back, and withouth consulting the KDE team.This pisses up the KDE team.
    2) Release the product with "enchanced" version of KDE six months later, and wonder why nobody wants to see your patches anymore, and why the KDE team went on next version of KDE without you.
    3) Look at the cost involved to port all of your changes to next KDE version, and shoot yourself.

    In short, everyone lost. Now:

    * if SuSE and co. want to hide new capabilities of the Yast, more power to them.
    * If they start holding back changes/fixes they implemented on 3-rd party GPLed code in-house, in order to be able to ship better versions of free aplications that anyone else could, then we have a real problem.

    Think I'll let RMS clear this up, in the meantime I believe they are just hiding the new version of Yast, because they feel too embarassed by it. ,-)
  • by swv3752 (187722) <{moc.liamtoh} {ta} {2573vws}> on Thursday September 19, 2002 @07:20PM (#4293918) Homepage Journal
    I'd have modded you down but you are already +5 so...

    Ransom love is the one Linux CEO (or former CEO) that defended Micrsofts FUD attacks on the GPL. [consultingtimes.com] He has routinely put down the GPL. [slashdot.org]

    While I could flog you for your poor grammar and spelling, I am not one to go throwing stones.

    Newsforge like many other "Wathcdog publications" uses whatever pressure they have to get at the "Truth". This what true journalism is about. If someone is hiding something you call them on it. Maybe UnitedLinux has done nothing wrong, but like gary Condit and OJ Simpson, I doubt it.

    About SCO, SCO was bought by Caldera, formerly a part of Novell. So, Caldera absorbed SCO, but was never formerly SCO. And yes, SCO is well known, but many do not have fond meories of it. It ranks right there with HP-UX. It might work well but admining it is a bear.

    It is GNU/Linux, though I sometimes abbreviate it to just Linux.

    Once a troll reaches +5 you do have to respond.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 19, 2002 @09:13PM (#4294538)
    The GPL is not another EULA. An EULA restricts your usage (End *User* License Agreement). The GPL only dictates how the program is redistributed. You can use your GPL'd software however you wish, without ever looking at the GPL. When you wish to redistribute the software, though, you are obligated to comply with the terms.

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