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GNU is Not Unix

The FSF, Linux's Hit Men 1230

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the they'd-had-to-be-called-that dept.
PrimeNumber writes "Forbes has this story about the Free Software Foundation and its quest for Cisco and Broadcom to release the source of GPL'ed linux source used in routers. Forewarning: The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this. However it did help me gain insight into software from a PHB and suit perspective."
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The FSF, Linux's Hit Men

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  • Of course! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Short Circuit (52384)
    Don't they expect us to defend our own IP?
    • Definately not! That is a right reserved for multinationals! God forbid that a bunch of unwashed hackers and their legal thugs could threaten the Good and Honest Coporations working to make the world a better place!

      </sarcasm>
      • Quite. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by BadDoggie (145310) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:18AM (#7209087) Homepage Journal
        Hence my letter to the editor at Forbes, with the headline "One-sided outrage?":
        Where's Mr Lyons' outrage at the Gestapo-like tactics of Micrsoft's and the BSA's software license enforcement? The city of Virginia Beach had to waste the time of 50 employees and ended up paying $129,000 for software they'd already paid for but couldn't match up the paperwork. Microsoft tries for force its resellers to act as their licensing police and turn in their customers who may or may not be fully compliant.

        Closed-source software licenses boil down to "You have no rights to source code, no rights to fix or modify the software in any way, no rights to use the software in any way the licensor doesn't approve of and no rights to incorporate it in any other works. You have no recourse if the software doesn't work and you have no right of first sale."

        In contrast, the GPL boils down to: "Here's the source code. You can use it if you want but then you must make it and your derivatives based on it available to the public. If you don't agree to these terms, you can write the entire code yourself."

        Another firm has been caught stealing software and violating licensing terms but in this case, enforcing the software license is somehow bad. Comrade, indeed. I should just ignore some company stealing and using my code as their own.

        IBM and Oracle, among others, understand how to work on and with Linux. They sell proprietary software which runs on Linux and many other platforms. In order to keep their source code closed, they write much of their own interface code rather than incorporating the work of others which would then force them to open their own under the licensing agreements. At the same time, IBM has more than 100 programmers actively writing open source code for Linux. One division of IBM can't use the work of another division because of the licensing concerns, and IBM has no problem with this. Lyons does, somehow.

        Cisco paid $500 million for Linksys. Which part of the sale gives them the right to ignore all previous contractual obligations? The phrase is "due diligence", and Forbes has had quite a bit to say about this in the past (e.g., http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2000/1030/6612184s1.h tml).

        That Forbes sees fit to publish this sort of irresponsible, Microsoft party-line FUD is the reason I let my subscription lapse a few years ago.

        • Re:Quite. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Erioll (229536) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @11:44AM (#7210260)

          You're right, but you missed one of the most disturbing parts IMO.

          From the article:

          In some ways, these Free Software Foundation "enforcement actions" can be more dangerous than a typical copyright spat, because usually copyright holders seek money--say, royalties on the product that infringing companies are selling. But the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties--it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners.


          This basically means that "It's alright to do whatever you want, and infringe on anybody's stuff, as long as you pay them off at the end. Asking them to stop, or comply with the way the code was released is bad, because nothing should be free." This is disturbing in and of itself.

          Erioll

        • Re:Quite. (Score:3, Interesting)

          by pivo (11957)
          I actually know Dan Lyons personally, I can't believe he wrote this column. I'm going to have to have a talk with him.

          His story should really have been, "Company develops hardware product driven by code they didn't write, and dosen't read the source code licence."
    • Of course they do. It's for the greater good right?

      I love being called a commie before breakfast!
    • by Cesare Ferrari (667973) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:04AM (#7208289) Homepage
      The really odd thing is that the defence of the GPL licence will ultimately benefit companies like Cisco if they played the game correctly. These are commodity items, routers, switches etc. By moving to a GPL software base they reduce cost, risk in producing the software for their products, and then can concentrate on the value added parts. Config tools, reliability etc. For example, take the disputed Linksys router. I would have expected Linksys to have plenty ways of defending their product from competition rather than withholding the GPL updates (design rights, patents, trademarks etc). Ok, so it looks like they have messed up in this case with the way they have written their driver, but that shouldn't cloud the fact that *if* they had correctly written their driver they would be able to keep it proprietry.
      • by Cramer (69040) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:25AM (#7208510) Homepage
        You've obviously never worked with Cisco. Cisco wants to sell you everything. Repeatedly. Look what happened to the guys that ported Linux to a Cat 6500... they now work for Cisco and the code never left the building. If end users could recompile "IOS", Cisco loses a substantial source of income -- even if most people wouldn't know what to do with the source, someone would and that'd be the end of Cisco getting paid for their development. (In my opinion, Cisco has done such a piss poor job of development and testing in recent years, "open source" couldn't do any worse.) Cisco makes great hardware (and always has), however, their software just makes me want to shoot someone -- really, what the f*** are they testing?!

        As a company, "we" once toyed with the idea of loading our own code on Linksys hardware (it's simple really, even before the whole GPL BS.) But that didn't make it past the lawyer(s) :-)

        PS: Cisco is terrified of all the old, "obsolete", "used" hardware floating around. And with all the failed dot-coms, there's tones of it available. Some of it never came out of the box/off the pallet. It might be several years old, but it works perfectly (2500's, 5000's, etc.)
    • Re:Of course! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by GammaTau (636807) <jni@iki.fi> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:08AM (#7208330) Homepage Journal

      Don't they expect us to defend our own IP?

      No, they just hate copyleft. If one goes along with the assumption that "intellectual property" is just like private property in general, copyleft might indeed seem like a communist plot to promote a concept of The United Soviet States of America (or something like that).

      It's one reason why "intellectual property" isn't such a good word. Where I live, there is a rather widely understood word for copyright, patents, trademarks, trade secrets and other similar things. It's immaterial rights and it would be great if it caught on to wider use. Speaking of immaterial rights is rather neutral and doesn't carry any positive or negative payload that I could see.

      • Re:Of course! (Score:3, Insightful)

        Yeah, but.
        Speaking of immaterial rights is rather neutral and doesn't carry any positive or negative payload that I could see.
        It would quickly acquire such a payload. Meanings in language only remain constant for 'dead' languages like Latin, and you can contrive arguments that Latin's mutable, as well.
      • Re:Of course! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by meta-monkey (321000) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:05AM (#7208931) Journal
        Exactly, the whole "Linux is a shadow/communist conspiracy" thing annoyed the heck out of me. I wrote the editor this letter:

        FSF ombudsmen, not "hit men"

        Dear Editor,

        In response to Daniel Lyons' piece, "Linux's Hit Men" dated October 14, 2003, I respectfully disagree with the author's conclusions.

        Lyons seems to take offense that Cisco should be required to release the source code for the router software used in their Linksys wireless router, which was derived from GPL-covered code. When the Linksys engineers sat down to design their product, they had three options for the software. They could either a) license router software from another vendor, like Microsoft, which developed the Windows CE embedded operating system, b) write their own software from scratch, or, c) take advantage of code developed by the open-source community. Since option a) would require them to purchase a license for each router they sold, and thereby eat into their profits, and option b) would surely cost millions of dollars and months if not years of development time, they chose option c), with full knowledge of the requirements of the GPL, which are completely up-front, and in no way "onerous," as Mr. Lyons describes them. Where licensing Windows CE from Microsoft requires you to pay Microsoft money, licensing GPL software requires you to contribute back to the pool of open source software from which you benefited.

        Lyons mentions that: "the $129 device has been a smash hit, selling 400,000 units in the first quarter of this year alone," and then goes on to say that the "the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties--it wants you to burn down your house..." The problem with that conclusion is that Cisco didn't build the house. Their $129 device, of which they have sold 400,000 units of, would have cost much more, and taken much longer to develop and get to market if they hadn't leveraged the free software provided by thousands of volunteers over the past ten years. Is it too much to ask that they make a small contribution of software back to the community, which provided them with software that allowed them to make millions of dollars?

        Finally, I question the author's motives and biases. I wonder how Mr. Lyons would have reported this story if Cisco were distributing Windows CE on their devices, without paying royalties to Microsoft, or failing to abide by the far more restrictive policies in their license? The author states that "For months, in secret, the Free Software Foundation...has been making threats..." when, in fact, it has been widely reported in the technical media that the FSF has made requests for the source code from Cisco. The language of the article makes Linux sound like some of shadow-communist conspiracy. "Linux's Hit Men?" "The dark side of the free software movement?" "Comrade?"

        Some objectivity and a modicum of research, please, Mr. Lyons.
    • Re:Of course! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by NightSpots (682462) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:43AM (#7208703) Homepage
      The problem is that the engineers are deciding that Linux is a great way to save time and money in embedded environments without realizing that the viral nature of the GPL is going to screw their company.

      As the story mentions, the BSD licensed products provide an easy alternative without the licensing issues. It just takes an awareness of the options to realize that using Linux in the first place is a silly idea for commercial products.
    • Re:Of course! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by nullard (541520) <`cc.daehymniseciov' `ta' `margorpllun'> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:51AM (#7208788) Journal
      I sent this to Forbes:

      Lets say that Microsoft had developed some router code that Linksys had

      licensed for a fee. If Linksys distributed their routers using Microsoft's
      software but stopped paying the license fees, Microsoft would sue Linksys
      and Forbes would run an article about Linksys stealing Microsoft's
      intellectual property.

      In the case of the GPL, the "license fee" is sharing your code. When you
      copy GPL code into yours, the copyright holders don't ask for monetary
      compensation, they ask for any changes you make and distribute to be made
      public. That's the cost of using GPL intellectual property. The "free"
      software is not public domain. It is copyrighted software. If a company
      chooses to use this software in their products and refuses to abide by the
      license, they have committed a copyright violation. The offending company
      should face the same penalty for that, no matter who the copyright owner
      is.


      I hope someone reads it.
  • by Kiaser Zohsay (20134) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:30AM (#7207911)
    The last several Forbes articles that even mentioned Linux were just plain old bashing.

    Now, maybe I'll RTFA.
    • by Glass of Water (537481) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:47AM (#7208112) Journal
      No need to RTFA, it's pure FUD.

      A summary, if you like: beware of using this software (which thousands of people have developed and give away for free) because you might have to actually honor the license that comes with the software! Imagine that.

    • by Kiaser Zohsay (20134) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:49AM (#7208138)

      OK, I did RTFA, and it is mostly bashing.

      For months, in secret,

      If LKML, KernelTrap, Slashdot, and Newsforge stories all qualify as secret, that is.

      ... the Free Software Foundation, a Boston-based group that controls the licensing process for Linux and other "free" programs,

      I don't know about "controlling" the licensing. They wrote the license, Linus and various other project maintainers chose to use the license. There is not much "control" to be wielded here. Open is open.

      ...has been making threats to Cisco Systems and Broadcom over a networking router that runs the Linux operating system.

      The first actual statement of fact in the article, even though "threats" might be a bit of a stretch. Moglen was quoted farther down that all of his conversations had been ammicable and that a resolution would probably be reached without going to court. That doesn't sound very threatening.

    • Still worth a read (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nanojath (265940) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:06AM (#7208950) Homepage Journal
      Forewarning: The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this.


      I'd suggest it is very important to read this. I think it's a bit simplistic to say that Forbes is a "Microsoft shill." Rather, Forbes is heavily invested in the status quo of business circa the early 21st century, and is naturally threatened (and apparently not a little confused) by open source and what it represents.


      Anyone who bothers to give it a little thought realizes that in the modern economic system, the wealth of the 5% that own 85% of everything is protected by a business environment where the barriers of entry are too high to permit the appearance of significant competition from below. Every once in a while, emerging technologies can be harnessed to create an Apple or a Microsoft to challenge the more traditional, say, IBM.


      Now, it's plain enough that we among the 95% are largely responsible for all of this wealth getting shuffled around. We do the work, we buy the products. Our retirement plans sit around for 40 years, a nice capital base in the market while the fat cats try to speculate their way to another billion. In general, we aren't able to muster sufficient organization or marshall enough of our resources together to have a conscious, guided effect on these things.


      It's little surprise, then, that Forbes falls back on the rhetoric of Communism and revolution to characterize the Open Source movement, because it represents a similar kind of threat to that system. Labor unions, for example, represent an attempt to collectivize the theoretical power of a group (workers are required for business to be done, workers can choose to see themselves in a collective bargaining position opposite those that own the business) to shift the balance of power between labor and management. Communism represents the attempt to acheive this reordering on the national scale through conventional political means (democratic processes and conquest). Open source has succeeded up to this point by a similar route - harnessing the distributed power of a group of individuals to achieve results normally available only to major players.


      Unlike these things, though, while the Open Source "movement" may be informed by an ideology, the integrity of its product is maintained by an adherence to the strictly capitalist, legal definition of intellectual property. What is truly offensive to the Forbes set is that the grubby horde would have the audacity to coopt one of THEIR legal power tools to create a product that nakedly opposes the dynamics of the status quo.


      The basic argument of this article, if you strip away the snide asides about the irony of those open source commies suing people for violating their I.P. just like regular businessmen, fercryin'outloud, is that by legally defending it's licenses, the Open Source community will discourage people who don't wish to abide by those licenses from adopting software released under them. Uh, yes, that is correct, sir. Businesses which wish to develop proprietary technologies with closed source software should not use GPL code.


      Is Forbes genuinely incapable of understanding that the whole point of Open Source is that it represents a parallel software development strategy that is opposed to the conventional business paradigm of proprietary I.P., or are they engaged in conscious propaganda in defense of the status quo? In the end it doesn't matter, the result is the same. The principle of open source licensed software is a genuine economic threat to the conventional I.P. business paradigm, but it is completely impotent if the licenses are not enforced. So I'd say, don't skip this article - study it carefully and learn the strategy of your oponents.

      • Businesses which wish to develop proprietary technologies with closed source software should not use GPL code.

        Actually, business that wish to develop proprietary technologies without releasing the source can still use GPL code. Take my company, Kiyon, for example. We're making a kernel module that, once installed into Linux, turns an embedded Linux device into an autonomic router that can do some really nifty things.

        Now the only actual GPL-derived code we have is a modification to a driver to add funct

    • by EchoMirage (29419) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:10AM (#7208991)
      Forbes is a Microsoft shill anyway ...so no need to worry about what they say, as all the corporate and business types who read this know this too, and are vividly aware of the licensing fights going on, and are anti-Microsoft themselves, and are vividly aware that Cisco is doing a bad thing and that those poor kids in the FSF are really getting portrayed in a bad light.

      Yeah, real good attitude. Keep ignoring Forbes: it's that mentality that keeps Forbes readers ignoring Linux and free software.

      The free software community really needs to understand that when you're the underdog, you want to ALWAYS be portraying yourself in the best light possible and holding your head up high, even when people take really cheap shots at you. If the free software movement keeps miring itself in the mud and digging in its heels, it's going to continue to have a very difficult time growing.
  • While I disagree with most of the author's conclusions, I can understand how someone steeped in traditional business models would feel that way. However, I hope that enough people can call Forbes on this egregious misdefinition of what code is actually covered by the GPL that they publish a retraction. The article clearly implies that anything you write to run under Linux must be released for free.
    • Under the license, if you distribute GPL software in a product, you must also distribute the software's source code. And not just the GPL code, but also the code for any "derivative works" you've created--even if publishing that code means anyone can now make a knockoff of your product.

      I'm quite stunned at this statement. It's like, you've just gotten a software's source code, someone elses work, to use in your product for free. free. no payment. just you have to hand back what you take.

      Now the bit about
    • The following paragraph in the Forbes article is clearly an attempt at a summary of the GPL:

      Under the license, if you distribute GPL software in a product, you must also distribute the software's source code. And not just the GPL code, but also the code for any "derivative works" you've created--even if publishing that code means anyone can now make a knockoff of your product.

      The first part of that looks fair enough. The second is a combination of oversimplification and hyperbole, but it is no worse

      • by afidel (530433)
        Actually they are mostly right. When you use GPL'd software you are getting that software for free (as in beer), but it does come with some obligations (the "hidden" cost), those include making available free of charge and without further incumberance any changes you have made to the software before releasing it. If your business model is such that secrecy of the OS behind your router is important than GPL'd software is NOT the place to go looking. If you want to make a cheap piece of hardware with minimal
  • Great quote: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Saint Aardvark (159009) * on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:31AM (#7207926) Homepage Journal
    In some ways, these Free Software Foundation "enforcement actions" can be more dangerous than a typical copyright spat, because usually copyright holders seek money--say, royalties on the product that infringing companies are selling. But the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties -- it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners.

    1) Hah! Let's try:

    @companies = ("Microsoft", "IBM", "Oracle", "SCO");

    foreach (@companies) {
    $quote =~ s/Free Software Foundation/$_/g;
    }
    There has been more than one story about Microsoft and IBM using licensing or patent disputes in order to screw competitors. SCO's entire existence seems to depend on wanting you "to burn down your own house". Oracle's in there for completeness. I'm sure there's other examples.

    2) And holy FSOF, since when did complying with the license the software is released under become such an onerous act? When it forbids you to release benchmarks of .NET software (MS)? When it includes clauses saying "If you're in Europe, and you have the right to reverse engineer this software, you explicitly give up that right even though you don't have to" (Synplicity or Matlab, I forget which -- installed recently at work)? Evidently these crack-induced clauses are perfectly acceptable; why, then, does Forbes' writer swallow a camel and strain at a gnat?

    Grr, this is going to bug me all day...

    • Re:Great quote: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rmohr02 (208447)
      And you generally don't have to pay for GPL'd software. The only thing the developer asks for in return is that you release any changes under the same license.

      CISCO knew this requirement, yet they still used Linux for their routers.
      • Re:Great quote: (Score:3, Informative)

        by LostCluster (625375)
        Actually, Cisco's only involvment is that they purchased Linksys who had gotten themselves into this mess. Buying a company and then realizing it didn't own its key IP asset would have to go down as one of the biggest business blunders of the decade.
    • Re:Great quote: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jason Earl (1894) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:56AM (#7208207) Homepage Journal

      Exactly. The reason that Linksys was able to sell 400,000 units is that they stole a jump on their competitors by using Free Software as the base of their product. They didn't write that software and the license that Linux is distributed under is very explicit. Linksys sold nearly a half million units of a product that someone else did the bulk of the work developing and now they want to complain about the terms?

      That's just ridiculous.

      The reason that Cisco is going to settle is that they know that if they didn't settle they would lose,be forced to cough up the source code, and pay damages to boot. They are fortunate that they stole from the FSF and not someone else.

      • I mean, it's hard to get an anti-GPL spin if you make the fundamental correction to the story:

        Aimed at home users, the $129 device has been a smash hit, selling 400,000 units in the first quarter of this year alone.

        But now there's a problem. The Linux software in the router is distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), which the Free Software Foundation created in 1991. That means that the major reason this device was such a hot seller is that it used code stolen from thousands of volunteers

    • by Znork (31774)
      "But the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties -- it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners."

      That line is rather funny. He seems to have missed the point that, in fact, it's NOT Linksys's house. Linksys only built the outhouse, and the FSF wants Linksys to share the outhouse in exchange for Linksys being allowed to use the mansion. Not to mention that Linksys remains entirely free to take their outhouse and remove it from the FSF property, as long as they qu
    • Re:Great quote: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fermion (181285) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:11AM (#7208360) Homepage Journal
      This is real interesting because I would think Forbes would be pro IP. For instance, do they support the RIAA? I guess they do not. Music for all practical intents and purposes is free. If someone buys music, it is out of a respect for laws and various contracts that says we buy goods and services. We have always been able to get music for free, it is just easier now. The fact that music sales have remained as high as they have, in spite of music being freely available, in spite of the RIAA attacking customers and potential customers, in spite of the economy being in such a slump that many people have no money.

      And does Forbes believe in EULA that says you must have a license for each machine or each processor? I guess not. After all, the consequences to businesses for violating these agreements are extreme. A company with several PCs and lacking a single license for the MS software could be a great deal of trouble. And the gestapo tactics of the BSA audits and spy software certainly cannot be good a corporation.

      Many of these adults remind me so much of adolescents who want to pick and choose the rules. The GPL is disclosed up front and a person chooses to use the GPL code or not. If they choose to used it and violate the license, there are consequences, just like any other violation. It is childish to say after the fact that the rules are unfair. The rules were agreed to when the software was used. And unlike some other software or music licenses, there is no element of constraint or duress, and the GPL has no element of unreasonable restrictions of rights.

      The fact is that corporations want others to pay for their worthless products, but refuse the same in return. We have seen this with the RIAA and expensive industry reports. I have seen this with guys make 100K a year but only go to movies when they are free. And we see this know with companies that steal code but complain when others do the same.

    • Re:Great quote: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by martyros (588782)

      And holy FSOF, since when did complying with the license the software is released under become such an onerous act?

      And I like how he talks about the GPL "enforcement" squad as hit men, "snooping" into companies to try to find hidden violations. What about the Business Software Alliance? Don't Oracle and Microsoft do the same thing, looking for illegal copies of their software?

      No one made Linksys or Broadcom use Linux; they were perfectly free to buy someone else's kernel, or to write their own. If the

  • WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Verteiron (224042) * on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:32AM (#7207929) Homepage
    This a very ignorant, poorly-informed article. I find it especially surprising in a magazine like Forbes, which (although I'm not a regular reader) I thought had a reputation for honest writing/reporting.

    The author obviously has no idea what the GPL involves, and demonizes an organization who's concern is to enforce a simple set of rules. Does he think Linksys would get such leniency from the BSA, Microsoft's hitmen?
    • In what way does the author not understand the GPL? I thought it was summarized very well. Or is this post just a troll?
      • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by iworm (132527)
        He seems to understand (or imply) that the GPL is something that sneaked out of the woodwork and crept up on these companies AFTER they had innocently and reasonably taken a lump of code and developed a product with it.

        He does not make clear that these companies would have been completely aware that they were taking an existing software product which, like all others, would have a license attached. Basic due diligence would then mean that the license should be read and complied with.

        The GPL did not come a
    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aborchers (471342) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:44AM (#7208087) Homepage Journal
      Here's what I sent Forbes via their comment function:


      I'd like to be diplomatic, but the tone of this article is just ridiculous.

      Since when is it an onerous act to expect a licensee to comply with the terms of the license? These companies used GPL-protected code and then wanted to balk at the license by not distributing the changes as required. How is that different from a software purchaser deciding it is acceptable to copy and redistribute proprietary software protected by a more "traditional" license?

      While it may be an affront to the proprietary software industry's ways of doing business, the GPL is a sound contract that anyone is free to accept or reject as conditions for use of the protected software. The payment for receiving the "free" GPL software is that modifications must be released back to benefit the public. If that isn't acceptable, then these companies should not use GPL code and should either create or purchase another operating system.

      Spare us the "comrade" and "dark side" nonsense. This is a simple contract dispute based on U.S. copyright law. Your mockery of it reflects poorly on your journalistic credibility.


    • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by _xeno_ (155264) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:21AM (#7208455) Homepage Journal
      Does he think Linksys would get such leniency from the BSA, Microsoft's hitmen?

      Yes, he does:

      In some ways, these Free Software Foundation "enforcement actions" can be more dangerous than a typical copyright spat, because usually copyright holders seek money--say, royalties on the product that infringing companies are selling. But the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties--it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners.
      He thinks that releasing the code is a far worse penalty than having to pay money. And, here's the scary thing: he's right. Most companies would much rather spend a couple million to make the license problem go away then have to release any intellectual property.

      Granted, they should have known what they were getting into before they used the license. Because they are using a product that has a license for use, and they implicitly demonstrate agreement with that license (by distributing the work), then they should follow the terms of that license. It just happens that in this case the terms of the license may require them to do more than they really want to do.

    • My Feedback (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Outland Traveller (12138) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:31AM (#7208573)
      The sour slant of this article and its sympathy towards intellectual property theft does great harm to the integrity of Forbes Magazine.

      The GPL license is very clear and up-front in its terms and conditions, and is far more permissive than traditional copyright licenses. However it does state clearly that if you do not abide by the limited restrictions it does enforce, you cannot distribute the covered work.

      This article, in the face of all reason, appears to suggest that readers should feel sympathy for companies who break copyright law by distributing copyrighted works without ahering to the terms of the copyright license.

      Furthermore, the article goes on to lambast the Free Software Foundation, a non-profit watchdog group, for attempting to enforce its own copyrights.

      The author ludicrously justifies his hostility towards the FSF by stating that the FSF is more "dangerous" than other businesses holding copyrights, because it is insists that violators of its copyright stop distributing its covered works.

      The FSF is also derided for apparantly having a limited budget, as if its limited funds are somehow justification for others to violate its copyrights.

      The FSF are referred to using terms associated with communist propaganda, which add nothing to the intellectual quality of the article.

      The language the article uses appears to make the FSF appear suspicious and nefarious for attempting to come to an amicable resolution with other companies before seeking legal protection.

      Finally, the article ends with the authors opinion that it is a "pity" that companies will settle with the FSF when they are caught distributing covered works without a license, instead of going to court.

      If this is the kind of article one can expect to find in Forbes these days, I don't know how much longer I will be a reader.

  • Joseph Alsop [PersonId=142453], chief executive of Progress...

    What's 'PersonId'? They're keeping track of you :)

    But the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties--it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners.

    I think RMS is a kook, with some fairly questionable ideas, but this sort of imagery does not contribute to the idea of objective journalism.

    • He's number 142453? Man, The Village must have been getting pretty crowded over the last few decades... "I'm not a number! I am a free man!" "Ah-hahahahahaha!"
  • Ahem... (Score:3, Funny)

    by ActiveSX (301342) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:32AM (#7207934) Homepage
    Such a pity, comrade.

    (-1, Troll)
  • It seems to make sense that if you save lots of money by basing your code on GPL code, or modifying GPL code to make things work for your circumstance or customers, then it's only fair that you give back to the community that developed the GPL code in the first place.

    If you don't want to get caught using GPL code and breaking the GPL license, then spend the money to hire the programmers to write new code from scratch.
  • I'm a zealot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wazzzup (172351) <astromac@@@fastmail...fm> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:33AM (#7207947)
    [Forewarning: The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this.]

    I only read what I want to hear and ignore others perspectives, right or wrong.
    • Well, I read it anyway, and it is wrong.

      So, I'm not a zealot ;-)
    • Re:I'm a zealot (Score:3, Interesting)

      by abe ferlman (205607)
      I'm fairly an fsf/linux advocate, but I'll tell you brother, it's not because I close my eyes- it's because they're open, and I'm dying to hear an excuse for Microsoft et. al.'s behavior.

      Got that? I WANT to be told things aren't as bad as they seem. But I won't believe it unless it's credible.

      I think PrimeNumber was foolish to suggest one shouldn't read the article. I agree with your implication that one should read the article. However, I'm concerned that peopel don't know the difference between advo
  • Somewhere right now Stallman is reading this and smacking his head saying "I knew I never should've hired programmers named 'Icepick' and 'Knuckles'!"
  • Maybe I'm crazy, but why is forcing someone to share "the dark side of free software???"

    Furthermore, the FSF isn't demanding damages or money, they're only asking their licence to be obeyed. How is this "worse than commercial" like those clowns at SCO asking for big $$$ for supposed harm?

    They should get a clue. Nobody strapped anybody down and forced them to use free software. And nobody is now trying to enforce some obscure clause in some new way. They are simply asking for the #1 tenet of the GPL to be
    • Furthermore, the FSF isn't demanding damages or money, they're only asking their licence to be obeyed. How is this "worse than commercial" like those clowns at SCO asking for big $$$ for supposed harm?

      Indeed. On one side, we have the FSF saying, "everybody play fair and play by the rules." On the other side, we have proprietary companies saying, "Aha! You were caught! Cough up the protection money!"

      And, yet, somehow, the author of the article seems to think that the FSF's approach is the more onero

  • Daniel Lyons (Score:5, Informative)

    by AsparagusChallenge (611475) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:35AM (#7207969)
    Remember "What SCO wants, SCO gets" [forbes.com]? Same author. Don't expect any love from him.
    • Re:Daniel Lyons (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Marcus Erroneous (11660) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:25AM (#7208517) Homepage
      The original article was interesting enough. Protecting your IP in order to make money is okay, protecting your IP not to make money is not. Then you read "What SCO wants, SCO gets" and you see the same theme. It's okay to sue the pants off of someone in the name of greed, or to attack someone for failing to live up to your licensing agreements when it costs you money, but the upholding of the license on legal grounds without greed as the fundamental motive is unAmerican and wrong? WTF?
      Either a license is legal and a company has the right to enforce the terms that were entered into, or it's not. Either it's okay to rip off someones IP or it's not. The idea that it's okay to rip off someone elses IP if you're going to make a buck is hollow.
      Then again, these guys thought Enron was wonderful. Forbes isn't targeting the type of person that is furthering the world, just themselves. What I find really sad is that the author completely skips over the fact that companies can develop internal applications based on GPLcode then deploy and use them enterprise wide without paying the onerous licensing fees that would normally be required by proprietary software. That would save a lot of businesses a lot of money, improving their margins and boosting profits and bonuses. I don't think that it would really be against Forbes targetted readership to have an article that shows both sides of the issue. If you use it to sell a product based on GPL you have obligations that you don't normally take into account and that you might well decide are too steep for you. That's an informed business decision for you to make. And, that same software deployed internally you can keep to yourself and still save a bundle on licensing costs. Again, another informed business decision.
      It's not outside of Forbe's scope to present a balanced article to help its readership make informed decisions. They miss the point that the GPL is about allowing businesses to have more options in the tools that they use to conduct business. It's all about lowering costs, being more efficient and freeing you to spend less money while keeping more of what you make. And that truly is what business is about.
  • Forewarning: The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this.

    So are you saying we can't deal with negative criticism (even if it's structured like a falling card castle - haven't read the article yet, I don't know).

    Daniel
    • Of course not. All ready, all of the posts about this article have been screaming "TROLL!!" without even reading the fucking article. OSS zealots tend to be a bunch of immature kids.
      • Of course not. All ready, all of the posts about this article have been screaming "TROLL!!" without even reading the fucking article. OSS zealots tend to be a bunch of immature kids.

        Meanwhile, we've got NineNine here making a blanket statement about all the posts, clearly without having read them.

        You can find immature kids everywhere.

        -Rob

  • So it's only okay to use the court system in defense of a monopoly or proprietary information?

    The FSF's attempts to enforce their licensing is fair, not knee-breaking or Communism, as the writer implies. You used the code, you're bound by the license--which is not kind to closed-source business models. Cry me a fuckin' river.

    -Carolyn
  • "Forewarning: The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this."

    How in the world is this useful? The idea that reading something that you might not agree with is "bad" is bad for you is incredible on a site that most people might think is open-minded.

    Please! Read this! If you ask me (which of course noone did, hehe) I'd think everyone here /ought/ to read it just to see the community's reputation from another point of view.

  • Frankly, what did you expect from Forbes magazine? These people looooove closed-source companies making lots of $$$.

    They also do not understand the business benefits of GPL: strong, stable, mature code that is freely modifiable and that will actuall ensure that your competitors will have to share whatever modifications and improvements they make to the code with you.

    This is the basis for much "coopetition" between firms, which has produced some fairly advanced open standards. This is also why IBM is inves
  • Hired enforcer? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Geeky (90998)
    Sometimes it's the other way around--the foundation gets paid by private companies for whom it acts as a sort of hired enforcer

    So to the PHBs at Forbes it's presumably OK for the BSA to act as an enforcer for one type of license but not for the FSF to act as an enforcer for another?

  • Balanced Views (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Letch (551512)
    Forewarning: The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this.

    What a stupid thing to say. How can anyone claim to have a balanced view of an issue if they refuse to read any articles that oppose them?

  • by infiniti99 (219973) <justin@affinix.com> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:42AM (#7208045) Homepage
    They used some code, and now they have to abide by the licensing rules of that code. This is no different than if it were some proprietary code like Windows. I don't understand this "GPL-creep" bullshit, as if these companies are using GPL code by accident. There is no way such code can wind up in your program unintentionally. Anytime you pull code from the internet, check the license. If there is no license mentioned, don't use it! Only use code if it says you can, not because it doesn't say you can't.

    Forbes may be making the FSF look like the bad guys here, but really, what are the alternatives? If this were Windows or some proprietary software, you'd have the BSA breathing down their neck.
  • This is a fine example of journalism with a 'slant'.

    I don't see the Big Deal, Forbes magazine. If these companies didn't want to make their source code open and public, they shouldn't have used GPL'd code.

    Maybe Linksys & company should have used SCO instead of Linux for their devices? ;)

  • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:43AM (#7208076)
    Linux hitmen? The image comes to mind of The Penguin's army of radio-controlled penguins in "Batman 2".
  • Forewarning: The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this.

    Because ya know, we don't ever wanna hear nuthin' bad 'bout our boys, no sir, no sir.

    Whatever happened to "know thy enemy"? Instead of telling people to not read this piece because it has bad things to say about the open source community, why not advocate reading it carefully to pick out the other side's arguments, analyze them, and learn how to counter them when your own boss starts quoting

  • ...

    This might be found interesting in lieu of the comments about free/libre/open-source ness... The Libre Society [libresociety.org]

  • The article is so blind to the truth it's absurd. Yeah, the FSF flexes a little muscle once in a while to rein in companies that violate GPL. Yeah, it's a tough burden to either switch operating systems or release your modified source to the world. Yeah, it would be great for those companies if they could just use GPL'ed code without following any rules.

    The bottom line, however, is that companies that use GPL'ed software are saving millions in development costs they'd otherwise have to swallow. Developing
  • I sent email this morning to the editor on his bias..lets flood the email box..shall we?
  • In Cisco's case, it's even trickier, because the disputed code resides on chips that Linksys buys from Broadcom.

    Well, it's certain Forbes has been led astray. At SOME point that code had to be external and compiled into the kernel before it's loaded into firmware; this article makes it seem like any program run with Linux has to be made open source and freely available.

    The fact is: Linksys saved themselves a whole lot of money by using Linux instead of some commercial OS product to drive their router.
  • This is the same guy who's been calling for an end to government funding of PBS [ajc.com]. He mistated several facts and twisted a few issues and came to the conclusion that PBS is a waste of time and money because they broadcast Barney. Now we ALL hate Barney, but Daniel Lyons is basically an ignorant prick and should be furiously ignored, in the hopes that he'll just go away.
  • by devnullkac (223246) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:49AM (#7208136) Homepage

    Are you worried about Big Brother? Worry about Forbes:

    Joseph Alsop [PersonId=142453], chief executive of Progress...
    Apparently they give everyone a PersonID. Guess they slipped up revealing it this time. I actually subscribe to the magazine; I wonder what my PersonID is.
  • It's all good. The bottom line is that from the beginning the GPL is about playing ball with the corporate, legal world. Instead of just saying screw those guys we're just going to ignore their rules, the GPL is all about playing by the rules and making the rules work.
    I think a similar strategy can work in the P2P mess. People who get their networks scanned by vigilante enforcement agencies need to stand up and resist instead of just playing dumb and ignoring it or pretending to hide. You can just wr
  • by leming (640077) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:50AM (#7208147)
    If you look at other articles that Daniel Lyons has written for Forbes, you will see that this man is more or less anti-free software. He wrote an article [forbes.com] back in June about SCO vs. Linux. In that article he describes linux users as: "like many religious folk, Linux-loving crunchies [are] convinced of their own rightousness..." This is just another article written by a another man who thinks that Linux will go nowhere because it isn't backed by a major corporation starting with an M.

    It's my personal opinion not to read too much into the article, and take it just as it is, an opinion -- someone else's view on what is happening.
  • by Spunk (83964) <sq75b5402@sneakemail.com> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:03AM (#7208275) Homepage
    It isn't the first time he's cheered on SCO [forbes.com]. Here he goes again [forbes.com].
  • by Featureless (599963) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:05AM (#7208294) Journal
    I am surprised and saddened to see what appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding about the GPL in Forbes.

    I am a technology expert with development and management experience, who has used and overseen the use of GPL software in a variety of very large, very recognizable organizations.

    If you choose to use GPL software, the rule is simple and straightforward. You are choosing to take some work for free. The authors gave it away. All they ask is that you, too, give it away.

    The GPL is the legal manifestation of the idea that it is wrong to take free work and sell it.

    If you read some GPL'd work, and then threw it away and wrote something of your own, having taken nothing, you would owe nothing. But if you take this particular work, you must respect the wishes of those who gave it, and add to their collective efforts in the same way.

    The popularity of the GPL is such now that many organizations begin to feel threatend by it. In some few cases, a response to this perceived threat has been a remarkably crafted item of disinformation: that the GPL is "viral."

    This is a beautiful piece of propaganda, because it conveys, with gorgeous sleight of hand, that, like a virus, the GPL infects without your permission, or perhaps even without your knowledge.

    This is a stunning act of deception. From the front lines, with the benefit of over a decade of experience, I can tell that it is unlikely anyone "accidentally" or "unknowingly" takes from this particular pool of free work. One _chooses_ to take it because it's there, it's free, it's been crafted by a community of people without regard for deadlines or profit margins, and because you can fix it yourself if there are problems. You do this only if you find the compromise of giving away any of your changes or improvements on it to be acceptable. Many places do not take this bargain - as well they should not! And many more places find this kind of cooperation is exactly what the doctor ordered.

    If, as a manager, you discovered that GPL code has "appeared" in your program against your wishes, you will never find, in the history of the "Free Software Foundation" any situation where, like SCO, all redress is deemed impossible, and blackmail is demanded. (Indeed, metaphorically speaking, SCO demands it not just from you, but all your customers!) Rather, you will find a patient, polite group of academics and engineers, who are eager to avoid conflict, and happy to let you simply correct your mistake, if that's what it is, by removing the free work from your own.

    And you will find that this is so even when, though the obstinacy, momentum and ignorance of a large organization, some people dabble with the idea of stealing this free work from and then not giving their changes back - breaking the rule.

    There are, as the author points out, many "open source" organizations and licensees that are less restrictive than the GPL, from which an individual or company may choose from in the event that they still wish to get software for free, yet find the GPL rules unsuitable.

    But there is nothing more normal and harmless than the GPL, or the people who enforce it. And I must say, none of their actions do damage to the GPL or its continuing, widespread adoption - in fact, they enhance it, since by making people follow the rules, everyone feels more comfortable in sharing their work. Everyone knows that their contribution won't be simply appropriated by SCO or another unscrupulous party and charged for. Only articles like this, which through what I'm sure are a series of honest misunderstandings, can convey a mistaken impression of how the process works, that might give pause to the concept of sharing labor.

    Thank you for your time.
    • The GPL is the legal manifestation of the idea that it is wrong to take free work and sell it.

      ...

      Only articles like this, which through what I'm sure are a series of honest misunderstandings, can convey a mistaken impression of how the process works...

      Fighting misunderstanding with misunderstanding only perpetuates problems rather than solve them.

      The FSF, and most people who use the GPL, are not against making money (see Tivo), but rather are against the violation of the social contract that the GPL put

  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:11AM (#7208357)
    From the article: "In fact, the Free Software Foundation runs a lot of these "enforcement actions." There are 30 to 40 going on right now, and there were 50 last year, Kuhn says. There have been hundreds since 1991, when the current version of the GPL was published, he says. Tracking down bad guys has become such a big operation that the Free Software Foundation has created a so-called Compliance Lab to snoop out violators and bust them.

    Who pays for this? The 12-employee Free Software Foundation has limited resources. So it seeks donations. And sometimes it collects money from companies it has busted. "

    Gee, sounds just like the BSA, doesn't it? Except that the BSA extorts -- uh -- I mean collects -- hundreds of millions of dollars from companies that are guilty of various software licensing violations. Funny that the FSF is portrayed as evil and communistic for doing the same exact thing as the BSA.

    BSA = Good
    FSF = Bad

    What a moron.

  • Skip reading this? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shaka999 (335100) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:19AM (#7208437)
    Forewarning: The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this

    Does this statement strike anyone else as idiotic? If someone doesn't agree with "the community" we just ignore them? Talk about sticking your head in the sand.
  • Rubbish (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pioneer (71789) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:25AM (#7208508) Homepage
    >The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this. However it did help me gain insight into software from a PHB and suit perspective."

    Rubbish. Absolute rubbish. Whoever wrote this article doesn't understand the first thing about the FSF. Why wouldn't they protect the GPL? You won't have free software if everyone can just use it without contributing back to the source. I don't feel the least bit sorry for these executives. It's clear to everyone that if you use GPL and release a product then you must release derivative works. Come 'on.

  • Here's mine (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ccarr.com (262540) <chris_carr&slashdot,ccarr,com> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:20AM (#7209126) Homepage
    My letter to the editor:
    In his article "Linux's Hit Men", author Daniel Lyons suggests that the Free Software Foundation is somehow wrong to insist that Cisco abide by the license that accompanied the software that they are distributing in some of their routers. He even implies a sinister motive to the FSF's "quiet" handling of the case, as though he would prefer to see them loudly castigating Cisco. In his haste to defend the prerogatives of big business, he neglects to take cognizance of the social contract which makes business transactions possible: in our society, we expect contracts, licenses, and the law to be obeyed.


    Under copyright law, you are not permitted to make copies of another person's work. Period. The General Public License grants others the right to make copies of work distributed under the GPL with the proviso that any derivatives works must also be released under the GPL, with the source code made available to all comers. If you don't accept the GPL, then copyright law controls, and you may not make a copy.

    Such a provision may well be unpalatable to Cisco, but if that's the case, they should not have used GPL'ed code. Cisco is reaping large profits from the volunteer work of thousands of coders, and all they ask is that Cisco share the their improvements.

    Mr. Lyons either misconstrues the GPL, or else he believes that the copyrighted code of small-time volunteer programmers is somehow unworthy of enforcement.
  • Choice tidbits (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheTick (27208) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @01:23PM (#7211449) Homepage Journal

    From the article...

    But the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties--it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners.

    What a horrible analogy, but it does point out the flaw at the root of the article. The article presumes a double-standard: An entity that develops a product using GPL software has a right to reap the benefits of the foregoing development of that software, but has no responsibilities to the users of that software. Clearly this is contrary to the very core of the GPL.

    To try and hammer this idea into the (inflammatory, incorrect, inaccurate) language of the excerpt, someone else laid the foundation, built the walls, and put the roof on. The "house" was never "yours" in the first place.

    The author of the article, Daniel Lyons, concludes:

    So far, none of the Free Software Foundation's targets have decided it is bad for the world and gone to court. This despite the fact that the foundation has $750,000 in the bank and one lawyer who works for free, part time, when he's not teaching classes at Columbia University.

    Will Cisco and Broadcom be the first? Probably they'll decide, like everyone else, that it's cheaper to settle than to fight.

    Such a pity, comrade.

    Whoa! Ad hominem and straw man all in one passage. Way to go, Dan!

    The expense of the legal action is irrelevant if the GPL-abusing entity intends to win, so this is an admission that the GPL is legally sound and has teeth. Win the lawsuit and take the FSF's $750k in damages and legal expenses. I suspect the targets of the FSF settle because they don't have a leg to stand on.

    Here's a message for Forbes: If you think the GPL is bad, tell us why you think it's bad. I'm sure there are plenty of people here prepared to debate you. Don't report that it's bad because companies violate it and get caught. The Chewbacca defense will not save you. (I hope.)

    I've no sympathy at all for the companies mentioned in the article. FSF enforcement of the GPL should not come as a surprise to anyone. If you're basing a company on a project using third-party code, due diligence requires you to understand the terms of the license under which you are using the code. Maybe instead of moaning and groaning (via Forbes) when they get caught with their corporate mitts in the cookie jar, they should either abide by the GPL, find a package with a license the imposes fewer responsibilities, or *gasp* do their own development work and pay for it.

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