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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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  • Balanced Views (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Letch (551512) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:41AM (#7208039) Journal
    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.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iworm (132527) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:42AM (#7208054)
    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 along and ambush these companies - they CHOSE to make use of GPL software. So tough-titty to them.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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:I'm a zealot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by abe ferlman (205607) <bgtrio@NOSPAm.yahoo.com> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:09AM (#7208343) Homepage Journal
    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 advocates and zealots.

    Unfortunately, the terms "advocate" and "zealot" have been conflated lately on slashdot by pro-Microsoft folks. It's time we start separating them. An advocate is one who vocally supports a position. A zealot is one who loudly ignores contrary evidence. There is a difference, and in this case the zealot is Daniel Lyons, who has not yet to my knowledge issued a correction to his misleading story.
  • 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.

  • by univeralifepadre (582313) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:23AM (#7208488) Homepage
    More to the point, Daniel Lyons is a foaming-at-the-mouth idiot.

    the Free Software Foundation, a Boston-based group that controls the licensing process for Linux and other "free" programs - free, in quotes? like maybe it's not free?

    the $129 device has been a smash hit, selling 400,000 units - well if it's a hit then maybe we shouldn't vigorously defend our copyright, and maybe the RIAA will decide to just leave 55 million Kazaa usera alone

    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 - outragous! why don't you hippies just shut up, let me use your code, and make a lot of money. quit whining about your damn copyright.

    a rare peek into the dark side of the free software movement - let's not forget who's code is being used by whom

    the Free Software Foundation runs a lot of these "enforcement actions." - is that like a terrorist action?

    Progress uses an open source database program distributed under the less onerous Berkeley Software Distribution license - by "less onerous", he means they can just use the code for free without contributing anything back to the community

    the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties--it wants you to burn down your house - yes, you've figured it out. the FSF wants to burn down all houses, it was part of the charter.

    the foundation wants GPL-covered code to creep into commercial products so it can use GPL to force open those products - correct, this was the other reason the FSF was formed, they really wanted to know what made linksys routers tick.

    thanks for the chuckle comrade.
  • Re:Great quote: (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OscarGunther (96736) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:42AM (#7208695) Journal
    And this is precisely why we should go out of our way to read articles that are critical of the open-source community. We need to know what others are thinking, particularly those who oppose open source because of some misguided view of its political underpinnings. We can act like the article's caricature--happy (clueless) proles linking arms and singing the "Internationale" (oh, please)--or we can be aware of how the public perceive us and work to correct those misconceptions.

    The socialist references in the article are particularly telling. Apart from the fact that Linksys and Progress weren't required to use GPL'ed software as the basis for their code, should not cavil at honoring the license the code was released under, and would be more than happy to sue anyone who violated their licenses--apart from all that, I say, is this weird underlying theme that the GPL is offensive to capitalism. Lyons, the article's author, and by extension Forbes magazine seem to take it as a personal affront that someone should choose not to profit from their work. I didn't know that capitalism was a moral mandate; I wasn't aware that I am required to make a profit if I can possibly do so. Silly me, I thought I was free to choose. [amazon.com] This is an odd stance, considering the state science would be in if most scientists weren't willing to share freely the fruits of their researches. Lyons might still be publishing his screeds by painting them on cave walls.

  • Re:Of course! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nullard (541520) <nullprogram@@@voicesinmyhead...cc> 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.
  • 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.
  • by FirmWarez (645119) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:16AM (#7209070)
    Look at the articles: "why you won't be getting a linux pc" "mad Matt", the Linux "bandwagon" and "cult".

    The cult reality is that Forbes is in the American cult of capitalism. Here's a clue for you clueless suits: capitalism is a multi-faceted tool, not a religioin. The "comrade" comment in the mentioned article merely shows that Forbes believes in the cult position that whatever shovels money towards the rich must be right, because gee, that's capitalism.

    What's even more interesting is from uptime.netcraft [netcraft.com]:

    (begine block quote)
    OS, Web Server and Hosting History for www.forbes.com

    OS Server Last changed IP address Netblock Owner

    FreeBSD Apache/1.3.26 (Unix) 19-Jun-2003 63.240.4.179 CERFnet
    unknown Apache/1.3.26 (Unix) 22-Jun-2002 63.240.4.179 CERFnet
    unknown Apache/1.3.20 (Unix) 23-Feb-2002 63.240.4.179 CERFnet
    unknown Apache/1.3.20 (Unix) 14-Feb-2002 63.240.4.200 CERFnet
    FreeBSD Apache/1.3.20 (Unix) 13-Feb-2002 63.240.4.200 CERFnet
    unknown Apache/1.3.20 (Unix) 8-Feb-2002 63.240.4.200 CERFnet
    FreeBSD Apache/1.3.20 (Unix) 7-Feb-2002 63.240.4.200 CERFnet
    unknown Apache/1.3.20 (Unix) 16-Dec-2001 63.240.4.200 CERFnet
    FreeBSD Apache/1.3.20 (Unix) 15-Dec-2001 63.240.4.200 CERFnet
    unknown Apache/1.3.20 (Unix) 24-Oct-2001 63.240.4.200 CERFnet

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

    by ccarr.com (262540) <chris_carrNO@SPAMslashdot.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.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by eric2hill (33085) * <eric&ijack,net> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @11:24AM (#7209966) Homepage

    Most companies would much rather spend a couple million to make the license problem go away then have to release any intellectual property.

    And Linksys can spend far, far less to just rip out linux, and use another OS.

    Let's say Linksys would replace the firmware with code derived from, oh, say BSD or QNX. Specifically, under a license that is not the GPL.

    • Should Linksys /still/ be required to give out the source code to the original firmware since they have products in the marketplace (peoples' homes) that are currently using that software, i.e. with older firmware?
    • If so, then does this parallel the current "hot topic" of conversation where SCO demands payment for linux code even though the offending code has been removed, simply because the code is still in use on unpatched servers?

    I'm serious, this isn't a troll.

  • by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @11:30AM (#7210045) Journal

    The FSF, however, would argue that it's Cisco that are being unethical, by providing software that isn't free.

    I'd disagree. There's nothing unethical about not releasing your source code.

    That body is copylefted, and free (albeit in a "your right to swing your fist ends at my nose" sense.)

    C'mon now. Cisco is not actively hurting the FSF by not releasing source code. Maybe they're passively hurting the FSF, but this is much different from punching someone in the face.

    The FSF is about making software free.

    According to their own particular definition of free. And that's fine, they have a right to that opinion. I just don't think they should be forcing it upon others who are merely using code on which they hold the copyright.

    Legally, they have the right to do what they are doing (maybe, like I said in another thread Cisco might have a First Sale defense). But ethically, I don't think they do have that right.

  • Re:Jealous? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @01:04PM (#7211212) Homepage
    You have a fundemental misunderstading of what science is. Science is an APPROXIMATION based on the currently available evidence and our understanding of it. That "guess" can change as our knowledgebase grows as our understanding changes.

    You are exhibiting what is commonly refered to by fundies as a "faith in science". You blindly accept the conclusions of the day as if they are not subject to change.

    Substances like asbestos and ddt are a clear demonstration of the folly in this sort of thinking.

    Earth is a production system and we don't have a backup.

    Some paranoia regarding the planetary food supply is more than warranted based on the potential unforseen consequences.
  • Re:Quite. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pivo (11957) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @01:07PM (#7211247)
    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."

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