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GPL Causing Problems for Derivative Linux Distros 386 386

NewsForge (Also owned by VA) is reporting on a recent discovery by Warren Woodford about how the GPL could affect derivative Linux distributions. This could make life difficult for those small distros that are being maintained by one or two people in their spare time due to the high amount of work it creates. From the article: "Woodford does supply the source code for MEPIS' reconfigured kernel in a Debian source-package. His mistake seems to have been the assumption that, so long as the source code was available somewhere, he did not have to provide it himself if he hadn't modified it. While he has not contacted any other distributions, he suspects that he is far from the only one to make this assumption. 'We, like 10,000 other people, probably, believed we were covered by the safe harbor of having an upstream distribution available online,' Woodford says. 'I think, of the 500 distributions tracked by DistroWatch, probably 450 of them are in trouble right now per this position.'"
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GPL Causing Problems for Derivative Linux Distros

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  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:20PM (#15616621) Homepage Journal
    Remember, this applies equally to kernel hackers as well as people creating derivatives from other GPL software.

    From: mrAngry@snootygits.com
    Subject: I want the source code to your system!

    Polite Reply:
    If you would like the source code you are welcome to have it.
    Please note however that I have only made changes to a few of the thousands of x system source files.

    There are 2 ways that you can have it, the simplest being go to my upstream system writer and download the base code which I used and see the src folder on my FTP/CVS/web server for my own modifications.

    Otherwise I am willing to post you a CD/DVD containing the entire source code (original and my modifications). I cannot unfortunately upload the entire x GB folder since I do not have the bandwidth to spare.
    Please note however, there will be an administration and postage charge of £10 if you require a DVD image.

    have a nice day.

    Anyone making source modifications to a system must have at least one source copy of the original so be respectful but don't waste your time worrying about it.

    • by wpanderson (67273) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:27PM (#15616684)

      I think the primary concern is, what happens to a distro like MEPIS? Do they need to retain a full and publically available source repository for every package in Ubuntu? That could be an administrative and financial drain.

      If an upstream distro has to keep their sources available for all revisions of all packages for three years, surely all a downstream distro has to do is refer to those sources for untainted packages? Is this good enough for the FSF, or are they just going to turn into the bully of the FOSS community?

      • by nocomment (239368) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:31PM (#15616712) Homepage Journal
        Is this good enough for the FSF, or are they just going to turn into the bully of the FOSS community?

        It appears to be the latter.
      • by Doctor Memory (6336) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:33PM (#15616723)
        Do they need to retain a full and publically available source repository for every package in Ubuntu?


        No, just the ones they distribute. Honestly, I don't understand why this is such a big deal. I mean, you had the source when you compiled the system, right? Once you get your release squared away, you do the release build, then zip up a copy of the sources and tuck it away somewhere. If someone wants the source, then you drag it out and make it available. Note that the GPL permits you to charge reasonable fees for making the source available, so go ahead and copy the source CD and ship it off. As long as it's not in some odd-wad format, you should be fine (legally speaking).
        • Darryl first. He will probably want a license fee even if he has never heard of your distribution.
        • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:40PM (#15616775) Homepage Journal
          Exactly my thinking.

          There is no requirement to keep the source code available online to every single release you have ever done, but it makes SENSE to keep it stored away on CD inside a filing cabinet.
          If somebody comes to you in 3 years with a request to the source code, you can return the EXACT code he had from the release he is requesting.

          It is not breaking any clause of the GPL and would infact be a worthy test of a company to produce such data.

          The daytime software I work on is closed source, however we use the same thinking there.
          I can go into our files and produce a CD containing the entire code and packages for every single release of the software we have made since the DOS days.

          To my knowledge however we have only ever required it ONCE. If it were open source, why would I waste the space to keep that online? (there are around 90 release CDs available, each around 400mb)
        • by munpfazy (694689) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @07:36PM (#15617114)
          No, just the ones they distribute. Honestly, I don't
            understand why this is such a big deal.


          Yup. Seems like total nonsense to me.

          Even if he chose to distribute the sources online, the resources required are trivial. A bzip'd source file is rarely much larger than binaries produced from it. We're talking about at most a factor of 2 difference in storage on the server even if he decided to independently place the source to every version of every binary online. And, there are many ways to cut that number down until it's a marginal increase in storage requirements.

          There's no requirement that he distribute the source in an elaborate or easy to use way. Just write something that fetches the source to every used package and tosses them on the server somewhere every time a version is released. Remove the old ones from the server and offer to ship a dvd in exchange for handling costs.

          Better yet, keep an up-to-date local copy and just check it into a cvs server with every release. (That way you only pay to store the diffs and have the source for every release available should anyone want it.)

          If he's right and nobody actually wants or needs to get the source from him, then the additional bandwidth requirements will be tiny. On the other hand, if the added bandwidth *is* important, then it demonstrates that there's a very good reason to require source distribution.

          Personally, I've never used a distro for which source packages aren't available. It seems like such an obvious step that I'd think twice before trusting someone who didn't do so automatically *before* getting a letter from the fsf.
      • by throx (42621) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:38PM (#15616760) Homepage
        I think the primary concern is, what happens to a distro like MEPIS? Do they need to retain a full and publically available source repository for every package in Ubuntu? That could be an administrative and financial drain.


        There is no requirement to have the source instantly available online. It is perfectly acceptable to simply present a written offer of the source code for a nominal handling fee on physical media such as DVD-R. This will eliminate most of the people who just want the code to annoy you rather than do something serious with it.
    • I would agree. About three years ago, I published a couple of glossaries and put them up on the web in Pilot-DB format (an opensource database for the Palm). I fretted so much about makeing sure that the source of the underlying database was available, and have always had a link on the download page to get the source if needed or wanted by anyone.

      In the three years I've made these glossaries available, not once has anyone requested the source. Not once.

    • by Chops (168851) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @09:48PM (#15617689)

      Remember, this applies equally to kernel hackers as well as people creating derivatives from other GPL software.

      From: mrAngry@snootygits.com
      Subject: I want the source code to your system!

      I've been the Mr. Angry in this situation -- I'm not sure if it was a language issue, or why, but instead of telling me "the code is in anonymous cvs from XXX under tag YYY," or sending me a copy, the kernel hacker in question basically told me that he wasn't interested in helping me. It meant that I was stuck unable to make necessary reconfigurations to the only working kernel I could find for my handheld; I was basically stuck with a binary blob that I couldn't modify. I knew that the guy was one of the good guys, but it still really sucked being stuck in a situation that (a) left me unable to use Linux on my handheld, even though someone somewhere had got it working, (b) the GPL was designed to prevent, and (c) was, technically, illegal.


      Anyone making source modifications to a system must have at least one source copy of the original so be respectful but don't waste your time worrying about it.

      For me it was a much greater waste of time not getting the source code; it was such a waste of time that I gave up and shelved my handheld. You may not care about me personally, but you should bear in mind that fulfilling the GPL's conditions is very important, for reasons besides "it's the law."
      • the kernel hacker in question basically told me that he wasn't interested in helping me.
        And who gave you the binary for the kernel? The kernel hacker himself? If not, he's under no obligation to give you the source (at least not by te GPL).
  • Uhhh, you can (Score:3, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:23PM (#15616638) Homepage Journal
    His mistake seems to have been the assumption that, so long as the source code was available somewhere, he did not have to provide it himself if he hadn't modified it.

    It's called passing on an offer to supply source code.. it's a part of the GPL. What a load of shit.
    • that only applies to written offers to supply the source code at cost in physical form.

      most distros operate under the "offering equivalent
      access to copy the source code from the same place counts as
      distribution of the source code" provision which makes no such allowences for redistributors.

      • Re:Uhhh, you can (Score:4, Informative)

        by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:39PM (#15616765) Homepage Journal
        3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:
                a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,
                b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,
                c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

        So if Debian is offering binary packages of something that is under the GPL they MUST be offering a written offer under section (b) and therefore you are clearly free to pass that written offer third parties under section (c). Assuming you're not commercially distributing the work, but this guy probably is, so what's so hard about replacing their name with yours. All this is supposed to encourage you to use section (a) and distribute the source code with the binaries.. why is that so hard?
        • Re:Uhhh, you can (Score:3, Informative)

          by mindstrm (20013)
          No, Debian uses section 3a.

          Having the source downloadable from the same page/location as the binaries, or other "equivalent access" satisifes this obligation.

        • continue reading after the section you quoted

          The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it. For an executable work, complete source code means all the source code for all modules it contains, plus any associated interface definition files, plus the scripts used to control compilation and installation of the executable. However, as a special exception, the source code distributed need not include anything that is normally distributed (in either source or binar
      • that only applies to written offers to supply the source code at cost in physical form.

        The phrase "physical form" does not appear in the relevant section of the GPL, the language there is "on a medium customarily used for software interchange". That extends far beyond physical form; it does require a written offer, however, which may or may not be problematic ("written" can include fixed information in electronic form; whether it does or not in the GPL probably depends on which jurisdiction's law the lice

        • If you're in the US then an electronic version should be good; after all, the federal government ruled that an electronic signature is valid some time ago; so you might have to sign it or something to make it a valid "document" :)
  • by seanadams.com (463190) * on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:23PM (#15616648) Homepage
    Why should the "upstream" or "bigger" distro supplier be obligated to distribute source code for YOUR particular distribution? Of course _somebody_ needs to be responsible for making the source available, otherwise the entire spirit of the GPL is unenforceable...

    It makes sense to me that the person distributing the binaries should be responsible for making source code available for said binaries. That is how the license is written, and it is very straight forward. No surprise here - so what is the complaint?

    Do we really want everyone and their brother shipping their own MyFirstDistro as binary only, just because the sources are individually (hopefully, for the time being) available elsewhere? Is it fair to put that burden on someone else?
    • Why should the "upstream" or "bigger" distro supplier be obligated to distribute source code for YOUR particular distribution?

      Bear in mind that, although not directly related to cases where changes are made, handing out CDs to friends *is also* distribution, but thanks to section 3(c) of the license you are perfectly able to refer them to the "bigger" distro supplier for the source code.

      There are cases where indeed the big fish are required to provide source code hosting for the smaller distributors.
      • Bear in mind that, although not directly related to cases where changes are made, handing out CDs to friends *is also* distribution, but thanks to section 3(c) of the license you are perfectly able to refer them to the "bigger" distro supplier for the source code.

        Actually, technically, that's pretty clearly not right; if the upstream distributor didn't use the written offer option in 3(b), which most don't, you can't use the 3(c) option to pass on that written offer—as 3(c) is expressly limited to

    • It's not just distros, it's ANYONE who distributes the software. Including you! If you burn a copy of SimplyMepis for your friend, then you are obligated to *personally* make the sources available to him. Telling him to download the sources from Mepis just isn't good enough. Or at least that's the way today's interpretation of the GPL reads.
  • GPL? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:24PM (#15616660)
    Wouldn't any license be a headache for a small distro provider? How many packages in an average distro, for a team of 2-3 people to validate compliance on?
    • Re:GPL? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pieroxy (222434)
      Wouldn't any license be a headache for a small distro provider?
      To be fair, I think a BSD license is not a very big burden to anyone, small or big.
  • by Old Man Kensey (5209) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:24PM (#15616664) Homepage
    I seem to recall various incidents in the past few years (a DVR maker comes to mind, though I can't remember which) where commercial products used GPL software unchanged, failed to distribute source (pointing people to the maintainer of the software), and the FSF and community raised a fuss. So I don't understand why this is suddenly such a light-bulb moment.
  • by also-rr (980579) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:25PM (#15616667) Homepage
    ...surprised when their guess as to what is required is not correct. Film at 11.

    Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] has a pretty good plain English translation of the requirements to distribute GPL software.
    • Apparently I am also one of those who did not read the license carefully enough - it's a good job I don't redistribute GPL software.

      These projects may be covered under section 3 (c) of the license:

      (relating to pre-compiled binary distribution)
      c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer
  • by Serveert (102805) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:25PM (#15616669)
    Requirements for being in this police force include an aversion to shaving, showering and doing laundry. Punishment will involve rubbing the face of violators with the dirtiest beard in the police force.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:27PM (#15616680)
    The GPL only requires that one provide the source code if asked, and it is perfectly legal to send it via postal mail for a nominal fee.

    I can't imagine that anyone is actually asking these small Linux distributions to provide the source code for the Linux kernel when it is available for a free download.
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:29PM (#15616700) Homepage

    OK, these "distro makers" are downloading vast amounts of material covered by the GPL for free and then redistributing it for money or advertising. (MEPIS sticks in an Earthlink signup icon, for example.) And then they whine that they have to provide the source for the free stuff they're reselling.

    Even worse, some of these distro makers want you to sign up for a "support contract". If they don't have a repository of the source, their support probably isn't worth much.

    • OK, these "distro makers" are downloading vast amounts of material covered by the GPL for free and then redistributing it for money or advertising.


      This is perfectly acceptable to the GPL, to my understanding.

      The problem arises when someone wants the source and the distro maker does not have the capability of providing it; they are obligated to provide it, even if it's a measly single line patch+original source.
      • Of course it's perfectly acceptable. Parent is only pointing out the irony of making money off someone elses work, then whining that you have to abide by the same rules regarding source that allowed you to have your distribution in the first place.

  • So what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:31PM (#15616709) Homepage Journal
    This could make life difficult for those small distros that are being maintained by one or two people in their spare time due to the high amount of work it creates.

    And who would be affected if these distros stopped being maintained? Nobody in their right mind is going to rely on a software project that is somebody's hobby.

    This doesn't really kill one-man distros, it just means that the one man can't go through the pointless ritual of creating an ISO that nobody actually uses. So big deal. If you want to have fun by creating your very own Linux distro, nobody's stopping you. But if you want to create a distro (or any other open source project) that people will actually use, you have to learn to work with others.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    What about public FTP mirrors (such as run by many universities) that distribute binary packages/CD images/...? Do they have special agreements with the projects they mirror? Otherwise I guess they have to provide the source for any version they ever distributed for a period of three years too.
  • by drDugan (219551) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:34PM (#15616733) Homepage
    I'm not an expert on this ... but

    I thought the point of the GPL was to encourage people to share and reuse code. Enforcing that EACH person who reuses code also shares it themselves is counter to this intention. The effect will be less reuse and less sharing overall. Obviously someone has to make it available, and when and upstream provider stops doing so, everyone else would have to pick up the slack. ... but enforcing this is actually counter to the intent of the GPL as far as I can see.

    • I thought the point of the GPL was to encourage people to share and reuse code. Enforcing that EACH person who reuses code also shares it themselves is counter to this intention.

      Quite an oxymoron.

      If the point is to share AND reuse, why enforcing sharing along with reusing is against sharing and reusing?

    • by Jussi K. Kojootti (646145) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @02:47AM (#15619029)
      Imagine this: A hobbyist builds a really nice piece of PVR software, GPLs it and offers it for download. A large company then takes the code, packages it and starts selling in the millions. When people ask the company for source, they just point to the hobbyist web page.

      Does it sound reasonable to you that upstream pays for the bandwidth after they have already given the product out for free?

  • by Ethan Allison (904983) * <slashdot@neonstream.us> on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:36PM (#15616747) Homepage
    Why don't we completely rewrite the kernel from scratch and license it under something else?

    Wait, I've heard that idea before somewhere...
  • this is typical sensational journalism. Who exactly are they in trouble with? Is someone going to sue them? Of course not! No one cares if somebody packages up a linux and distributes it to 3 people.
  • At a reasonable price. My billable rate is CAD$78/hr. Minimum 3 hour callout, plus materials, and shipping.

    HTH, HAND
  • by MarkByers (770551) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:50PM (#15616823) Homepage Journal
    If someone comes up to you and demands the source code rudely, you can politely tell them to fetch the code from the same place you got it from. You can send source files for anything you have changed or added.

    The angry user cannot legally sue you since they do not own the rights to the source code. The chances are the original programmer won't try to sue you either. They would have nothing to gain by doing so, unless you are making tons of money from your distribution (and if so, you can afford to mirror the entire source code). As long as you are reasonable you should be fine.

    Just relax, and get on with making the next version.
  • by gvc (167165) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:51PM (#15616833)
    Warren has made his own problems. I tried Mepis in 2004 and quite liked it. I used it for more than a year and installed it on several people's machines. However, I will not use it any more.

    My reasons are several, but one of the top ones is murky licensing.

    No doubt somebody from the MEPIS community will loudly declare that licensing is not a problem. If this is the case, exactly how can I get the source to build myself a MEPIS distro?

    There has been considerable bad blood in the MEPIS community and former community. I am not a member of any faction. I have done my share to contribute. [uwaterloo.ca] I simply tried to get my questions answered and MEPIS and Warren came up short. His many rants -- the one cited in the story is one of many over the last three years -- further convince me that I was right to walk away.

    MEPIS is because is non-standard. Warren repeatedly warns against upgrading packages from the standard Debian repositories. There is no upgrade path from one version of MEPIS to the next. There appears to be a very weak mechanism for collecting community know-how as to how to configure the system to "just work" on a particular platform.
    • Take what it gives. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by twitter (104583) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @10:33PM (#15617910) Homepage Journal

      There is no upgrade path from one version of MEPIS to the next.

      Well, that's what happens when you mix in non free stuff like Macromedia flash, Real Player, Nvidia drivers, NDis wrappers, Vonage clients, etc. Non free is brittle. It might be less brittle than the Windoze world, but it will never be as easy as the free world.

      Free packages in Mepis upgrade with about as much grace as you can expect. Just last week, I upgraded Kontact from a 2003 edition to Etch. This worked out OK through apt-get outside of X. It got all the KDE goodies, xorg and other dependencies and just worked when it was done. There was one hang up, but the system itself told me what magic phrase to type.

      There appears to be a very weak mechanism for collecting community know-how as to how to configure the system to "just work" on a particular platform.

      Nuts. Mepis is one of the easiest distributions to install. If it works off the CD, it will work off your hard drive and Mepis works with more hardware than anything else I've ever tried.

      Mepis is still a great distribution to install for someone when you don't want to spend a lot of time. It demonstrates what free software can do. The problems it has are the problems of non free software in general and those rear their head far less often on a Mepis system than they do on less free platforms. In short, don't give up a useful tool just because one person says some stupid things.

      Warren can and will fix this little source code problem and this little non issue will fade away without trace. The chances are that some co operative solution will be easiest. Distributions which use the same package unmodified can get together to share the cost and expense of keeping the source code available.

  • I'm not buying it. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mindstrm (20013)
    There is no safe harbour....

    If you are re-distributiong non-commercially, without modification, upstream source is fine (which makes sense)

    If you are modifying anything, including doing your own custom kernel, then you must provide source. Providing the source alongside the downloads, granting equivalent access to it, satisifes your obligation under the GPL to provide source. The day you stop offering downloads, you can stop offering the source as well.

  • Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by glwtta (532858) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @06:54PM (#15616853) Homepage
    This could make life difficult for those small distros that are being maintained by one or two people in their spare time

    That's a very good thing - there needs to be a lot less "small distros maintained by one or two people in their spare time". These SDMBORTPITSTs aren't helping anyone: if you want to roll your own linux for some itch you want to scratch - more power to you; but there's no need to call it a distro and pretend that you are going to maintain it for more than 2 months.

  • GPL section 3c seems to offer the solution:

    3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following: [...] c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with su

    • That is, if you're giving the stuff away, it's good enough to simply point them back to the original source you used to fetch the code

      That's true if and only if you originally received a object/executable distribution with a written offer of source code under 3(b); if you received source code under 3(a), either as part of the package with the object/executable or provided from the same source as a separate, optional downloaded, you haven't received a written offer under 3(b), and can't yourself pass on t

      • That's correct. But if your "distribution" consists of a little bit of customized stuff (which you provide the source for), and a pile of binary packages you fetched from somewhere else, AND if you're giving it away...
        • Then you still have to provide the full source code for everything you are distributing, changed or not, unless the upstream distributor used the option in 3(b), which almost no major Linux distro does. Now, maybe that's not the way the license should be, but its the way the license is.
  • I'm a hobbyist mod-maker for the ~10yo FPS game Marathon [bungie.org], the engine for which is now GPL'd, spawning the Aleph One [bungie.org] project. I've got a near-total conversion mod in progress right now (don't worry about the "near" part, the original game content is also free game [bungie.org] for such purposes now), and for the ease of my potential players, I'd really like to include the application program, renamed and with a custom icon (as has been traditional practice for Marathon mod-makers of the pre-Aleph days), in my download. S
    • So including the app with my mod would mean players just download and go, no other downloads or installation necessary.

      Fine. You can go along with it.

      I can't do that without distributing all the source, including that for my modifications. Nevermind how to distribute what little I modified in "source"; I renamed the files in the Finder and copied some icon graphics into the app package, what's the source to that? Nevermind that I couldn't code my way out of "hello world"; even if I wanted to ship a c

  • The concerns the article expresses are valid but a bit overblown. Yes, distros have to offer source code. Yes, that means for all packages even if you only modify a few. The FSF has a point, that's the only way to insure the source for your distro is available if the upstream moves to newer versions that aren't compatible with your stuff. But there's several ways to handle this without much trouble:

    1. Offer source directly with the binaries. Including the source on CDs/DVDs along with binaries merely require
  • by EQ (28372) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @07:27PM (#15617061) Homepage Journal
    Not a troll, nor flamebait - just "hacking" the 'reasonable' clause and cost in the GPL.

    Hypothetical:

    Say I make (ast an hourly rate of my annual salary) $50 an hour. Not unresaonable for a consultant.

    I am distributing a baby distro and I do the source via DVD and postal request since I cannot afford a lot of bandwidth.

    Figure it takes me 20 minutes to process the request, type up the label, grab the latest from my repository and DL the rest fromthe upstream, burn a DVD, and put it in a protective mailer package. And other 20 to go to the post office and 20 to come back (assume I'm in a rural area outside the suburbs). So thats and our of my time. Add in that this is essentially overtime in addition to my real job, so I bill it at time and a half. Thats $75 baseline in cost.

    Add in the postage ($8 or whatever the USPS "Priority Mail" rate is), the mileage and gas on the car to go to the post office, the CD cost (including mileage on the car and gas and time to go buy them, plus wear and tear amortization on my CD burner), cost of the bandwidth, etc.

    So all in all:

    "Yes, you can have the whole source tree from my upstream and the 2K of diffs I have added - the reasonable cost for this source is $94.37 per CD"

    Is that the right answer?

    Every penny of it is documented and accounted for. Every bit of it is involved with the cost in materiels and time that it takes to prepare and ship the source. My software is free, my time is not. If you think otherwise, go ahead and put yourself down as a slave who will work for free at the demands of people that use the software you donated - is that the intend of the GPL, to enslave authors to the whims of the recipients of their gifts?

    Again: Not a troll, nor flamebait - just "hacking" the 'reasonable cost' clause in the GPL.

    Who decides what is reasonable?

    Does the GPL give someone the right to dictate to the person releasing the software what they can and cannot do with their time? Think about it.

    If not, then how do you overcome the situation above, where the GPL seems to imply that you have to release the whole of the code, including upstreams, not just your diffs, especially where releasing the whole of the upstream is cumbersome or onerous - and the response ($94.37 per DVD) is likewise.

    Personally, I never looked at it this way before - the only thing I've released as open source (long ago) has been under the BSD license just to avoid the entanglements the GPL requires. And that only to be able to avoid warranty that Public Domain doenst expressly mention.
    • Sounds reasonable to me. Include a printed invoice (bill at say $.20 for the paper) that details this, and you are covered. If you get too many, state it will be 2-4 weeks for deliver, and make a bunch at once, saving costs, and pass it on. Reasonable means just that--is it reasonable for someone maintaining a baby distro to charge more for the labor of a physical copy? Yes. Is it reasonable for Redhat to charge the same amount? No, simply due to volume.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @10:46PM (#15617972)
      Regrettably, I find your cost analysis unreasonable.

      $50/hr is unreasonably low. When I consulted, I charged $60 and that was some time ago. Of course, you said you're rural area, so good congratulations getting $50/hr.

      Stop double-billing. You're not consulting now, you're administering a GPL distribution. 20 minutes to process a source request? Come on. Maybe 5 minutes to type/write the address label, assuming no SASE. What else is there to process? Do the ISO burn while you do the envelope. Need to build the ISO from CVS? Do that during dinner. Car expenses and travel time to the Post Office? Put it in the nearest mailbox while about your paying business-done. $5 at a rate of $60/hr. Maybe add $1 for the CD and postage. Get it out within two weeks or four if you're on vacation and who could complain?

      By adjusting the materials rate to cover the CD, packaging, and postage appropriately, and by billing at the rate at which you are accustomed, you are making money servicing source requests at your preferred rate and more or less at a time of your partial choosing.

      Not every commercial action is necessarily profitable. For-profit businesses occasionally lose money on a job.

      Nobody is enslaving you. You offered source at a reasonable cost upon request when you chose to distribute software under the GPL. It is a gift that can require additional giving, but if you find this giving onerous why distribute under the GPL?

      Presumably you found value in some GPL software, including but not limited to this software. Your analysis doesn't consider the benefits you have received in advance of making your gift.

      Of course, the point is probably largely moot. When has anyone ever said they were actually overwhelmed by servicing source requests associated with a GPL distribution?

      Priority mail should be at the requester's option and complete expense and only if possible with your schedule.

      I don't take your comment as flamebait, and I hope this isn't taken as a flame but as another view of your cost analysis.
    • by wrook (134116) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @10:57PM (#15618035) Homepage
      I suspect the answer to your question would be determined in roughly this fashion:

      1. You charge $X for redistributing the source
      2. Your customer thinks it's unreasonable and they make a stink
      3. The holder of the copyright of the code notices (or is contacted) and they also agree it is unreasonable
      4. The holder of the copyright contacts you and suggests that you should lower your price otherwise you will be in violation of the license
      5. You hold steadfast to your price
      6. The holder of the copyright terminates your right to distribute the software
      7. You ignore this and continue to distribute the software
      8. The holder of the copyright sues you
      9. The judge asks you under what authority you were distributing the software
      10. You have a choice of accepting the GPL or admitting that you don't have any authority to distribute the software. Since you actually have no choice, you say the GPL.
      11. The judge determines whether or not the price is "reasonable". But I suspect that he/she would lean heavily in favour of the copyright holder's definition unless it were completely bonkers.

      So, it's a long road to get to this point and quite likely you would resolve the situation before it ever got to the courts. And it would require several conversations with the copyright holder before it broke down that badly.

      This is what makes the GPL so good.
    • Say I make (ast an hourly rate of my annual salary) $50 an hour. Not unresaonable for a consultant.

      I am distributing a baby distro and I do the source via DVD and postal request since I cannot afford a lot of bandwidth.


      Sir, if you're making $50 an hour, you certainly can afford the bandwidth.

      "Yes, you can have the whole source tree from my upstream and the 2K of diffs I have added - the reasonable cost for this source is $94.37 per CD"

      Is that the right answer?


      Maybe choose instead to bother with it in the ev
    • Not a troll, nor flamebait - just "hacking" the 'reasonable' clause and cost in the GPL.
      Maybe it would help to notice that the word "reasonable" does not appear in this section of the GPL. It says "a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution". So you don't need to be prepared to convince the judge it's "reasonable," you just have to be prepared to convince the judge it is your cost.
  • by MavEtJu (241979) <slashdot@@@mavetju...org> on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @08:12PM (#15617275) Homepage
    People working on the FreeBSD Ports Collection have had this discussion too with regarding to re-distributed RPMs for for example the linux Userland emulators.

    At the end they decided just to download the original SRPMS and make them available at the FreeBSD ftp sites too, just to get out of the hassle of it.
  • patch files? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by corychristison (951993) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @08:20PM (#15617316)
    I know this is a little late in the discussion, but I did a quick search on the page and couldn't find anything about patch files.

    Would this affect any small source-based distro's that use patches on top of the original source files? [sort of like Gentoo, 'cept they aren't small]

    Lately I've been thinking about building a small distro based on Gentoo or even just "roll your own" for my self. If I intend on releasing it to the public [I am still uncertain] would patch sets be the easiest route if I were to need to actually modify any code[it will be a source-based distro]?
    • Re:patch files? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tony Hoyle (11698)
      Yes.

      Patches contain parts of the original source therefore the patch is covered by GPL too.

      Of course this means that distribution of patches is pointless.. you have to distribute the source *anyway* or you'll have the FSF on your back.
  • why is it so hard? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by noldrin (635339) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @08:59PM (#15617485)
    Don't people read and make sure they understand a license before they start distributing software under it? Just copy the source file from the original distro and post them on your FTP site. You could set up a script to do this while you sleep at night. The distro I use, BLAG [blagblagblag.org], which is only a couple people seems to have no problem with being a derivative of fedora and offering the source in both individual SRPMs and ISOs.
  • by starseeker (141897) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @09:12PM (#15617527) Homepage
    Does the FSF have the power to insist on this for software they don't have copyright on (like, IIRC, the vast majority or even all of the Linux Kernel?)

    If they request the source code to a GPL package, and the author ignores them, what option do they have? I imagine the original copyright holder(s) would have an action as the original author(s) but I fail to see what standing the FSF has unless they are a copyright holder.

    This is an honest question - I don't know how this aspect of law (copyright law, maybe some other laws sneak in?) would actually work. What are the limits?

    Of course, the linux distro that isn't chock full of GNU tools is a rare bird indeed...
    • The FSF can only take someone to court over GPL violations when it's a piece of software that they hold the copyright for. The GPL is your license to copy, provided you do what it says. If you don't do what it says, then you have no license, and if you copy anyhow, then you are infringing copyright. Only the copyright holder has standing to take you to court for infringement. But of course, anybody can write you a complaining email.

      There's an important legal difference between licenses like the GPL a

  • by martinultima (832468) <martinultima@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @11:41PM (#15618208) Homepage Journal
    I happen to be a distro maintainer myself – yes, I know, I say that every single post, but at least now it actually is relevant – and I'll admit, up until recently I didn't distribute any of the source code either. But starting with the latest release, I've done no less than three whole discs of nothing but source – it's really not that hard to do, honestly.

    (If you're wondering, it had nothing to do with the FSF or GPL zealots; I've been working on doing an AMD64 port of my system, and that meant I had to move away from simply pulling pre-existing x86 binaries and actually start building the source myself. Honestly, it actually seems to be working a lot better this way.)

    Just in case any other would-be distribution maintainers are reading this, I may as well offer some advice – I've just put together a set of three ISO images containing the complete source code, as well as build scripts, etc. to automate the compile process. You really just have to know how to distribute it. As far as my distro's concerned, I don't actually distribute the ISO images or CD's myself – all the downloads, etc. go through MadTux.org [madtux.org], who not only host everything at no cost to me, but they also donate some of the money from monthly CD sales to me to continue development, pay for Web hosting, etc. So get someone like them to help with the hard part (actually distributing everything) and once that's out of the way, you should be fine.

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