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GNU is Not Unix

GPL To Be Tested In Court? 380

KevinReichard to plug the interview on his site with Eben Moglen. "The general counsel to the Free Software Foundation tells us that the GPL may be tested as early as this summer, as the FSF debates whether to sue a major software house over violations to the GPL. The lawsuit, if it takes place, would be the first major test of the GPL in court. Obviously the legal status of the GPL is a prime issue to the Open Source and Free Software communities. "
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GPL to be Tested in Court?

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  • It may be legal to break the GPL, but it's gonna raise quite a ruckus, seeing how 'hot' linux is these days...
  • If UCITA can enforce all those crappy agreements that big software makers force on us, why can we not use that same LAW to protect GPL'd software.

    Maybe they could. IANAL but maybe it's possible. If it were me calling the shots though I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't use a horrible law to protect even my own interests. It would be too much like PETA's recent idiocy, where they sue somebody for putting up a peta site that mocks them, while at the same time mocking mcdonalds with a similar site. To use the law to help us, and then to turn around and attack it (as I hope people will continue to do) is kinda low.

  • The point was that the original poster bashed
    the GPL on a moral basis, which he has no
    right to.
    It is the original authors choice of license,
    which others must respect.

    However.. this doesn't mean that I'm saying that
    the GPL is enforceable.
    I'm arguing the morals behind the license, not
    the legality.

    Personally I feel it would be a tragedy if
    all GPL-software suddenly became public domain,
    even though I think that if the GPL doesn't hold
    up, it would be illegal to distribute GPL-software at all.
    But IANAL, so I won't argue about the legal side,
    only the intention.
  • Yes, but the question is whether or not the code can be 'UN-GPLed'.
    Nobody disputes the author's right to redistribution under whatever terms he wants, as often as he wants.... but he cannot revoke his initial GPL on his code.
    Of course, he can simply take it off his project website.. though nothing would prevent anyone with GPL'd versions from continuing.
  • those who use Napster legally are significant

    Really!?! Though I know plenty of people who use Napster, I don't know even one who uses it legally in the sense that they aren't doing anything illegal with it (as opposed to the sense that, since it's free, merely using it is legal).


  • It could for this reason. If I give you something under the terms of a licence that is declared null and void, then you get to keep it. Period. I cannot 'take it back' becouse the licence was invalid. Now part of what I gave you was the source.

    While this doesn't remove the actual rights from the author, it does invalidate some of them for that particular licence.

    Basically, who the hell knows what'll happen..
  • I find it amusing that many of the same people who try to justify Napster get all up in arms over the idea that the GPL might not get held up. It's OK to send Lars' music around the net, but even hint that Microsoft might be able to repackage the vast amount of GPLed code out there and profit from it without releasing changes to the community and everyone flips out. Not so funny when it's happening to you, is it?

    No, it's not OK to send Lars' music around the 'Net - but it's OK for Napster to facilitate it. Napster's not the one trading Metallica MP3s, Napster's users are - and without Napster's (official) knowledge or approval. Napster's copyright policy is here [].


  • Nobody disputes the author's right to redistribution under whatever terms he wants, as often as he wants.... but he cannot revoke his initial GPL on his code.

    No, he cannot revoke the original GPL.

    He can, however, incorporate in into a private codebase without any concerns, particularly without infecting the rest of the codebase.

  • When the thread goes to press, I shall have to have the editor s/justify Napster/justify (music piracy through) Napster/
  • IMO, the GPL is slightly less `real' than most other shrink-wrap licenses (and that's really what the GPL is, in most cases. Of course, the GPL only goes into effect when you use or modify the software, not just when you open the `box'..). You (usually) don't click any `accept' button before installing the software. Certainly, the GPL comes with your software, but you usually don't get prompted to accept or reject it.

    Where this gets interesting is in the area of DVDs. The movie industry expects consumers to use licensed players to play those movies. However, there is no contract of any sort with the consumer stating that they are required to do so. So, if the worst happens, and the GPL is struck down, we at least know that the DVD industry is way out of line by trying to enforce invisible contracts..
    Stop the MPAA []
  • It's easy to say that you're not being a hypocrite when you can choose your own terms. On the other hand, becoming angry because a law is being broken (information could still be "free" without the GPL) while at the same time you claim that you have no respect for the rule of law could be considered hypocritical.

    And even if it shouldn't, it's too late now.

    This seems to sum up the intellectual defense of every would-be Napster defender.

    If you distribute electrons AT ALL, they WILL be copied. You might as well change your business model to accomodate that.

    Then we could just en-masse trade any software we like Napster style and then just claim that it's too late to do anything about it. There's nothing really wrong with that since information wants to be free. While you're at it come download my extensive collection of OCR scanned books. Remember, there's nothing wrong since it's just information.

    You see, music copyrights are about money and control. The GPL is about neither of these.

    This has got to be the most ignorant statement I've heard all day. It's still early, though.


  • Revocation of the GPL does not invalidate the copyright. Just means the license to distribute is not valid. At that point, FSF could temporarily restrict all distribution of its copyrighted work until a new, more secure license can be established.
  • It is incredible that the GPL has been around for such a long time and yet has never been tested in court. Although i do not doubt the power of the license to stand in court, it surprises me everyone has taken this power for granted without any sort of legal reassurance from a court case.

    Does anyone here honestly think the GPL won't stand up in court, though???

  • It wouldn't surprise me if it was Abit. There are quite a number of people getting pissed off at their refusal to follow the GPL with their distro (I think it was first pointed out a few months ago, and still the company won't correct it).
  • First Monday had an excellent article by Eben Moglen, FSF's general counsel who was interviewed in the Linux Planet article mentioned above. It's called " Anarchism Triumphant: Free Software and the Death of Copyright []". It's written a bit in lawyerese, but it's reassuring to see the guy responsible for litigating all this actually has a clue. It discusses why the some of the arguments for and against IP are invalid -- even describing adherents as "IPdroids" and "Econodwarfs" ;) A quote from the article:

    Section 2(b) of the GPL is sometimes called "restrictive," but its intention is liberating. It creates a commons, to which anyone may add but from which no one may subtract. Because of 2(b), each contributor to a GPL'd project is assured that she, and all other users, will be able to run, modify and redistribute the program indefinitely, that source code will always be available, and that, unlike commercial software, its longevity cannot be limited by the contingencies of the marketplace or the decisions of future developers. This "inheritance" of the GPL has sometimes been criticized as an example of the free software movement's anti-commercial bias. Nothing could be further from the truth. The effect of 2(b) is to make commercial distributors of free software better competitors against proprietary software businesses.

    He then goes on to quote the Halloween memo! Hilarious.

  • The article doesn't seem to reveal the identity of the "major software house" but it's probably good to have a test case.

    Let's not assume that the "major software house" is our enemy. (I can see you didn't) It is not unheard of for the ACLU, for example, to deliberately bring a 'friendly test case' with the cooperation of both plaintiff and defendant when it wants to establish a point of law or strike down an unconstitutional law.

    This is often necessary because the ACLU does not have 'standing' (direct involvement) and the courts are set up to administer justice in actual cases, not to pontificate on philosophical issues.

    However, that does not mean that the case will not be vigorously argued by both sides. A test case is of little use if it doesn't
  • ...which leads to the question, if all the Open licenses are found to be invalid under US law, how big a disaster is that? Can the Free/OS Software community limp along with all code in the Dreaded Public Domain, or do we pack up and go home?
  • by Amphigory ( 2375 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @06:52AM (#976126) Homepage
    I see a lot of people here missing the point of the GPL.

    Under copyright law, by default you can NOT redistribute a copyrighted piece of information. And all information is copyrighted for the first hundred years or so after it is created. Those little bloopers on videotapes are totally unnecessary (except possibly that they remove the defense through ignorance): you have no rights to redistribute BY DEFAULT.

    However, you can redistribute a copyrighted piece of information if you have a license to do so. The GPL gives you a license to do this. If the GPL is ruled invalid (which I regard as highly improbable) then the situation reverts to normal: that is, no redistribution allowed.

    The beauty of the GPL is that, unlike most licenses, it places no restrictions on what you can do except redistribute. And this is where copyright law is most clearly on the side of the GPL. In fact, redistribution is the only thing really covered under copyright law. Standard software licenses try to use copyright's restriction on redistribution to force a lot of other things down your throat (e.g. no reverse engineering) -- as such, they might be challenged on the grounds that they are unreasonable. But the core principle of copyright law is that an author has the right to restrict distribution of his work. As such, I just can't see a successful challenge to the core of the GPL.


  • My understanding is the BSD allows derivative works to be copyrighted and distributed as closed source in binary only.

    While the GPL requires it to remain open and be provided with source. You can charge to distribute it on physical media(CD, DVD, floppy, etc), but it must be available for download.

    Aside from the downloading part, this is correct. One example of a company that is affected by this restriction is Apple: they'd love to include gnutar as part of Mac OS X, but if it's released as part of the operating system (as opposed to just being bundled as an extra utility), they'd have to release the whole OS as GPL, which they don't want to do. So, Apple Legal says no GNU code in the main OS, because of the GPL.


  • Non-sequitur: "This has got to be the most ignorant statement I've heard all day. It's still early, though."

    This literally "does not follow" from anything. It is irrelevant even if true.

    I don't think you know what a non sequitur is, nor how to spell it.

    My "argument" was not ad hominem because it's not an argument.

    Your "argument" was that 1. The law shouldn't be respected because it can't protect against illegal use of information, and 2. The law regarding the GPL should be respected by others apparently since it supports your beliefs.

    This is not only ad hominem, but could be credibly described as hypocritical by some people.


  • The notion of privity in this article is a curious one. If the GPL's infectious nature is found untenable under the argument concerning lack of privity, what effect does this have on other software licenses? Does this mean that if I find an open box of Win2K or Office2K, I am free to read the CD and load DLLs and other components into my product as long as I wasn't privy to the original purchaser's agreement to the shrinkwrap EULA or install the software and agree to the installer EULA? Maybe a copy of Visual Cafe from a used software store and a developer make a better example.

    Woah. Seems to me that there are a lot of closed software interests that would prefer not to face such an argument, even if it ultimately doesn't hold up.

    my $0.02
  • They really DO want to eliminate any form of information sharing on the Internet. Napster, SuperPimpSoft, etc should all gang up and file a restraint of trade lawsuit against the RIAA. IANAL, but you've got a good argument for restraint of trade, using the legal system for the purposes of harassment, abuse of the copyright system and... hmm too bad you can't sue people for being assholes... Until we start hitting back, they're going to keep trying to push us around.

    I don't recall seeing anything about that on my usual news channels, and it warrants a story. And other news readers have offered the exact same functionality for years. Over 5 years ago, a friend gave me a perl script that snarfed uuencoded files off of Usenet (Excellent for snarfing that live goat porn.) Will the RIAA sue Tom Christensen next, because perl can be used to decode Usenet binaries?

  • If you have a piece of code with no license attached to it, you can do whatever you want with it.

    Not at all. The 1980 Software Copyright Act specifically says what you can and cannot do with copyrighted software, license or no. Among the things you cannot do are distribute copies or derivative works without a license.

    Steven E. Ehrbar
  • The 'Internet Death Penalty' smacks of illegal Racketeering.

    It's only racketeering if what you are proposing to do is illegal. To voluntarily boycott is perfectly legal. This tactic has been used numerous times against ISPs that for failures of ommission -- to wit failing to take vigorous steps against spammers.

    Several times ISPS such as UUNET have engaged in some legal chest thumping, only to crawl back with their tail between their legs once the IDP deadline rolled up.

    I see Geeks all over the net picketing outside the head offices of backbone providers, because they've been
    thrown off for being anarchistic disruptors.

    That would be kind of like firing all the auto mechanics because they tend to get greasy.
  • Nope, no go. The GPL specifically states that you have to distribute the source in machine readable form. Further the source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it, also explicitly stated in the GPL. Good luck trying to convince a court that the preferred form of making modifications to a C program is on paper in Swahili.

    The GPL is, like, you know, written by some rather intelligent and jaded individuals.
  • Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    The difference with Ghostscript is that there the author explicitly makes it a condition of accepting patches into the main tree that the patches' authors must sign over the right to use those patches in the closed-source commercial version, an if the patches' authors wanted the patch to only go into a fork of the gpled version, then there's nothing Alladin could do about it. This is not an example of a general doctrine, and others who don't negotiate for such permission cannot unilaterally and retroactively claim it.
  • Loading the software into RAM is copying and not fair use

    Incorrect. The 1980 Software Copyright Act specifically gives you that right.

    Steven E. Ehrbar
  • Hey, can't I just, say, set up some shady Fly-By-Night-Software, make some trivial program violating the GPL (ON PURPOSE) then have the FSF sue me. Being amicable to the FSF, I'll hire some dumb clueless lawyer and lose the suit. But I suppose that is illegal :o

    * SuperMake, closed derivate of Gnu Make, now released! Get your copy for only 5 bucks! *
  • Ahem. Signing your work as a programmer to the GPL does not reduce your rights to that work, whereas signing your work as a programmer to your company DOES.

    What's key, though, is if you GPL'd and released your code(legally) first, and then later your company or some company you started working for wanted to integrate your code in a manner that caused even you to lose your rights over the code, that'd actually be doable. You can renounce your claim over your own code if you like--the GPL doesn't make you, though.

    However, even if you have no rights over your code, everyone else who you GPL'd that code to does.

    This isn't too complex of a concept, I don't think?

  • I do not understand why the lawyers make a distinction between these two end-user agreements

    Simple. The GPL Adds to your normal rights by giving you the option to do certain things with the source code, whereas the other agreement seeks to limit the rights you might reasonably expect to have when you buy something.

    The word 'option' is important because if you don't like the GPL, you can decide not to exercise your options under the GPL, you just get the software under the law's 'default copyright settings'- ie no rights to make derivative works, etc.

    - Andy R.

  • In the first place, I have to ask if there are any specific individuals who are doing this, or are you simply making the assumption that Slashdot poster ergo pro Napster et pro GPL?

    I personally have seen at least one post where it was explicitly said that copyright was immoral because it restricted free speech, but GPL should be upheld as a matter of human rghts.

    Personally, I don't buy your claim that they are unrelated. Either you believe that people have the right to some say on what is done with their intellectual work (copyright, GPL, whatever) or you don't and people can do whatever they want, closed source, open source, free, paid, whatever with your work if you release it to even one other person. Personally, I support intellectual property rights, but if you don't, expect to hack and be hacked, don't claim that the limits you want to put on your work are moral, but someone else's aren't.

    -Kahuna Burger

  • I'm aware of the LGPL. But that doesn't answer my question: How is linking to dynamic libraries inside of the GPL's self-declared scope?

  • by Veteran ( 203989 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @06:14AM (#976168)
    From a strategic standpoint it is probably a better idea to go after a weak company than a strong one. Most lawyers will admit that in a court of law money is power; in unarmed one on one combat an elephant is a lot harder to beat than a cockroach.

    Insurance companies and banks have more or less perfected this strategy: go after someone who can't possibly win so that you establish legal precedent. Judges are hesitant to overturn an existing precedent. It is this strategy which has established the lopsided world in which we live, in which the effect of the law is slanted toward those who have money. While the law is meant to be fair; the reality of "money equals power" means that most of the time the law rules in favor of the wealthy.

    An example can illustrate how lopsided things are: when was the last time that you heard of an employee writing an employment contract and getting a company to sign it? If both employees and employers were in equal bargaining positions half of all employment contracts would be written by the employees. But in fact, all of the employment contracts of which I am aware are dictated by the employers and are non negotiable; "Sign this or don't work". Such lopsided conditions exist because being in the right in a court of law hardly matters; what counts is who wins and who loses - why they lose doesn't matter.

    Lawyers are people who simply don't understand right and wrong: that is why everything has to be written down for them.

    If we are out to establish a legal precedent for the GPL the best strategy is crush a cockroach, not punch an elephant.

  • There is no problem updating the GPL to fix loopholes, because almost all GPL'ed code is specifically licensed under 'Version X or later'...

    This is correct in substance (good work!), but I feel I should clarify the details, because they are not all good. First let's look at the relevant section of the license:

    8. ... this License incorporates the limitation as if written in the body of this License.

    9. The Free Software Foundation may publish revised and/or new versions of the General Public License from time to time. Such new versions will be similar in spirit to the present version, but may differ in detail to address new problems or concerns.

    Each version is given a distinguishing version number. If the Program specifies a version number of this License which applies to it and "any later version", you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that version or of any later version published by the Free Software Foundation. If the Program does not specify a version number of this License, you may choose any version ever published by the Free Software Foundation.

    Firstly, an 'unspecified' GPL opens up the software to the loopholes in all versions of GPL. Why was this done? Probably as a protection against one or more versions being struck down or interpreted to limit 'openness'. It is not entirely clear whether a free license may be revoked (invalidated for an individual product) by the author, since 'valuable consideration' (value recieved for value granted) is not specified, aside fraom a general intent of helping Free Software. Under general contract law, a contract with no valuable consideration may be later voided at the choice of the granting party - or sometimes either party. 'Goodwill' may or may not be 'valuable consideration' depending on the circumstances (usually, "did the party reasonably expect direct presonal gain as a result of this goodwill" - getting "laid or paid", not warm fuzzies)

    Secondly, the license does not say 'the latest version' of GPL, but 'any later version' according to the user's choice - and the most likely reason for creating a v4 or v3.1 is to address loopholes in v3. Let us not forget that a corporation could also be a 'user' of the source.

    The general wording in GPL encourages propagation of loopholes. Why? Because copyleft is itself a sort of 'loophole' in current 'normal' copyright use. Open software is best served by granting many rights and secondarily served by invoking a few carefull chosen restrictions. I think the FSF chose wisely in this case, but it was a devil's choice between keeping the primary source open (no matter what happens in court) and keeping all derivatives open forever.

    This is just one reason (of several) why little in the GPL is clearly "no problem". Compromises were made. Good ones, but blind ones, in the absense of court rulings. A court ruling could be very specific to the case, or could begin to give us the information we need to start crafting a better license (but no single case will probably suffice, certainly not the first. Judges can be wary of untrodden turf -- if they see it as such -- most judges *don't* want to make precedent.)
  • If lawyers think that a piece of legal text is invalid, they challenge it. If they think it's valid, they advise their clients to comply with it. The reason the FSF hasn't gone to court yet is because most lawyers think it's probably valid, and those who think otherwise haven't been willing to bet on it.

  • But can you reapply a license to software that's already been released under a license? I think that is probably the biggest worry here. Not, can we fix it if there's a problem, but what will happen to everything that's been released already.

    This isn't as much of a problem as you might think. Most of the software that's released under the GPL includes the clause that the software may be licensed under version whatever of the GPL or, at the licencee's option, any later version. That means that if problems are found in the GPL in a way that makes it invalid, the software should revert to standard copyright (i.e. copying forbidden). Then the FSF only has to release a new version of the GPL that fixes whatever was wrong before and everything is OK again.

    Now there's a whole load of courts in the US alone, and what one of them says is not necessarily picked up by others. Plus, for any given loophole discovered by the court, a patch could be developed. If the court declares the whole concept of GPL invalid, it's another matter. But how on earth can it do that?
  • . how the hell one can steal something that is supposedly completely free ( as in freedom )?

    And have you stopped beating your wife? You are begging the question.

    The GPL is of course NOT COMPLETELY FREE otherwise it would be public domain. It restricts the freedom of the recipient in so far as necessary to enforce the golden rule -- do unto others as I have done to you, at least as far as this particular piece of software is concerned.

    In fact, any software which is "licensed" is by your definition "not completely free". BSD is not completely free. Your freedom is restricted in that you can't use the name of the developers to promote your product and you agree not to sue the author if the software has bugs.

    GPL functions in essense as an agreement between the author and people who want to make derivative works. If you take something of value from somebody, under the terms of an agreement, then deliberately fail to fulfill your part of the agreement, then most people would consider that theft.

    There is a kind of self referential loop in the logic of GPL. The reasoning I described assumes the existence of proprietary rights in software. However the GNU-ish position is that there should be no proprietary (in the sense of restricted and secret) software. They are essentially using what from their position is a bug in the legal system to prevent future thefts -- not from themselves, but from indirect recipients of software who have a right to source code. This position, while an apprent contradition, is morally consistent because it "takes away" a "right" which the recipient in actuality does not actually have to begin with.

    The people who take a strong ideological position favoring BSD style licenses over GPL seem to take a third position, which is that proprietary software is kind of like cheating on your wife -- it's wrong, but its only a matter between the parties directly involved. In this position, GPL, because it takes the freedom to make proprietary forks away, is in itself a form of theft.

    It is important to realize that people can and do use licenses without endorising the ideologies of the license's creators and/or backers (who themselves don't necessarily have the same position; I doubt the CA board of regents has a moral position against GPL). Companies that can and do release proprietary software also release GPL'd software because GPL provides a safer way to place the software in the public's hands than "public domain". In that case, violation of GPL is a violation of the terms in which they let you use their IP, and is perfectly consistent.

  • by / ( 33804 )
    The GPL is binding upon the distributor, not the consumer, and so is "more real" in that its legal effect occurs even before the consumer opens the box. The consumer can do whatever he wants with the code once he gets it, as long as he doesn't distribute it an a manner inconsistent with the GPL. Therefore, your analogy to DVDs is invalid on this basis, although other analogies may still be made.
  • 1) Court is avoided. Life returns to normal.

    2) GPL is upheld. Life returns to normal but with a little added secure feeling about the GPL.

    3) GPL is NOT upheld. Then what? Does RMS have a contingency plan? Does all released GPL'd code revert to the public domain? To the BSD license? Does the FSF write a new GPL (GNGPL "GPL2 is Not GPL")?
  • O.K, so what happens if the FSF goto court and the GPL is officially declared a load of unenforcable rubbish? What sort of possition will the FSF (And most of our favourite peices of software) be in then?

    Although i see no reason why the GPL isn't as legal as a click-thru or a shrink wrap license, i believe a fair few EULA's have been laughed out of court in the past. The American legal system has always amazed me, i just hope this time it doesn't do anything daft.
  • This matters to whom are the Authors. If you write code that your company pays you to write, then the Company owns the code. So I would say the Company is actually the Author and not you. That's a stretch, so let me rephrase it. The company owns the code, and lets get rid of the word Author.

    If you write code on your own time and have no silly contracts with your company. You can publish it under GPL and still use it for any close source version as well. Since you own the code you can do what you want. But once you release that code under GPL, you can't go back and tell those that have it, that it is nolonger GPL and to pay a royalty. The contract is already made, and must be abide by you. If you later want to take your code and make it commercial, it is perfectly fine to do so. But what is out in GPL is always in GPL if not neccessarily mantained by you.

    If the company you work for releases the code you write under GPL (under company dollars), the company can later release it under their own license.

    What can't be done, is if you incorporate someone's patches and then use that update for your non-GPL version. You can't do that unless you get permission from the owner (better word than author) to use it in your closed-source version. So when someone gives a patch, that is like a new contract, and you have to abide by it as well as those that use your code.

    This thread makes more sense if you replace the word "Author" with "Owner".

    Steven Rostedt
  • Let's leave aside the confusion of who is using what fallacy

    Hey now. You're the one who started that.

    No, the law should be not-respected because it is WRONG.


    Plus, as an added bonus, it is unenforceable.


    Example ... pollution futures ... environmentalists ... buy ... permits

    How is it that you get from ignoring laws that you don't like to environmentalists doing something which is completely legal in order to stifle activities that they don't like? I don't see the connection at all.


  • by dorzak ( 142233 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {kazrod}> on Monday June 26, 2000 @04:51AM (#976200) Journal
    My understanding is the BSD allows derivative works to be copyrighted and distributed as closed source in binary only.

    While the GPL requires it to remain open and be provided with source. You can charge to distribute it on physical media(CD, DVD, floppy, etc), but it must be available for download.

    As broadband becomes more prevalent the requirement that it be available for download could be the most constraining to most companies. Most people still get their "free" OS via physical media such as a CD. That preserves a revenue stream for those companies. However if you can download and make your own cd in less than an hour, why drive to the store to buy it?

    The GPL is a good thing, but whether or not it stands up to court is entirely another. The GPL is a license that you don't have to physically sign. If it loses on that basis, online privacy may still win in the long run, at the expense of "free" software.

    I use "free" in brackets to represent free as in freedom

  • by RingTailedLemur ( 184300 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @04:52AM (#976201)
    On the contrary. If the GPL is struck down, and people still have their act together, the GPL will adjust, heal and evolve into something better and stronger. A test is a great opportunity to see if something is broken, and then fix it if it is.

  • You see, music copyrights are about money and control. The GPL is about neither of these.

    The GPL isn't about control? Hmm. I see more control inherent in the GPL vs. the BSD licence.

    On another note...

    I would say music copyrights aren't about money, they're about economics. It's a fundamental argument of scarcity: there is a limited amount of skill & talent in the world to produce good music/books/software, so it should be governed by economic means. That implies a marketplace with sound notions of property.

    We need to re-think IP law in terms of accepting the reality of easy copying while guaranteeing that the free market can continue to function -- i.e. an artist can receive guaranteed remuneration for their work if he or she so chooses. Encryption is probably the only option here.

    As for referring to all intellectual works as "data", yes, that's fundamentally its nature, all music/software is really just bits, but you're removing it from context. Anything removed from its context is inherently worthless or meaningless. It's not just data, it's data arranged in a specific configuration that is valuable to people. It also so happens that not too many people can configure data as well as others, hence we can (and should) pay money for it.

    IP law needs to be reformed, not removed.
  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @04:52AM (#976209) Homepage Journal
    The article doesn't seem to reveal the identity of the "major software house" but it's probably good to have a test case. If the GPL is to be given teeth via being held up in court, it is best to do so during a low-profile case. That way, a few years from now when Microsoft Linux is released, the FSF won't be pioneering testing the legality of the GPL at the same time it is battling its biggest foe.
  • through community norms, like the Internet Death Penalty?

    Here is the most interesting quote:

    Even so, copyleft no doubt carries some moral force in the on-line community. It therefore serves as an example of a non-binding, informal norm in cyberspace. ... In short, the notice is aimed at the perpetuation and enforcement of a norm that holds some force in this community, and it is therefore worth mentioning in a catalogue of rights in digital content.

    Is it feasible for the online community to self organize in such a way to effectively enforce its norms through extra-legal means? Would the community have enough clout in the software world, using a combination of more suasion, voluntary boycotting (including e-mail and packet filtering), and contracting/recruiting hassles, to outweight the benefits of stealing?

    I for one would not work for a company that misused GPL'd code, nor would I contract with them; not because I'm particularly a GPL fanatic, but because it shows bad faith,and a willingness to freeload off the work of others.

  • That's the whole point of the GPL: it says not to do anything bad. You see, if the software is in the public domain, then anyone can use it, modify it, repackage it &c. Were Linux PD, M$ could release change the source in a few places, release M$ Linux and charge $100 for it, all while ensuring that their proprietary changes break ordinary Linux kernels. suits would love this: `M$ Linux--see, it has to be better than that weird RodHut, um RidHot, um RedHat thingy!'

    The GPL can be a nuisance sometimes, it's true. But so can anything else. The GPL serves its purpose admirably well: to ensure that ones code remains free and unfettered. It does not exist to make programmer's lives easier. The BSD makes a programmer's life easier, but it does not preserve the freedom of the software-as-a-whole (obviously the original software remains free). One chooses the license which one wants.

  • > If the GPL is struck down, and people still have their act together, the GPL will adjust, heal and evolve into something better and stronger.

    Which is why it is important to use the or higher when you specify what version of the GPL you are releasing under. Otherwise you would legally be obligated to seek the permission of all contributors before you could start pedaling it under version 3.0 or whatever.

    OTOH, that or higher worries me somewhat. Who's to say what GPL 9.3 will say?

  • My suspicion is that the "major software house" is a Linux distributor, and that KDE [or bits thereof] is the infringing application.

    It certainly fits with Alan Cox's recent comments on linux-kernel [].

  • The GPL states (section 5):

    You are not required to accept this License, since you have not signed it. However, nothing else grants you permission to modify or distribute the Program or its derivative works. These actions are prohibited by law if you do not accept this License. Therefore, by modifying or distributing the Program (or any work based on the Program), you indicate your acceptance of this License to do so, and all its terms and conditions for copying, distributing or modifying the Program or works based on it.

    The first sentence seems to be saying that the GPL is not a contract, and the rest says "So what? You still have to follow the rules."

    If this argument made by the GPL is found invalid, then it still seems to be true that someone who wants to copy or modify GPLed code does not have the permission of the copyright holder to make such modification. So if the GPL is invalid, that would mean that it's not legal to copy or modify GPL code at all, not (as fantasized by some GPL opponents) that GPLed code would become public domain.

  • Simply for the reason that, as it says in the article, it'll require some kind of changes to the existing laws in place to deal with either copyright or contracts. I can't see that this is going to help the GPL's case any - it's likely that a judge will go for the soft option and rule it invalid.

    Of course this all depends on the exact circumstances of the case, which are being kept under wraps at the moment, and what happens if it goes to court. But the FSF will most likely try to avoid court altogether - since at present the GPL's legality is ambiguous a large portion of its effectiveness comes from its "moral" force, something that will mean less if the GPL is ruled invalid.

    Jon E. Erikson
  • Hmmm. Interesting clarification, much appreciated.

    Still, authors can ALWAYS move their own code into private distribution.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    In the past, GPL enforcement has been by the masses. I suspect that any company not in compliance with the GPL would get hacked big time. Slashdotted, then servers down, then a virus, then a boycott. There is no wisdon in a software company standing on the backs of the culture that created the internet while spitting on them.
  • No, it's not OK to send Lars' music around the 'Net - but it's OK for Napster to facilitate it. Napster's not the one trading Metallica MP3s, Napster's users are - and without Napster's (official) knowledge or approval. Napster's copyright policy is here.

    Not to be picky but hasn't the RIAA or whoever introduced evidence that Napster's entire business plan was based on people using its software to get music illegally? And that they adjusted some protocols (logins etc) to apeal more to that purpose? If we're talking ethics and not just law here, I consider that more significant than a "wink wink, nudge nudge" copyright policy. Napster isn't just a "tool" its a venture funded company with a plan.

    Digression: I once had a catalogue of "everyone is out to get you but our books and tools will help you get them first" kinda urban commando stuff. The bit I will always remember from it is the "executive letter opener" and "executive ice scraper." The ad copy for the "letter opener" drooled over the sharp edge you could put on them and the fact that they wouldn't show up at all on metal detectors. Then for the ice scraper, it talked about how "we don't know of any law against carrying an ice scraper - and this one is made of the same high quality material as the Executive letter opener." And just in case no one got the hint, it goes on to say "WARNING! Do not ever hit anyone with the Executive Ice Scraper! It will cause an extremely nasty gash requiring up to 17 stitches to close!"

    Far as I'm concerned, Napster is just an Executive Ice Scraper. Legally they may get off scot free, but if we're talking "bad and good" please don't insult my inteligence by pretending its just a neutral tool that some people have unexpectedly chosen to use for piracy.

    -Kahuna Burger

  • by MartinG ( 52587 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @04:58AM (#976239) Homepage Journal
    I think it depends what "not upheld" means.

    If seems to me that if some part(s) of the GNU GPL is contradicted on court, that will NOT mean that everyone if suddenly free to do what they like with GPL code. (see the small part of the GNU GPL at the end of my post)

    If however the GPL is somehow rejected in whole (I don't see how though) then it might be an entirely different story.

    "If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues), conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute the Program at all."

  • "If the GPL is ruled invalid (which I regard as highly improbable) then the situation reverts to normal: that is, no redistribution allowed."

    Wrong, sorry. I still have permission from the author to redistribute the software.

    This case will not be about the right of the author to grant permission to users to redistribute his work. That one's a no brainer. I rather suspect that it will be about some vague or controversial clause. Like linking a GPL library to a non-GPL program, or whether the GPL applies to third parties, or whether the GPL is a contract or a permission statement, etc.
  • by volsung ( 378 )
    Actually, RMS points out over and over that there is a difference between the Free Software and Open Source "movements". Usually, that is what makes people annoyed, not the other way around.

  • That being said, I am not a lawyer (but I play one on TV) but I find it difficult to believe that the GPL wouldn't be solid. As it only grants you rights you don't have under current law, if you don't agree to the obligations set forth in the GPL, you are still morally bound by the more restrictive requirements of Copyright law. You can still use the code for your own use, but if you distribute your changes, you're opening yourself up for a copyright lawsuit.

    IANAL, but a friend of mine is a law student. Now let's get on with it.

    I think that the issue is not the direct terms and obligations for you when you accept the GPL and use GPL software that others have written. Those terms are merely additional rights as you say, given under certain circumstances.

    What is more troublesome and is the big legal question is the whole relicensing system - when you have made changes to the software and want to give it away to a third party, is that party obliged to accept the GPL because you had to accept the GPL to recieve the code in the first place? The GPL clearly says so, but it may not be so simple in the eyes of the law.

    "Contract inheritance" isn't something that is easily taken upon. Remember first sale on books: Although the author always has and always will have the copyright on the book, issuing some sort of contract inside the book cover saying that "by bying this book you agree to never resell it for less than [insert price]" was deemed illegal. Issuing a form of software contract (including the GPL), restricting further transfer in the means of keeping that license applied to the product and it's relicensing for ever may be very, very close to this.

  • Please name one non sequitur in my argument. And while you're at it you could explain how your argument is not ad hominem.
  • Well, no, specifically I'm thinking of RPM and other RHAT-authored software. But still, intangibles count. When you sell a trademark, you are expected to transfer the goodwill associated with it. You can't sell a trademark and then go telling everyone "It's just a name, I'm still in the same business and still providing the same service."
  • Not true.

    You can change the GPL all you want. You can then distribute your own software (that you have copyright on) under your MyGPL.

    What you cannot do is change it and claim that your version is the license under which the software was distributed.

  • Your quote, while interesting, doesn't really apply. It sounds like it was intended to guard against things like the following hypothetical example:

    Company A gives Company B some code C under an NDA. B puts C into software S under the GPL and releases it. A sues B to make them stop releasing the source code. If the court agrees with A, the your snippet says "A can't stop releasing just the source code, they have to stop releasing EVERYTHING".

    But if the court rules against some portion of the GPL ITSELF, then the meaning "satisfy...your obligations under this License" will change depending on what part was ruled against. In other words that snippet may not keep GPL'd code safe in the event of a negative court ruling.
  • The key here is that nothing but the GPL grants me the right to distribute a derivative work.

    Three buts:

    1) If the GPL is not a contract, then can a permission be tied to a condition? Or even more esoteric, does one have to agree to a permission?

    2) Linking to a library is not derivation under copyright law. Yet the FSF claims that it is.

    3) Copyright law gives me a couple of exceptions that allow me to redistribute parts of copyrighted works under special circumstances.
  • See, GPL allows you to do things that otherwise would be considered copyrigt infringement. Suppose GPL is struck down. What happens with you, the customer? You've left with a piece of code with no license attached to it. You can use it as is, or throw it away, but you can't make a copy or modify it. So if you want to make copies, you download the new version under a fixed license.

    Unless of course the court decides that provisions of GPL that allow you to make copies remain intact, while nullifying your obligations. I however don't believe it can be done.

  • I'm not talking about in-house code. I'm asking about non-GPL software that does runtime linking to GPL functions which are not distributed with the non-GPL product. Listening to anyone here gives the impression that this is a big no-no. But the best I can tell, the GPL washes its own hands of this issue.

    This is actually my only real gripe about the GPL; it screws with the end user by not allowing all the software on his system to use common libraries if the user chooses to use non-GPL software. But if that's not an issue, cheers.

    claim that the very action of running software is actually 'copying' it into RAM

    Of course that's just silly. If they want to get picky about that then it's easy enough to credibly claim that it's the kernel that does the copying when client software requests a library service. Besides, the GPL specifically disclaims the issue of running software.


  • Public domain is the most free of all the licenses. No encumberment at all.
    This is conceptually identical to "Anarchy is the most free of all forms of government." While it is superficially true, in practice, anarchy almost always leads to totalitarianism as the strongest and most ruthless take control of the situation. Putting all your source code into the public domain means that corporations will, effectively, take it away from you.
  • when the licensee frustrates the licensor's expectation of zero profits under the contract,

    Oh, Redhat has an expectation of zero profits? Not at all. They expect that externalities of the freedom of the GPL will result in large profits. If someone attacks the freedom of GPL'ed software, they attack Redhat's profits directly.


  • The question of whether or not the GPL is a contract seems to be a major part of this article. You can correct me if I am wrong (politely please!), but I thought for a contract to be enforceable, there has to be an element of "consideration". In other words, the contract must involve a two-way exchange in order for it to be valid - for example, a contract for the sale of goods involves one party supplying the other with the goods, in return for consideration (in this case money) from the other party. The wording and spirit of the GPL doesn't seem to include any consideration, since it is a one-way process - the software author gives her code to the world providing they follow her wishes with regard to keeping the source open. It is questionable whether the author gains any financial value from users respecting her wishes, so I don't think there is any consideration involved and hence it is unlikely that the GPL constitutes a contract.

    I think the important issue is that the author of the GPL'ed software always owns the copyright to her work (unless she gives the copyright away or dies). The GPL is a means by which the author of the software effectively relaxes the copyright on her code and gives up some of her statutory rights to the software. So although redistributing GPL'ed code under a non-GPL license doesn't seem to constitute a breach of contract, it is more than likely a breach of copyright.

    Legally speaking, what I have said (or what anyone else has said with regard to the GPL) may be wrong - the legal position of the GPL will only be clarified if and when a case gets to court.

  • ...and, as I predicted, the GPV zealots promptly marked down my message as a troll, even though I'm not trolling. I honestly believe the GPV needs to be disinfected one way or another.
  • I would say music copyrights aren't about money, they're about economics. It's a fundamental argument of scarcity: there is a limited amount of skill & talent in the world to produce good music/books/software, so it should be governed by economic means. That implies a marketplace with sound notions of property.

    Sure, intellectual property law is all about economics, but I don't think it addresses skill and talent in a meaningful way. It's all about the product: encouraging production of intellectual property.

    The principle is that you will produce far more copyrightable works and patentable inventions if you allow them to be copyrighted and patented. In addition, without such protection, there's a lot more secret, proprietary, and contractually limited ideas and inventions out there. I believe this turns out to be a good thing, especially in the long run. It promotes the progress of science and useful arts, etc.

    However, the law has become increasingly more oriented toward protecting financial interests at the expense of the broader public interest, and so I agree with your call for IP reform.

    However, I note that the strong IP protection that the US has afforded is a major reason that we lead the world in scientific, creative, and information endeavors. It's simply so much more profitable to produce and own intellectual property which can be sold around the world than to manufacture widgets. I would even say that the business interests behind modern national and international IP law have delivered not just huge profits for themselves, but have in fact enabled the new information economy.

  • acceptance

    In order for a contract to be a valid contract, both parties must accept the specific contract. Usually this acceptance is made by each party signing on the dotted line, or shaking hands, or saying "Yes, I Agree".

    But in the case of the GPL we have a case where the user does not need to indicate any acceptance, and indeed, is not asked to. Merely saying "if you distribute then you indicate agreement" is just not good enough.

    Furthermore, there is no specific contract. There is only a general contract. Even if I agree to the GPL "contract", the original author sure as hell hasn't, because he has no idea I even have his software! Contracts are always two-sided. That's why there must be consideration. In the case of the GPL-as-contract, we have only one side unilaterally setting terms to parties unknown, unnamed and unnumbered. If you go to a business of some kind and ask "does John Smith have a contract with you?", they will be able to definitively answer yes or no. But if you ask that of Richard Stallman, he will have no clue who John Smith is, let alone if he has agreed to the terms of the GPL.
  • by gavinhall ( 33 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @05:10AM (#976322)
    Posted by 11223:

    I drove to the store to buy Red Hat Linux. Here's why (and here's their business model):
    1. Even though I have a burner, some drives won't read a burned disc. I like having the CD's instead of having to install over FTP for those computers.
    2. I like the access to their address.
    3. If anything goes wrong, and I can't fix it (unlikely) there's always tech support.
    4. I like the bumper sticker and "Powered by Red Hat" sticker.
    And what's this about "online privacy"? Does that excuse not following the agreed restrictions of the GPL? You have a right to use the software without agreeing to the GPL (IANAL) but not to redistribute, modify, etc. without agreeing to it. That's how it's set up. They're saying that if you want to redistribute, modify, etc. then you must agree to this license - because nothing else gives you a right to do that.
  • This, I believe, is incorrect. I am pretty sure your obligation is to make the source available for a nominal fee, eg, the cost of the media involved. You do not have to make the source available for download, just available to whoever wants it (especially those that have binaries of the code - and your obligation might stop here).

    The only way I could see the GPL being threatened is if someone argues that it infringes on the rights of the user / developer of derivative works (although, that would be a stretch, for sure, but American courts have thrown away common sense in the past, reference discussions on drug laws..)


  • by Raven667 ( 14867 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @10:01AM (#976326) Homepage
    This is baloney, having GPLd software as part of your base OS install does not require that every part of the base OS be GPLd. And code linked against the LGPL does is not required to be GPLd either. Many proprietary operating systems include the GNU toolkit, like BeOS (I wish they all did, I really dislike commercial UNIX unless I can get bash, gcc, etc.)
  • It looks to me like it's saying "You don't have to accept this contract, but if you don't you can't modify or distribute this program." It's sort of like the M$ EULA, which essentially says, "You don't have to accept this contract, but if you open the box containing the EULA, you have indicated acceptance of the contract." If the EULA is legal, then the GPL surely is.

    As for the rest of your argument, yes, that is correct. :)

    I ANAL.
    Brought to you buy non-lawyers in search of better acronyms.
  • If UCITA can enforce all those crappy agreements that big software makers force on us, why can we not use that same LAW to protect GPL'd software.

    I am not a lawyer, however I cannot find any reason why we cannot use a bad law to our advantage (I know this is slightly off topic, but it makes some sense to me)


  • But I have a right to open boxes in my possession.
    MS sold me the box. I own the box (although I do not own the copyright to the software). I also own the media the software is on. The EULA is saying "By executing rights that you have regardless of this license, you agree to the license."

    The GPL, on the other hand, says, "By executing rights that you do not have without agreeing to this licence, you agree to the license." If a person distributes GPLed software without agreeing to the GPL, then nothing has granted them the right to distribute. And by default under copyright law, this is illegal. So, if you 'violate' the GPL, you are guilty of one of two things:

    1) You broke a contract (the GPL) which you agreed to. You are busted.


    2) You broke copyright law by distributing/modifying copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder (you don't have permission since you didn't agree to the GPL). You are busted.

    Also, (IANAL) if you break a contract, then the other side has the option of denying you all of you rights under the contract and nullifying the contract, after collecting damages resulting from the violation. So, if you do #1 (which could be hard to prove that you did somewhere agree to it), the FSF could screw you under contract law, and then have another go under copyright law.

    The GPL is really quite well written. There are a few things that are a bit vague, but all of the important stuff is clearly spelt out, with all of the bases covered.
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @05:13AM (#976338) Homepage Journal
    I find it amusing that many of the same people who try to justify Napster get all up in arms over the idea that the GPL might not get held up. It's OK to send Lars' music around the net, but even hint that Microsoft might be able to repackage the vast amount of GPLed code out there and profit from it without releasing changes to the community and everyone flips out. Not so funny when it's happening to you, is it?

    Of course, I expect that most GPL programmers wouldn't copy Lars' music in this way because they know how it'd feel. I know I wouldn't.

    That being said, I am not a lawyer (but I play one on TV) but I find it difficult to believe that the GPL wouldn't be solid. As it only grants you rights you don't have under current law, if you don't agree to the obligations set forth in the GPL, you are still morally bound by the more restrictive requirements of Copyright law. You can still use the code for your own use, but if you distribute your changes, you're opening yourself up for a copyright lawsuit. The GPL is just a nice convention for saying "Play nice and we won't sue you for distributing derivative works." My idea of how copyright works may be too simplistic though (As I said, IANALBIPOOTV.)

  • There's that old saying about following the spirit of something, rather than following it to the letter.
    It's a case of everyone really understanding what is meant by the agreement. Nobody's really in any doubt.
    The only way that it can be overturned is by someone actively trying to cause disruption and break "A Good Thing".
    People who, historically, have been trying to break "Good Things" have often been called "Evil".
    This includes the Brit Empire forcing it's new colonies into restrictive taxations etc. (Don't knock that one, I'm a Brit.. :) ), warmongerers, and a whole host of others.
    It always perplexes me when people refer to the Law system as a system of Justice, when, Justice is something that arises from the spirit of an agreement being upheld, and that so rarely happens in these circles these days..
    Would be so nice to have this current system of Legalities and Legislation where the word is constantly debated return more to an environment where the spirit is sought and upheld.
    Now, that truly would be a free country.
    I hope someone wises up,and pushes the spirit of the GPL. We all know why it's there, and it's a "Good Thing". Breaking it would be a crying shame, and would be tothe detriment of a good many people.

  • Section 0 of the GNU GPL [] states:

    Activities other than copying, distribution and modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its scope.
    The act of running the Program is not restricted, and the output from the Program is covered only if its contents constitute a work based on the Program (independent of having been made by running the Program). Whether that is true depends on what the Program does.

    (Emphasis added).

    I would argue that the GPL doesn't explicitly grant public display and performance rights, but implicitly grants these rights through the highlighted language above.

    A question is whether or not the GPL grants rights unless otherwise denied (subject to compliance requirements), or only grants specific rights. My reading of the license, including the Section 0: language above, is that all rights required to run a program are granted unless otherwise restricted, and that only copying, distribution, and modification are specifically restricted.

    One of the issues which many would like to have addressed in GPL v3 is a linkage of distribution triggers to web-based, embedded, and CORBA-linked applications. These constitute a significantly different copyright environment than the one in which the GNU GPL was originally written.

    What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
    Scope out Kuro5hin []

  • don't have a problem with people using my code for profit. A lot of people who use GPL do.

    This is a huge distortion. I've never heard any of the people who are really serious about the GPL complain about making a profit off GPLed code. Hell, RMS made money for a long time by selling tapes of GPL programs. On the FSF web site [], in fact, they say []:

    Actually we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as much as they wish or can.

    That hardly sounds like people who don't want anyone to be able to make a profit from their code!

    What people like the FSF do have a problem with is the idea of taking free/open source software and making it non-free/closed source. The GPL doesn't exist to prevent people from making a profit. The existence of companies that market GPLed software is proof that it doesn't accomplish that, even incidentally. The goal is to prevent people from taking software that is available in source form and releasing it without source.

  • by tilly ( 7530 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @01:56PM (#976354)
    IANAL but when I read it closely the GPL seems to be an offer on the part of the copyright holder of a contract under which people are allowed to redistribute it. (Something that they would otherwise not have the right to do.) If the copyright holder later did something that lost them their copyright you might have a right to sue them for not maintaining their end of an offered contract, but you have no copyright on the code and hence no right to permit the code to be given away.

    At least that is the way I read it.

    In support of that view look at the terms []:

    Term 0: The license only applies if the Copyright Holder gives permission. By aquiring the code you do not become copyright holder.

    Term 1: Permission is granted to redistribute verbatim copies. No copyright is transferred.

    Term 2: You are granted the right to make modifications if you meet specific conditions. These modifications would leave the copyright intertwined. I would guess that at this point for the original copyright owner to give away control of the copyright would be a contract conflict.

    Term 3: Distribution rights. Again no transfer of copyright here.

    Term 4: You may not request any other distribution terms. (Question relevant to Perl. If foo accepts Perl under the GPL, are they *bar*ed from distributing under the original terms? Looks like it!)

    Term 5: A reminder that copyright law prevents you from redistributing if you do not negotiate a license with the copyright holder.

    Term 6: A note that you have no obligations for the actions of the people that you distribute to. Obviously true since your contract is with the copyright holder(s). They must likewise seek a license with the copyright holder(s) and that is then a matter between the copyright holder and them.

    Term 7: Basically outlines in detail the consequences of term 4. If you have no right to distribute except as the license allows, and you are unable to meet the license, then you cannot distribute.

    Term 8: Affirms that the copyright holder may add terms regarding geography if there are likely to be enforcement problems of the license in those countries.

    Term 9: Outlines FSF policy, and outlines out the consequence of accepting the statement that the FSF asks people to use.

    Term 10: An explicit reminder of the rights of the copyright holder to negotiate different distribution terms at their will.

    Terms 11, 12: The usual disclaimer in lieu of warranty that we know and love in software.

    So it seems pretty clear to me. The license is an offered contract with the copyright holder. Should the copyright holder give up copyright then they are in serious danger of breaching their end of the offered contract. But that doesn't give you any rights to the software.


    PS Again, IANAL but I am pretty convinced of this line of reasoning.
  • Then britain has very strange laws! Certainly the British bus passengers should expect legal rights and priviledges while they ride, but this is a very different thing than a contract. If this is the case in England, I suspect it derives not from the act of boarding the bus, from instead from the act of purchasing a fair (in the US, bills of sale can are construed as contracts, and is one of the basis' for the Commercial Code).

    Of course, in the US, and especially with DMCA and UCITA, the act of tearing of shrink-wrap is considered more binding than a notarized signature. But so what. If Congress passed a law that said night was day and the blue was green, it still won't make it so.
  • tool sets aren't an issue -- they can be shipped with unlinked proprietary software under the provisions of the GPL.

    And MOST of what is a FreeBSD distribution isn't GPL. Most of it is BSD.
  • Kinda funny. What I got from this article isn't, "Someone violated it, and this is who we are suing." It was more like, "This is why I have a job, and I promise that I will sue someone soon." It's akin to, "A meteor could strike tommorow." I'm not saying that I'm not glad that we have lawyers on our side. Thank God. Just, well, you know, the world didn't end on New Years...

  • Proposal: reform the patent and copyright system so that it pays an up-front fee out of taxes in exchange for putting IP into the public domain. This would only be payable to the original creator, of course (corporations need not apply).

    Just my $0.02:

    • Centralizing this creates not just a single-point-of-failure, but would facilitate censorship. It need not be formal policy; merely a quiet sandbagging of "unpopular" works.
    • Who would define the pay scale? What is the relative worth of a Harry Potter book when compared with an Esperanto translation of Proust?
    • What about intellectual properties that have literally dozens of creators (like film: producers, directors, screenwriters, script doctors, cinematographers, sound designers, etc.)? Corporations can create, too.
    • Doesn't this buck the trend of privatization that's been going on for the last couple of decades? I mean, there are private prisons in Texas, fer chrissake.

    "In spite of everything, I still believe that people
    are really good at heart." - Anne Frank
  • Good point. All I'm trying to say really (any perhaps I could do better with my own words rather than just pasting blocks of the GNU GPL) is that its unlikely that all of the GPL will be struck down. Some parts ma be questioned, but I believe (and hope) that the spirit will be preserved. Despite what I just said, I'm going to quote another smaller part which might help with what I'm trying to say.

    "If any portion of this section is held invalid or unenforceable under any particular circumstance, the balance of the section is intended to apply and the section as a whole is intended to apply in other circumstances."
  • However if you can download and make your own cd in less than an hour, why drive to the store to buy it?

    Why would you buy any software at all? I mean by this that you can get almost every single piece of software "for free" on warez sites or CDs. That's illegal, ok, but does that prevent a lot of people from getting the stuff?

    Furthermore, under the GPL, nothing prevents you from copying the data from a friend/colleage/whatever's CD, then why bother going to the store?

    I personally buy software (be it free or not) to encourage people to keep doing the stuff I like. As simple as that.

    The GPL is a license that you don't have to physically sign. If it loses on that basis[snip]Then a lot of things would need to be modified, have you thought about all those "click if you agree" type of agreements? Or maybe are they unrelated? I don't know...

    PS: Excuse my english

  • ? The GPL is 100% about control--control of the code released under it. The fact that FSF is willing to go to the lengths of suing under its terms is clear and convincing evidence that the GPL is about control. If your position is that control in order to make money is bad and control in order to keep free software free is good, that is a fair argument. But it's a lot different from saying that the GPL is not about control!
  • by AftanGustur ( 7715 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @05:16AM (#976364) Homepage
    So, let's say that they go to court and that the GPL doesn't hold up.

    The big question then is this: With the licence gone, but surely not the author's copyright, how can anybody legally distribute the software ?

    It looks like that if you don't have a licence at all, then you can't do squat with the software. And that includes any and all "violators".

    From The GPL" []

    5. You are not required to accept this License, since you have not signed it. However, nothing else grants you permission to modify or distribute the Program or its derivative works. These actions are prohibited by law if you do not accept this License. Therefore, by modifying or distributing the Program (or any work based on the Program), you indicate your acceptance of this License to do so, and all its terms and conditions for copying, distributing or modifying the Program or works based on it.
    Why pay for drugs when you can get Linux for free ?

  • The original claim was "GPL enforcers are hypocritical

    No. The original claim was that there is a certain irony in the fact that people who are detractors of copyright law are also staunch defenders of the GPL. This is true. The original poster did not anywhere use the word 'hypocrite'.

    You responded that the original poster and those who think similarly are 'misinformed'. This is not true. Many poeple who see this irony know what they believe and why they believe it. You called them misinformed because they disagreed with you.

    But you couldn't silence your opponents by calling them ignorant, so you had to bring in the big guns: "non-sequitors" [sic.] and "ad hominems". I suppose that big words such as this must occasionally win arguments. At least they allow you to feel superior.

    But I called you bluff on that one too. You wisely decide that it's a good time to "leave aside the confusion of who is using what fallacy and get to the point." Your point: "The law ... is WRONG." (All capitals should strengthen your argument.) But you need to use the law in order to convince everyone that the law deserves no respect. And as an example, there are some people who are obeying all relevant laws in order to accomplish their political goals.

    Since that failed to convince, it's time to say that further disagreement about the clarity of your message will be ignored.

    Frankly, it might be a good time to go over the notes from your debate class again.


  • by Captain Constitution ( 203455 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @05:16AM (#976367)

    Some legal precedent for ya:

    Mellon v. Delaware L & WR Co. []

    Tiverton Bd. of License Comm'rs v. Pastore []

    From the latter:

    When a development after this Court grants certiorari or notes probable jurisdiction could have the effect of depriving the Court of jurisdiction due to the absence of a continuing case or controversy, that development should be called to the attention of the Court without delay. See this Court's Rules 34.1(g) (petitioner's statement of the case shall contain all that is material to the issues); 34.2 (respondent's brief may correct any omission from petitioner's statement); and 35.5 (parties may file supplemental briefs after briefs on the merits to point out intervening matters not contained in the merits briefs).

    The writ of certiorari is dismissed as moot.

    I would say the GPL stands a good chance of holding up in court.

  • Will the RIAA sue Tom Christensen next, because perl can be used to decode Usenet binaries?

    Please don't give them any ideas...

    Zardoz has spoken!
  • By releasing your Goof 0.3 you don't give up your copyright, so Microsoft cannot accuse you of using "their" software. It's still yours. They might have a license to use it, and if GPL is struck down, they might be able to get away with releasing binary-only versions of it. But it will not affect your Goof 0.3.5, unless you incorporate their code into it.

    GPL might one day become invalid, but it doesn't mean all software released under it will suddenly become public domain. It will become available under a BSD-like license (GPL with your obligations struck down), or not available under any reasonable license at all. Or so I understand it.

  • IANAL also.

    Quibbles on Ben's analysis, areas of agreement ignored:

    • Term 1: a nonexclusive grant of copyright is conferred. In order to make copies, distribute them, and/or modify them, a copy right must be granted. However, it's nonexclusive -- that is, the grant doesn't transfer rights from holder to designee, but extends them in a limited sense.
    • Term 4: additional terms. If the original grant is under additional terms (or multiple terms), essentially dual licensing as is practiced with Perl or allowed under MozPL, then the GNU GPL doesn't provide for transmission of the alternative terms, but the other license may. Dual licensing may be a useful tool for free software distribution and compatibility licensing between different codebases.
    • Terms 11 & 12. More significant than perhaps Mr. Tilly may appreciate. Think third-party claims under liability or warrantee. Does the GPL put such a third-party claimee into the position of being able to press suit or be in compliance with copyright? Hmmm.... I'm not sure, but I've got to talk to my lawyer.

    What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
    Scope out Kuro5hin []

  • by Effugas ( 2378 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @05:33AM (#976423) Homepage
    Or--here's a neat one--the author of a piece of code, perhaps a whole source file, who adds it to a project under the GPL and then, a week later, at work, decides to include it in a closed-source, commercial project there. Can code be un-GPLed?

    This is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    An author can reuse code all they want. They can license the code into the GPL common pool, and then turn around and do whatever they like with it--make their own secret derivations without deriving the source, most obviously.

    This actually starts to get a bit sticky when core developers take patches from the outside world on GPL terms and then, since they're the copyright owner, incorporate those into closed source releases. But it's generally accepted that primary authors who do the initial work of coding the app, as well as all the request handling and patch integration, do have the legitimate right(as long as the patches are not too extensive) to relicense privately. Alladin, with Ghostscript, does this commonly to give printer manufacturers customized Postscript capabilities.

    Yours Truly,

    Dan Kaminsky
    DoxPara Research
  • by anatoli ( 74215 ) on Monday June 26, 2000 @05:26AM (#976441) Homepage
    If you have a piece of code with no license attached to it, you can do whatever you want with it.
    Nope. Suppose a drunk MS developer have lost a CD-R with the next version of Windows on it (with sources), and you've found it. No license on that piece of software. Can't use it in any lawful way though (except as a coaster) because it's still copyrighted by Microsoft. Even simpler: you buy a book. There's no license. There's still copyright.
  • by Bob Uhl ( 30977 ) <> on Monday June 26, 2000 @06:28AM (#976459) Homepage
    I posted that because a lot of people seem to see the justice system as the opponent. It's not; it is the means for defeating our opponents. Yes, it does make mistakes. But for the most part it works.

    I'm quite libertarian myself, but I've noticed a disturbing anarchist streak among some. One must have some structure in order for us to preserve our rights. If there were no copyright and copyleft were the rule of the day, then software would merely be released under licenses agreeing to certain terms. At least copyright expires 70 years after the owner's death; those licenses would prob. never expire.

    We need to learn to use the tools with which we are provided. The court system can be an effective weapon against proprietary software houses which steal our code. Let them release their proprietary software; over time we will exceed their capabilities and in the long run they will go out of business. But if they infringe on our territory, we should be merciless. Can you say punitive damages?

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky