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GNU is Not Unix

The FSF, Linux's Hit Men 1230

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

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  • Of course! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Short Circuit ( 52384 ) <> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:28AM (#7207897) Homepage Journal
    Don't they expect us to defend our own IP?
  • by Kiaser Zohsay ( 20134 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:30AM (#7207911)
    The last several Forbes articles that even mentioned Linux were just plain old bashing.

    Now, maybe I'll RTFA.
  • by isn't my name ( 514234 ) <slash@threeno[ ].com ['rth' in gap]> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:31AM (#7207922)
    While I disagree with most of the author's conclusions, I can understand how someone steeped in traditional business models would feel that way. However, I hope that enough people can call Forbes on this egregious misdefinition of what code is actually covered by the GPL that they publish a retraction. The article clearly implies that anything you write to run under Linux must be released for free.
  • Great quote: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Saint Aardvark ( 159009 ) * on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:31AM (#7207926) Homepage Journal
    In some ways, these Free Software Foundation "enforcement actions" can be more dangerous than a typical copyright spat, because usually copyright holders seek money--say, royalties on the product that infringing companies are selling. But the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties -- it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners.

    1) Hah! Let's try:

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

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

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

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

  • WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Verteiron ( 224042 ) * on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:32AM (#7207929) Homepage
    This a very ignorant, poorly-informed article. I find it especially surprising in a magazine like Forbes, which (although I'm not a regular reader) I thought had a reputation for honest writing/reporting.

    The author obviously has no idea what the GPL involves, and demonizes an organization who's concern is to enforce a simple set of rules. Does he think Linksys would get such leniency from the BSA, Microsoft's hitmen?
  • I'm a zealot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wazzzup ( 172351 ) <(astromac) (at) (> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:33AM (#7207947)
    [Forewarning: The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this.]

    I only read what I want to hear and ignore others perspectives, right or wrong.
  • Bad light? Where? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Jaysyn ( 203771 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:37AM (#7207998) Homepage Journal
    This is exactly what I want to see in print about FSF. Yes, you can use our stuff to make money, but if you get greedy & don't share we're going to take your ass down. Any other company in the world would do the same thing, why shouldn't the FSF do the same?

  • Hired enforcer? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Geeky ( 90998 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:41AM (#7208036)
    Sometimes it's the other way around--the foundation gets paid by private companies for whom it acts as a sort of hired enforcer

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

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aborchers ( 471342 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:44AM (#7208087) Homepage Journal
    Here's what I sent Forbes via their comment function:

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

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

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

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

  • by Amiga Lover ( 708890 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:44AM (#7208091)
    Under the license, if you distribute GPL software in a product, you must also distribute the software's source code. And not just the GPL code, but also the code for any "derivative works" you've created--even if publishing that code means anyone can now make a knockoff of your product.

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

    Now the bit about even if publishing that code means anyone can now make a knockoff of your product is what amazes me. Hello. If you're looking at it that way, then you, in the first place, by using GPLd code have gone and made a "knockoff of" someone ELSES product.

  • by Glass of Water ( 537481 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:47AM (#7208112) Journal
    No need to RTFA, it's pure FUD.

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

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

    by rmohr02 ( 208447 ) <mohr.42@os[ ]du ['u.e' in gap]> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:50AM (#7208149)
    And you generally don't have to pay for GPL'd software. The only thing the developer asks for in return is that you release any changes under the same license.

    CISCO knew this requirement, yet they still used Linux for their routers.
  • Re:Great quote: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jason Earl ( 1894 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @09:56AM (#7208207) Homepage Journal

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

    That's just ridiculous.

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

  • by Cesare Ferrari ( 667973 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:04AM (#7208289) Homepage
    The really odd thing is that the defence of the GPL licence will ultimately benefit companies like Cisco if they played the game correctly. These are commodity items, routers, switches etc. By moving to a GPL software base they reduce cost, risk in producing the software for their products, and then can concentrate on the value added parts. Config tools, reliability etc. For example, take the disputed Linksys router. I would have expected Linksys to have plenty ways of defending their product from competition rather than withholding the GPL updates (design rights, patents, trademarks etc). Ok, so it looks like they have messed up in this case with the way they have written their driver, but that shouldn't cloud the fact that *if* they had correctly written their driver they would be able to keep it proprietry.
  • Re:Great quote: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:11AM (#7208360) Homepage Journal
    This is real interesting because I would think Forbes would be pro IP. For instance, do they support the RIAA? I guess they do not. Music for all practical intents and purposes is free. If someone buys music, it is out of a respect for laws and various contracts that says we buy goods and services. We have always been able to get music for free, it is just easier now. The fact that music sales have remained as high as they have, in spite of music being freely available, in spite of the RIAA attacking customers and potential customers, in spite of the economy being in such a slump that many people have no money.

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

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

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

  • by tperry256 ( 590862 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:11AM (#7208361)
    The GPL probably has a lot to do with the current success of free software, but I think we need to eventually phase out the GPL in favor releasing content as is without any restrictions. Information will spread about who is using who's code to do useful work, and thanks to services like Google, accurate information will rise to the top without anyone suing or threatening to sue anybody. I believe that we will one day have some kind of futures market for free content producer cards (like baseball cards) and it will efficiently reward those who add the most value to society. The GPL only tempts us to use the law to accomplish what should be accomplished by a free market. Sound familiar?
  • Forbes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lagged2Death ( 31596 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:13AM (#7208377)
    I don't think Forbes has a reputation for particularly honest or fair reporting.

    Every Forbes story I've ever seen has had a distinct pro-business - or even a pro-rich-entepreneur - slant, much as a car magazine has a pro-cheap-gas slant, or as a nature/travel magazine has a conservationist slant.

    If FSF/GPL was a for-profit concern, I'm sure Forbes would be cheering them on. I'm not surprised that they took the stance they did, I'm only surprised that they're so extremist and clueless.
  • Skip reading this? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shaka999 ( 335100 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:19AM (#7208437)
    Forewarning: The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this

    Does this statement strike anyone else as idiotic? If someone doesn't agree with "the community" we just ignore them? Talk about sticking your head in the sand.
  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:20AM (#7208452)
    Actually they are mostly right. When you use GPL'd software you are getting that software for free (as in beer), but it does come with some obligations (the "hidden" cost), those include making available free of charge and without further incumberance any changes you have made to the software before releasing it. If your business model is such that secrecy of the OS behind your router is important than GPL'd software is NOT the place to go looking. If you want to make a cheap piece of hardware with minimal investment in the OS and sling those in high volume then GPL'd software may be a good choice.
  • Rubbish (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pioneer ( 71789 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:25AM (#7208508) Homepage
    >The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this. However it did help me gain insight into software from a PHB and suit perspective."

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

  • Re:Daniel Lyons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Marcus Erroneous ( 11660 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:25AM (#7208517) Homepage
    The original article was interesting enough. Protecting your IP in order to make money is okay, protecting your IP not to make money is not. Then you read "What SCO wants, SCO gets" and you see the same theme. It's okay to sue the pants off of someone in the name of greed, or to attack someone for failing to live up to your licensing agreements when it costs you money, but the upholding of the license on legal grounds without greed as the fundamental motive is unAmerican and wrong? WTF?
    Either a license is legal and a company has the right to enforce the terms that were entered into, or it's not. Either it's okay to rip off someones IP or it's not. The idea that it's okay to rip off someone elses IP if you're going to make a buck is hollow.
    Then again, these guys thought Enron was wonderful. Forbes isn't targeting the type of person that is furthering the world, just themselves. What I find really sad is that the author completely skips over the fact that companies can develop internal applications based on GPLcode then deploy and use them enterprise wide without paying the onerous licensing fees that would normally be required by proprietary software. That would save a lot of businesses a lot of money, improving their margins and boosting profits and bonuses. I don't think that it would really be against Forbes targetted readership to have an article that shows both sides of the issue. If you use it to sell a product based on GPL you have obligations that you don't normally take into account and that you might well decide are too steep for you. That's an informed business decision for you to make. And, that same software deployed internally you can keep to yourself and still save a bundle on licensing costs. Again, another informed business decision.
    It's not outside of Forbe's scope to present a balanced article to help its readership make informed decisions. They miss the point that the GPL is about allowing businesses to have more options in the tools that they use to conduct business. It's all about lowering costs, being more efficient and freeing you to spend less money while keeping more of what you make. And that truly is what business is about.
  • My Feedback (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Outland Traveller ( 12138 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:31AM (#7208573)
    The sour slant of this article and its sympathy towards intellectual property theft does great harm to the integrity of Forbes Magazine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    If this is the kind of article one can expect to find in Forbes these days, I don't know how much longer I will be a reader.
  • Re:Of course! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NightSpots ( 682462 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:43AM (#7208703) Homepage
    The problem is that the engineers are deciding that Linux is a great way to save time and money in embedded environments without realizing that the viral nature of the GPL is going to screw their company.

    As the story mentions, the BSD licensed products provide an easy alternative without the licensing issues. It just takes an awareness of the options to realize that using Linux in the first place is a silly idea for commercial products.
  • Re:Of course! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:45AM (#7208736) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, but.
    Speaking of immaterial rights is rather neutral and doesn't carry any positive or negative payload that I could see.
    It would quickly acquire such a payload. Meanings in language only remain constant for 'dead' languages like Latin, and you can contrive arguments that Latin's mutable, as well.
  • Re:Great quote: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by martyros ( 588782 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @10:58AM (#7208847)
    And holy FSOF, since when did complying with the license the software is released under become such an onerous act?

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

    No one made Linksys or Broadcom use Linux; they were perfectly free to buy someone else's kernel, or to write their own. If they'd put Windows CE in there without paying for a license, you can bet Microsoft / BSA would be down their throat in a heartbeat. Why should it be any different for us?

    The other thing that pisses me off about the article is that you can tell, from some of the quotes, that he's playing that stupid journalistic "selective quoting" game. If the OSS and FSF people he quoted knew that he was going to write such a bigoted article, they probably wouldn't have talked to him. I guess it gets articles published, but it sure is a shame to have to lie and betray people to make a buck...

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

    by nanojath ( 265940 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @11:06AM (#7208950) Homepage Journal
    Forewarning: The open source community is not portrayed in positive light so you might want to skip reading this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • by EchoMirage ( 29419 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @11:10AM (#7208991)
    Forbes is a Microsoft shill anyway no need to worry about what they say, as all the corporate and business types who read this know this too, and are vividly aware of the licensing fights going on, and are anti-Microsoft themselves, and are vividly aware that Cisco is doing a bad thing and that those poor kids in the FSF are really getting portrayed in a bad light.

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

    The free software community really needs to understand that when you're the underdog, you want to ALWAYS be portraying yourself in the best light possible and holding your head up high, even when people take really cheap shots at you. If the free software movement keeps miring itself in the mud and digging in its heels, it's going to continue to have a very difficult time growing.
  • Re:Great quote: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LMCBoy ( 185365 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @11:11AM (#7208998) Homepage Journal
    There's a huge difference between first sale (in which I sell a single copy of some software to one person, then no longer have it myself) and redistribution (in which I sell my embedded linux device 400,000+ times). The latter is clearly not "first sale".
  • Quite. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BadDoggie ( 145310 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @11:18AM (#7209087) Homepage Journal
    Hence my letter to the editor at Forbes, with the headline "One-sided outrage?":
    Where's Mr Lyons' outrage at the Gestapo-like tactics of Micrsoft's and the BSA's software license enforcement? The city of Virginia Beach had to waste the time of 50 employees and ended up paying $129,000 for software they'd already paid for but couldn't match up the paperwork. Microsoft tries for force its resellers to act as their licensing police and turn in their customers who may or may not be fully compliant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Re:Of course! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by funaho ( 42567 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @11:31AM (#7209274) Homepage
    It should also be noted here that all that's being asked for is the source to any modifications they've made to the OSS software on the router, such as the kernel drivers for the Broadcom chipset. And there really isn't anything special about the Linksys routers from a hardware standpoint anyway. If I'm not mistaken it's almost a reference design slapped into a plastic case with some OSS software running on it.

    What makes the Linksys units nice (IMHO) is the web interface. That's implemented as CGI scripts on the unit and such scripts, provided they are 100% custom, would not be a derived work and thus do not need to be open sourced. So nobody is going to take the code and use it to "clone" the unit as was suggested in the article. Hell if anyone did want to clone it it wouldn't be that difficult to do even without the code. Like I said the hardware isn't all that special.

    I think perhaps one of the real reasons for Cisco/Linksys not putting out the code is that if you can upload your own firmware to the box you can essentially get all the features of the higher end router models in one of the cheaper WAP-only models. Nothing is stopping the cheaper models from routing other than the web interface scripts not allowing you to add routes.
  • Re:Tunnel vision (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Archie Steel ( 539670 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @11:45AM (#7209456)
    So what happens to your competitive edge if you're forced to give out the secrets behind your product?

    If you want to base your competitive edge on trade secrets, don't use GPLed software. It's as simple as that.

    I didn't build my house either, but I wouldn't be happy if RMS & crew tried to strongarm me into burning it down.

    What a useless comment. RMS & crew are protecting the copyrights of the original programmers of the code used by Linksys for their router. Are you against the protection of copyright?

    "Their $129 device, of which they have sold 400,000 units of, would have cost much more, and taken much longer to develop and get to market if they hadn't leveraged the free software provided by thousands of volunteers over the past ten years."

    Where's your proof?

    Are you saying that it would have been cheaper to develop the software in-house? If that was the case, when then didn't Linksys do that?

    The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Linksys used other people's work to develop their product because it was cheaper than re-doing the work themselves, but failed to live up to the agreement these people made that work available under in the first place.

    You call disclosing your product secrets a small contribution? I call it freely distributing the technology behind your product's distinct characteristics directly to your competition

    Again, if they didn't want to redistribute their changes, they shouldn't have used GPLed software. And, to be honest, I don't think they made that many changes to the software in the first place - so in fact there are little, if any, trade secrets in the Linksys routers. There's not anything they can do that I can't do with a Linux box with firewall/NAT/IP Masquerading. The only thing they added is a Web-based GUI for administration, and that can hardly be considered a trade secret...

    This is an open-and-shut case of copyright infringement on Linksys' part. I find it odd that some, such as Forbes, are trying to portray Linksys and Cisco as victims here, when they really are the ones who have infringed on others' rights.
  • by stewby18 ( 594952 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @12:00PM (#7209687)

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

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

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

    Somehow, I doubt that would have fit into Lyons' vision of the story

  • Re:Tunnel vision (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @12:07PM (#7209779)
    They could have used BSD-licensed software,
    including the BSD IP stack, if they planned to
    use it commercially without disclosing their own
    source code. By using GPL, they _agreed_ to
    the conditions of the GPL. Their problem!
    Forbes should stop whining, and attributing
    the mistakes of an incompetent management
    which can't read license terms to the FSF.
    This is ridiculous.
  • Re:Quite. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Erioll ( 229536 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @12:44PM (#7210260)

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

    From the article:

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

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


  • by bnenning ( 58349 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @12:55PM (#7210410)
    If there is ever a court case where this becomes an important point, I would expect that such 'copying' that is required for normal usage of the material falls squarely under fair use.

    Correct, as per 17 USC 117 []. This raises the question as to why virtually every EULA in existence isn't invalid due to lack of consideration. You already have the right to run the software; the publisher is attempting to remove other rights in exchange for nothing.

  • Re:Of course! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gaijin99 ( 143693 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @01:07PM (#7210517) Journal
    And naturally, though the word "viral" didn't actually appear in the article, they did bring up the dread "oooh, the GPL is viral" line of crap.

    What I've never understood is how people can object to the "viral" GPL, yet have no objection to propriatary licenses, which are equally viral. Linksys needed an OS for their router. They could have paid SCO huge bux for the rights to the Unix source. Presumably MS has its source available for embedded apps, also at high prices. Had they chosen to use SCO's Unix they not only could have kept their changes secret, the license would have required that they do so. So the secrecy license scheme is also "viral".

    Modifying GPLed code is an exchange, just as much as using non-GPLed code is. With non-GPL stuff, you exchange money for code. With the GPL you exchange access to your changes for code. What is with this pathetic whining: "But we wanted to keep our changes secret." If you want to keep your changes secret either build your own damn OS, or license one of the propriatary ones by paying lots of money. The FSF is about exchanging access to code for access to code, not about giving away code

    More to the point, of course the FSF sues people who violate their license, just as MS and SCO sue those who violate their license. Likewise, the FSF thinks that its system is superior and would like to see it supplant the propriatary system. Why is this bad? MS and SCO certainly would like to see their system prevail. Apparently, Forbes can't stand to see actual competition...

  • Re:Quite. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by void* ( 20133 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @01:18PM (#7210648)
    They're also entiely ignoring that it's not their house in the first place. "Burn down your house, or share it with cloners" indeed. 'Yeah, I know you let me crash at your house, but I built this deck, so it's my house now - get out'.
  • Re:Of course! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by drmike0099 ( 625308 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @01:30PM (#7210789)
    I submitted a very similar reply:

    The author of this article misses a key point, and is hostile towards the open-source software because of it. The point that he misses is that the company who use this software agree to the GPL license through its use. The GPL is included with every bit of code that is covered by it, typically at the top in big bold letters. People, typically working for free in their own time, have written this code to provide something useful to others, also working for free, to build their code. That is how open source works. These people don't ask for money for their products, but they do, through the GPL, request that if you do happen to like what they have written that you pass it along to everyone you redistribute it to.

    This is all spelled out in the GPL. Found with every bit of code. Agreed to by every one of these companies who use that code.

    So when Linksys, and then Cisco, distribute the code, which was licensed under GPL, without redistributing it, they are breaking that agreement that they made. This sort of licensing agreement is exactly the same conceptually as licensing agreements that don't allow you to give copies of Windows XP to your buddy. In that case, you paid money and agreed through the license to not redistribute. In the GPL case, you paid nothing, and agreed to redistribute it.

    Now many people think this is a fair deal. Some people, and apparently the author of this article, do not. That's okay. You simply do not have to use the GPL'ed code. Just like, if you really wanted a bit of software you could hand over to your friends legally, you don't choose Windows XP.

    In particular, though, my "favorite" line was this: "But the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties--it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners." This doesn't even make sense. If by cloners you mean to say "someone who would copy your code and use it themselves" then yes, that's what the GPL is all about. That philosophy is why these companies had the software to put in their routers to begin with. If anything, they were the original "cloners." Burning down your house is also ridiculous, like I stated above, they agreed to the license when they chose to use that software. If you build your "house" on software that you intend to use without honoring the licensing agreement, then you've broken the agreement, and deserve to have it "burnt down." If I built a business reselling copies of Windows XP and Microsoft came a-knocking, I don't think I'd have a legitimate complaint against Microsoft.

    Please, do some research and learn something about licensing laws before publishing something like this, especially in a financial magazine. This sort of ignorance happens all the time on technology boards, but here?
  • Re:Daniel Lyons (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jak163 ( 666315 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @01:31PM (#7210800)
    It's all about lowering costs, being more efficient and freeing you to spend less money while keeping more of what you make. And that truly is what business is about.

    That is correct, and that is the basic misunderstanding of the article and of much of the advocacy of much of open source. Open source is not about disrupting private property rights or communism. It is about enhancing competition and reducing anti-competitive monopoly power and monopoly profits. It is an attempt to bring to commercial software the same system of ethics that governs programming or other kinds of research in a scientific or academic setting. Those settings are not anticapitalist in principle, and authorship is respected there, but what is not possible is on the one hand secrecy and on the other hand general acceptance of valid results. GPL is a form of private property, not a disavowal of ownership. It is a restriction upon how the use may be restricted, which is itself precisely what property rights are--en enforceable claim to exclude someone from the use of something.

    The author is trying to point out a contradiction between the rhetoric of the open source community as anticapitalist and anti-private property and the reality. In this he is correct--there is such hypocrisy. But he is wrong in saying that the contradiction goes to the heart of open source. It's the rhetoric of some open source advocacy and some representation of open source that contradicts this enforcement action, not the core of open source.

    He is also wrong in suggesting that there is something wrong with this enforcement action. What he is really implying is that a corporation should have its IP enforced, but that a far-flung network of volunteers should not. Asking a corporation to pay them or abide by the restriction they place on use of their IP is unfair if it prevents the corporation from making money. The proof of the corporation's merit is that it sold 400,000 units. If releasing the code will remove an advantage over its competitors, that's just too bad for the volunteers.

    This is why some in the open source movement embrace libertarianism and social darwinism and speak of the results of unrestricted competition under a regime of private property rights as if they genuinely reward merit. Private property and corporations are legal entities, creations of the state. Laissez-faire and perfect competition is no more absent government intervention than state-directed communism. It is a different set of rules governing contracts and property, not the absence of such rules in either case.

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

    by LMCBoy ( 185365 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @01:36PM (#7210874) Homepage Journal
    You misunderstood me, because that's exactly what I was saying.

    Well, no. You said that the First Sale doctrine "makes no mention of a limit as to how many copies you can resell". This is simply not correct: it is mentioned quite explicitly that the legal owner of a particular copy is allowed to resell that particular copy.

    How do you know Broadcom did not comply with the GPL? Maybe Broadcom gave Linksys the source code to its changes.

    Hence the word "If" that began my sentence. Anyway, "if" that were the case, then Linksys is still bound by the requirements of the GPL; if any of its customers ask to see source code derived from GPL'd software, they must still provide it, as a distributor of GPL'd software.

    You can try to juggle blame between Broadcom and Linksys all you want, but in the end, if someone is sold GPL'd software, then they have the right to see the source code. It is not complicated.
  • by stuntpope ( 19736 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @01:49PM (#7211008)
    Our weapons are Fear:

    "For months, in secret, the Free Software Foundation, ... has been making threats to Cisco Systems" ...if my company uses Open Source, some shadowy "enforcer" group may threaten us with who-knows-what!


    "The dispute... offers a rare peek into the dark side of the free software movement--a view that contrasts with the movement's usual public image of happy software proles linking arms and singing the "Internationale" while freely sharing the fruits of their code-writing labor." ...what, there's a dark side to Open Source? It's not basically benevolent, it's subversive? And written by communists?

    more Fear:

    "Or maybe, as some suggest, the foundation wants GPL-covered code to creep into commercial products so it can use GPL to force open those products."

    and Doubt:

    "These disputes might scare companies away from using open source software. Joseph Alsop..., chief executive of Progress, reckons the fiasco with mySQL cost his company $10 million in lost development and marketing work." ...looks like using Open Source wouldn't be a good idea after all, it might cost us big time for arbitrary reasons. Don't want a fiasco!

    let's add sarcasm:

    'Will Cisco and Broadcom be the first? Probably they'll decide, like everyone else, that it's cheaper to settle than to fight. Such a pity, comrade." an aside: I wonder if Forbes always pities parties in breach of contract and bemoans the resulting "enforcement actions".
  • So I think the article sends the right message to business people:

    Correction: It could have sent the right message to people. Unfortunately, Mr. Lyons sees no value in understanding what "free" in "free software" really means. His consistently uninformed, slanted, and frequently infammatory jabs indicate this to be true.

    In addition, Forbes is intentionally spreading this misinformation because it jives with what a large number of techless managers (a large part of its following) already think and feel: I don't understand the proprietary stuff we're using now, but if I keep forking over wads of cash, we should be safe. I don't feel comfortable not forking over wads of cash to this OSS thing because I don't want to take the time to understand this new business model to reassure myself that it's okay.

    If Mr. Lyons would simply present facts, then it would be ok. I certainly don't think that the GPL is good in every situation and, as a result, I don't GPL ALL of my code. However, Mr. Lyons has painted the FSF as some sinister, shadowy organization just waiting to jump out of an alley and club you on the head. This is certainly a better description of the BSA which the author mentions all of no times. In fact, while the FSF may go overboard in its zealous beliefs from time to time, they're a sedated lamb compared to the predatory BSA.

    Have you read every word of every copyright or EULA for every program you have ever used?
    Do you read the comment banner for every .c file in the free software you just downloaded and ran?
    You can probably get away with it if you are not selling products like routers.

    Absolutely not. But then... if companies like Linksys are going to base an entire product line on someone else's codebase, they need to do that. In today's addle-brained "market" where companies that produce no discernable service or good can sustain themselves entirely on filing lawsuits (PanIP, SCO), I would never be so stupid as to use an unknown code chunk I just found lying around without knowing exactly where it came from and how I was allowed to use it.

    The GPL is certainly no magical silver bullet to solve every problem, but it isn't some dark, infectious disease waiting to hurt your bottom line. Just like any other tool at a company's disposal, it has to be carefully considered in context. If it doesn't fit your needs you don't use it - very simple. You (as in Forbes - not you) can't just toe the line that Mr Lyons does: The GPL is Evil because I don't care to understand it and companies like Linksys and Cisco bungle things up and get themselves in trouble.

  • Choice tidbits (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheTick ( 27208 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @02:23PM (#7211449) Homepage Journal

    From the article...

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

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

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

    The author of the article, Daniel Lyons, concludes:

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

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

    Such a pity, comrade.

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

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

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

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

  • by Chordonblue ( 585047 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @02:54PM (#7211900) Journal
    Nowhere in this article is it mentioned that the people who choose to use GPL code are obligated by the rules of the license - it's not as if this is somehow hidden from public view. The author of the article treats the FSF and the GPL as if they play some sort of 'gotcha!' game. Nothing could be further from the truth. The GPL was designed by people who hated the thought of being ensnared by proprietary software - a real 'gotcha' if there ever was one. The way GPL code got to so usable and stable was because it was shared by design!

    Why not focus on the fact that these criminal corporations are STEALING from thousands of individual contributors of GPL code worldwide? Linksys didn't code what they're using and they're not even being asked to PAY for it! The bargain is - they need to share what they've modified - end of story. The FSF has an obligation to stand up for the 'little guy' because... Well... Who else would? You can bet that if I took a piece of Cisco router code and put it in a "Chordsoft Router" they'd sue me for everything I had - and rightly so. I deserve to be sued for using proprietary software under their license agreement. Can't hack the terms of the agreement? Simple. DON'T USE IT!

    The FSF was doing things 'in secret' - not for some dark motive, but because they didn't want to make a specticle out of corporations they are in negotiations with. Contrast this behavior with the BSA who routinely lines up companies and individuals for public inspection. Ask Ernie Ball (music manufacturer) about it sometime.

    But everyone in the industry knows that GPL'd code - particularly network kernel stuff is the best there is. With so many eyes viewing, fixing, modifying, and tweaking it, it's as perfect as perfect gets. It's also very tempting for companies like Lineo and Linksys to appropriate it because it's so easy to do. But when you do the crime, shouldn't you do the time?

    And pardon me, but I don't see $65,000 as a big settlement - these are reasonable costs associated with having to do this research in the first place. It's certainly not like when you have organizations like the BSA demanding MILLIONS for violations of their copyright holders.

    How about a little more balance Forbes? Truly horrible 'reporting'.
  • My letter, FWIW (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Erandir ( 578490 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @02:59PM (#7211955)
    Dear Sir/Madam

    I found the sentiments expressed in your recent article, "Linux's Hit Men", somewhat disquieting. Mr. Lyons seems to advocate the idea that the violation of license agreement constitutes fair use of intellectual property. In the light of the past few years' renewed concern over business ethics, I cannot see how Forbes can identify itself with such a questionable viewpoint.

    It is unclear whether mr. Lyons's argument is deliberately propogandistic, or whether it just stems from a misunderstanding of the principles of the GPL and the FSF. Although GPL-based software is labeled "free", it is certainly not within the public domain. Rather, it depends on the principle that software is a tool (whether employed for profit or not), and that all parties using such a tool can benifit from large-scale collaborative development by volunteers. To protect such an initiative against exploitation by those who would unscrupulously exploit the efforts of others for profit, terms of use are needed to maintain the open-source nature of the code, and all improvements made to it.

    The license is certainly not a "hidden" threat in such code -- it is always available with distributed source, and asserted in the source files themselves. Users of such code must either abide with the licensing agreements, or use different source code.

    Lastly, I must comment on the almost slanderous tone of the article with its strange McCarthyist overtones. Is this truly representative of neutral, unbiased reporting? Furthermore, I am disturbed by the suggestion that a party with little financial or legal resources somehow have a weaker legal position than a large corporation. Surely copyright protection is there to protect the small player too?

  • by aiabx ( 36440 ) * on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @04:01PM (#7212642)
    Free Software isn't about revenge, or cheap stuff. It's about freedom. If every MS product were free tomorrow, there would still be a free software movement, as long as one person wants to be able to see and modify the source.

    You can add the word "just" after the "isn't" in the first sentence, if you wish.
  • by flossie ( 135232 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @05:31PM (#7213302) Homepage
    Sorry buddy, junk science can be employed by both sides. The only difference is that the pro-GM side has real science to go along with the junk science.

    There is plenty of real science employed by both sides in the GM debate. The problem is that *none* of it is conclusive. Depending on your point of view, this is "evidence of absence of harm" of "absence of evidence of safety".

    Neither side can legitimately claim that current scientific knowledge provides solid support for their position. I, personally, take the precautionary principle to heart here; accepting that there is probably a low risk of danger, there is no real problem if we wait a few years (or decades even) until we are sure the technology is safe before using it (a few years will make minimal difference), however the potential dangers of deploying it too early could be catastrophic for the environment and our future food security.

    There is no need to rush!

  • by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @06:28PM (#7213726) Homepage
    Oops, I guess the following post is a rant :D

    For most EULAs, it is clear that the copyright owner does not want you to make copies of their binary software available for others to use.

    Heh. If that is what EULA's were actualy about then they wouldn't exists at all. Ordinary copyright law already prohibits that. EULA's try to add on additional restrictions not granted by copyright law. They almost always try to revoke rights specificly granted by copyright law.

    Books, magazines, and newspapers don't come with EULA's. Records, tapes, and CD's don't come with EULA's. Paintings, sculptures, and photographs don't come with EULA's. Radio broadcasts, television broadcasts, and videocassettes don't come with EULA's.

    Do software copyright holders get some magical power that no other copyright holder gets? There only rights a copyright holder has available to licence are the rights of reproduction, distribution, and performance. See for your self: US Copyright law Section 106 Exclusive rights in copyrighted works. [] There is no such thing as a "licence to use". Doesn't exist.

    EULA's are in legal limbo, rarely tested. Judges have gone to great lengths to decide individual cases on any other grounds possible, to void facing the thorny issue. When they have dealt with it the results have been mixed. The cases that HAVE upheld EULA's have done so not on copyright law, but by a severe stretch of contract law. If such an interpretation of copyright law is valid then there is absolutely no reason a supermarket couldn't slap an EULA on a tomato and sue you for violating it.

    My personal choice is to not read them looking for a loophole around their intentions.

    That's a rather insidious comment. You imply the reason for challenging an EULA, or even for bothering to read EULA, is to do something improper. EULA's try to prohibit all sorts of perfectly legal and legitimate activity. You certainly don't need an EULA to prohibit something that is already illegal.

    Before somebody posts about my EULA comments and the GPL, the GPL isn't an EULA. It is a plain old licence. It grants ordinary copyright licence to reproduce and distribute. It doesn't rely on some legal fiction of a "licence to use".


New systems generate new problems.