GPL Freedom Has Its' Costs

by Jacek Artymiak

Related link: http://www.netfilter.org/news/2004-04-15-sitecom-gpl.html



It looks like Sitecom GmbH got themselves into trouble by not understanding what are the obligations of using GPL-licensed software.


Once again we are reminded that freedom does not equal anarchy. GPL-licenced software is not public domain software; it is free for the taking, but when you start modifying it, you are asked to share your modifications with the world.


Fortunately, there are more business friendly licenses, like the BSD license and its many variations. They are particularly suitable for embedded systems, hardware firewalls, etc.


Sitecom probably wouldn't have gotten themselves into this legal knot if they used pf.


10 Comments

jwenting
2004-04-16 02:45:39
"free" software strikes again
"We are not in any way opposing the commercial use of free and open source
software. Specifically, there is no legal risk of using GPL licensed
software in commercial products.
"


Complete bullocks. GPL is designed to prevent commercial venture by forcing any product you create using it to adopt it.
That precludes you effectively from ever making money from anything created using the smallest piece of code that was ever released under GPL.
After all, if the source must be freely available and useable to anyone, there's no more incentive to purchase the product...

nzheretic
2004-04-16 03:18:15
The BSD license does not insure the right to use
http://weblogs.java.net/cs/user/view/cs_msg/2623


To those "friends" who state "Others have said that until there is an Open Source (non-GPL) alternative to linux that there will continue to be work for us to do, and that once the nature of the GPL license gets tested in court and the public understands more about what it does, they will want to replace Linux with something they actually own.", I ask:


What good is owning something if you do not have the right to use it?


The new BSD license, which is the most liberal of open source licenses, does not grant the downstream users any right to actually use any patented methords that upstream developers include in the code.


In 1981 US courts ruled that software and business methord could, without legislation ot the contrary, could be patented. From 1981 to 1989, with a few exceptions the entire software industry just ignored the issue of software patents.


Challenges and Strategy -Bill Gates Email Memo 1991
http://www.theworld.com/obi/Bill.Gates/Challenges.and.Strategy
QUOTE
Category 3
----------


This is a category of challenges we face that I don't feel are widely
recognized.


PATENTS: If people had understood how patents would be granted when most
of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry
would be at a complete standstill today. I feel certain that some large
company will patent some obvious thing related to interface, object orientation,
algorithm, application extension or other crucial technique. If we assume this
company has no need of any of our patents then the have a 17-year right to take
as much of our profits as they want. The solution to this is patent exchanges
with large companies and patenting as much as we can. Amazingly we havn't
done any patent exchanges tha I am aware of. Amazingly we havn't found a
way to use our licensing position to avoid having our own customers cause
patent problems for us. I know these aren't simply problems but they deserve
more effort by both Legal and other groups. For example we need to do a
patent exchange with HP as part of our new relationship. In many application
categories straighforward thinking ahead allows you to come up with
patentable ideas. A recent paper from the League for Programming Freedom
(available from the Legal department) explains some problems with the
way patents are applied to software.
UNQUOTE


The 1991 paper from The League for Programming Freedom can be found here
http://lpf.ai.mit.edu/


As Bill Gates rightly stated " If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today". The Silicon valley revolution would not have taken place. From 1991 to 1997, the major software vendors slowly began build software patent portfolios and entering into cross licensing arrangements and most of the smaller vendors still ignored the issue entirely.


From 1997 on, driven by the greed of the Venture capitalists of the DotCom era, vendors and other groups began gobbling up businesses based not upon the current business viability, but the so-called intellectual property the business held. Most in the software industry still ignored these third party parasites, but larger vendor also began expanding their software patent portfolios.


Complex cross licensing arangements are increasingly becoming a legal quagmire. Microsoft is facing a number of lawsuits from companies which Microsoft did enter into a formal relationship, for example Timeline Inc
http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/53/29419.html
SCO is also suing IBM based upon the exact same class of legal cross licensing relationship that Bill Gates suggested as a solution to patents back in 1991.


While software patents remain a threat to the entire software industry, including Linux...
http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,114458,00.asp
..., many companies, including IBM, HP, SUN, Oracle, SAP and Novell are turning to a simpler form of cross licensing arrangement - the GNU General Public License, or GPL and LGPL.


Only the GPL and LGPL so-called "viral" licenses effectively grants all downstream users the right to freely use the sofware. A license that even the largest of patent portfolio holders, such as IBM, are adopting to collaboratively develop new software. This, along with customer demand, is the major reason that Linux is being widely adopted and not one or more of the BSD based distributions.


Similar so called "viral clauses" are also part of Java Community Proccess(JCP) Java Specification Participation Agreement (JSPA). Any corperate or individual contributer to a JSR must also grant implementers the right freely use any intellectual property with the terms of the JCP.


It if you want to talk about licenses that "own", check out the terms and conditions of the leading opposition EULAs ...
http://www.opensource.org/advocacy/shared_source.html

simon_hibbs
2004-04-16 03:30:13
"free" software strikes again
>Complete bullocks. GPL is designed to prevent
>commercial venture by forcing any product you
>create using it to adopt it.


In this case the product was a hardware device that ran GPL derived software. Many companies have built businesses selling hardware along with GPL'd software, while complying with the terms of the GPL license. Therefore given this context context, it's pretty obvious who's talking the bollox.


There's also the LGPL that allows you to sell proprietary software products that uses GPL'd software functionality, shoudl the licensor wish to allow that possibility.


Simon Hibbs

larsd
2004-04-16 07:57:14
"free" software strikes again
Well, the obligations of using GPL'd software are spelled out in the GPL; so any legal risk can be avoided by adhering to it.


GPL'd software might not be suitable for a specific product, but in that the GPL is no different from any other software license.

chromatic
2004-04-16 09:09:39
"free" software strikes again

After all, if the source must be freely available and useable to anyone


This is not a requirement of the GPL. See Does the GPL require that source code of modified versions be posted to the public? in the GPL FAQ.

aristotle
2004-04-16 22:43:21
"free" software strikes again
How incredibly arrogant from the authors of netfilter who provide the software for free to prevent a company from charging for it. Noone will ever be able to make any money that way! We need to be able to profit from work done by others free of charge!


Bollocks.


Strange, isn't it, that IBM is making money (and not a little of it) from GPL licensed software.


If you go to a company with a CD full of stuff and say "this is software I made, you are free to use it", they will say, "good for you, so what?". Business owners don't care about the cost of buying stuff. They want to know there is someone who has the expertise to support the software and who can be held responsible if things go awry. Whether the stuff is free for the taking or not doesn't change these factors.


Don't all those studies that attempt to prove running Windows is cheaper than running Linux all emphasize this point?

aristotle
2004-04-16 22:48:47
I don't get it
Let's say netfilter was a commercial product by a company. Then Sitecom GmbH would have had to buy licenses for it.


Now netfilter is not, and they got it for no money. Instead, the authors want to be paid in source.


How is "we want source in exchange for source" any different from "we want money in exchange for source"?


If Sitecom had used a commercial product without paying for it, people would say "piracy" and everyone would nod their heads. Now that Sitecom has used a free product without paying for it, people say "evil conspiracy" and everyone shakes their heads.

JimDabell
2004-04-20 05:46:00
"free" software strikes again

"GPL is designed to prevent commercial venture by forcing any product you create using it to adopt it."



Untrue. Directly from the FSF:


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



So I fail to see how you can argue that it is designed to prevent commercial venture.


"if the source must be freely available and useable to anyone"



The GPL doesn't require that. Read it yourself.


"there's no more incentive to purchase the product..."



Plenty of companies offer incentives and make money by doing so. IBM, for example.

Joe Ll. G. Blakesley
2004-04-22 11:36:40
Parts of This Article are Simply Not True
It looks like Sitecom GmbH got themselves into trouble by not understanding what are the obligations of using GPL-licensed software.


If you read the story & GNU GPL more closely you would realise that:


(1) They did not get themselves into trouble by a lack of "understanding" of anything. The injunction was a last resort due to their continuing to "pirate" the free software despite having repeated legal notification of this fact (and being taken to court over it).


(2) The GNU GPL itself states in section 0 that there are no "obligations of[sic] using GPL-licensed software". The obligations (to include copies of the GNU GPL, the source or an offer of the source, &c) only occur if you publically re-distribute GNU-GPL-ed software.



Fortunately, there are more business friendly licenses, like the BSD license and its many variations.


Substitute "monopoly" for "business" and that would be right. I think you'll find that businesses offering support for and distributing GNU-GPL-ed software (e.g.: Linux-based GNU distros) tend to make more money than businesses distributing effective-public-domain X11-like licenses because another company cannot come along and drive them out of the market or monopolise their products (by shackling/closing the code) because the market is free.



They are particularly suitable for embedded systems, hardware firewalls, etc.


All the embedded systems I've used (even including calculators &c) seem to have at least one really annoying bug whuch could be easily fixed if their firmware was GNU-GPL-ed (and the company's usually cannot be bothered fixing). It is also in the best interests of hardware companies to use free software as they get new features added and bugs fixed without doing any work at all. There are also loads of other reasons why it pretty much always makes economic sense to free drivers and firmware--I believe RMS and ESR have written about this somewhere. In other words, IMO, the GNU GPL is particularly suited to embedded contexts (more than any other license and more than the GPL is to non-embedded contexts). That is, the complete opposite to what you say is true.

hncjxiaoliang
2005-04-25 00:10:30
I don't get it
RealONE
PP
Quite good
I'm interested in your life, dear...


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