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Ask an Attorney About Open Source Licensing 181

Posted by Roblimo
from the expert-advice-from-the-experts dept.
I first ran into Daniel B. Ravicher on the Open Source Initiative's license-discuss email list. He's a rarity: a young lawyer actively interested in and sympathetic to Open Source licensing. In fact, he wrote a detailed article on this topic for the Virginia Journal of Law and Technology last year while he was still in law school. Dan is now an associate at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP, a firm that handles, among other things, business law and intellectual property matters. Who better to ask about Open Source under the law? (The usual attorney disclaimer applies, of course -- that Dan can only answer general law questions, and if you want specific legal advice you must directly engage an attorney yourself.) One question per post, please. Tomorrow we'll forward 10 of the highest moderated ones to Dan by email, and put up his answers as soon as we get them back.
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Ask an Attorney About Open Source Licensing

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    If there is only one decent way of writing something, then it's not just immune to the GPL, it's immune to copyright.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    A license is not an attribute of the code. It's an attribute of the relationship between a person and the code. They key here is that different people can have different relationships with the same program.

    If I create a program from scratch, my relationship to that program is "owner". I can make derivative works, make copies, give copies to other people, sell copies to other people, anything at all.

    If I publish that program under the GPL, and you download a copy, your relationship to that program is "GPL licensee". You can do anything with the program that the GPL allows.

    And if I sell another copy of that program as a commercial project to Joe Blow, Joe's relationship to that program is "commercial licensee". Joe can do anything that Joe's license allows. The terms of that license are between Joe and me.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Is the Qt Public License (better known as the QPL [trolltech.com] really GPL [gnu.org]-incompatible?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    As far as I know, FSF has a position that linking to GPL-ed library means that the application itself has to be distributed under GPL, if there is no other library with the same API distributed under some other license. A frequently used example is the readline library. What do you think about this?

    Another example which is confusing to me is GPL software bundled with Solaris 8. Sun now ships bash as a part of the OS and a completely supported application. They also ship the source, as required by GPL. But the GPL also says this:

    However, as a special exception, the source code distributed need not include anything that is normally distributed (in either source or binary form) with the major components (compiler, kernel, and so on) of the operating system on which the executable runs, unless that component itself accompanies the executable.

    bash is linked with libc. From reading the above paragraph, I would say that anyone except Sun may distribute bash binary for Solaris without distributing libc source, because of the OS component exception. But since Sun distributes bash and libc together, Sun would have to distribute libc under GPL too. So how come they don't do that?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    As a troll you need to spend more time on topics that truly incense people. In order to achieve this, the topic would ideally be something that is true that people don't want to admit.

    Your post, unfortunately makes some obviously false statements:

    - GNOME's addition to the kernel
    - Linux's license lending to abuse (the BSD license is far more abusable)

    If you really want to generate venomous responses, concentrate on highly divisive assertions based in truth. For example:

    "As the Linux kernel becomes more bloated and unwieldy, its developers have resorted to stealing more BSD code just to keep pace."

    Thanks to all of you trolls for your attention in this matter.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:08AM (#240188)

    Many people download from Napster, reverse engineer software like DeCSS, etc. Are there any general legal strategies, etc., that can be used to limit one's liability while still publishing information on things like cryptography?

    Alternatively, how would one go about constructing a straw-man case most likely to overturn the DMCA's restriction on publication of said material?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2001 @11:20AM (#240189)
    I hate to see source code where there's more lines of legalese than code. How can the legal part be reduced to one or two lines? I presume a well-crafted reference would be the mechanism, but what are the legal requirements? Would an md5 "checksum" of the referenced doc help? Is there any legally recognized repository of standard legal boilerplate that can be referenced, and where new boilerplate could be officially registered for this purpose?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:35AM (#240190)
    I am sure there will be plenty of other GPL related questions. Mine is fairly narrow and specific. In that the GPL attempts thru a clevel legal hack to achieve a specific end result thru the use of copyright law that is different than what some envisioned the intent of copyright is, it has been suggested by some in the legal community that the GPL itself can be invalidated as a mis-use of copyright law. Is this a valid interpretation?
  • If a user makes a few small changes in a file and submits those changes to you, he has created a derivative work. Derivative works still belong to the original copyright holder.

    What complicates things is when he submits an entire file for you to add to your program. This entire file is itself copyrightable by that user, since it is not derived from your own source code, and you must abide by whatever license that user set forth or else exclude that file from your program. This is the case with the Linux kernel, where many files are copyrighted individually by their individual authors.

    -E

  • In case you haven't heard, scholarly works (which are full of the things) *ARE* speech. Under the First Amendment, the government can no more censor the equations describing the physics of nuclear explosions than they can censor somebody's political speech.

    A description of the program and what it does (i.e. source code), is just as much speech as a paper describing how to build an atomic bomb -- which, BTW, was a test case a few years back. See: http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/neutronics/todd/nuc.bo mb.html [berkeley.edu]

    -E

  • Daniel, you write,
    59. There is a huge flaw with this core of these Supremacy Clause preemption arguments. The underlying rationales given for performing a separate Supremacy Clause preemption analysis are exactly the same arguments made for finding the license procedurally or substantively unconscionable under state contract law.
    How does this square with shrinkwrap license clauses that demand no one publish reviews or benchmarks without permission? Both Microsoft and Oracle employ such clauses, for example. It would seem to me that this conflicts with the original (1823?) Supreme Court decision that established the "fair use" doctrine -- the Court declared that Congress might not pass a copyright law so stringent as to restrain freedom of speech nor freedom of the press... and benchmarking and publishing the results certainly is a legitimate exercise of the latter! And the subject would seem to me to be precisely a Supremacy Clause argument...

  • by David Price (1200) on Monday May 07, 2001 @10:39AM (#240194)
    The GPL contains language designed to address this concern:
    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 GPL isn't a license to *use* software, it's a license to modify and redistribute software. So using GPL'd software doesn't commit you to following the GPL, because the GPL doesn't cover the act of running the program. If, however, you copy or modify GPL'd code, the only way you can legally do so is by following the demands of the GPL.

    Of course, this only applies to licenses that are a grant of copyright rights like the GPL. Licenses that take away rights (such as the "no reverse engineering" clause in nearly every piece of commercial software) are another story; this is why the industry is trying so hard to get UCITA passed.

  • by nickm (1468)
    I don't mean to imply that someone would use Free Software as a dumping tactic. I am more concerned with the possibility that IBM (or Red Hat, or J. Random Hacker) could be forced into some consent decree not to release Free Software on the grounds that it is anticompetitive dumping.

    --
    I noticed

  • by nickm (1468) on Monday May 07, 2001 @10:09AM (#240196) Homepage
    Suppose we reach a Free Software nirvana: the GPL is successfully defended in court, the DMCA/patent/UCITA/other restrictive laws must keep their mitts out of free software, etc...

    Now what of antitrust law? Yes, we're doing this for the good of humanity, but larger institutions could (especially in the eyes of the courts) use Free Software as a way to quickly drown competitors. Could a company be held liable for releasing free software, especially if it's a "category killer" that makes the proprietary competition irrelevant?

    Would the fact that the competition can build on the released codebase help matters any?

    --
    I noticed

  • A possible strategy for making a profitable business based on open source software development would be to write an application, release it to the public under an open source license (e.g. the GPL), and then sell to other companies the right to use the application without the GPL's restrictions.

    But what happens when other people, not associated with your company, start contributing bugfixes or improvements to the open source version? Can you sell your customers the right to use these patches in a way that violates the GPL, or are the patches effectively copyrighted by their respective authors and transferred to you under the GPL?

    What if you were to keep the open source and the proprietary versions separate and you only sell licenses to use the proprietary version -- does this mean you cannot ever implement a bugfix in the proprietary version that someone has committed to the public version?

    Zooko

  • I am an European citizen and working on (and have copyright of) an open-source project. What effect can American patents have on my work? Can I be sued by an American company? Since America has the majority of software-patents the US is my main concern in staying active in the OSS world.
  • by ewhac (5844) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:06AM (#240200) Homepage Journal

    Realistically, if it came down to a fight in court, what do you believe are the chances the Gnu General Public License would be upheld and enforced? (And please don't answer with, "It depends" :-).)

    Schwab

  • Yes, you can, if you have a copy of the old version. You obtained it while GPLed and thus he can not place any restrictions (other than those of the GPL) on the code you have in your hands.

    What is more interesting: is it his prerogative to change the license and not release new additions under the GPL even though it is a derivative work of his GPLed code? I think so, because he never had to accept the GPL himself and thus falls back on his rights as author.

    Or even: is he obligated to give you the sources (at the cost of distribution) just because the code was GPLed? I actually think he does not have to do that, again because he never had to accept the GPL himself for his own code.

  • by Rob Kaper (5960) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:22AM (#240202) Homepage
    How much influence would the intent of the GPL have above its wording in court?

    In Dutch law, you cannot demand - for example - a brand computer for $9.95 if it's a misprint of $995, because it should have been obvious that you could not get a brand new computer for ten bucks.

    I wonder how important this would be in the case of open source licenses and particulary the GPL, since its mere existance comes forth from a philosophy and releasing code under the GPL usually is done because the author supports that (GNU's) philosophy.

  • If I write a piece of software under license A. Someone else takes that software, makes modifications to it and then releases it under license B, what leagal recourse would I have? Let us say that A is the BSD license and B is the GPL. Can someone who created a derivitive work change the licensing for the whole work, or are just the changes that person made covered by the new license.
  • by imp (7585) on Monday May 07, 2001 @10:31AM (#240205) Homepage
    What is the best way to respond to a legal threat? In the past, I've been told to tell anyone that makes legal threats or demands of me or my software to talk to direct all such communications through my lawyer as a matter of policy. Is this a good policy? When does taking a matter public do more harm than good?
  • by woodforc (10906) on Monday May 07, 2001 @07:02PM (#240209) Homepage
    As a software engineer (going on 8 years if you count comp sci grad school), and as a soon-to-be first year law student, I can answer this from my perspective. One of the many reasons I'm going into law is to make sure people who understand technology are influencing decisions and defending the rights of the people making a real difference in this world.

    If it's not clear where my heart is, let me just mention that I had UNIX on my license plate for 3 years. But in my "old age" I've become less interested in code and more interested in arguing ;)

    Chad
  • by dood (11062) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:48AM (#240210)
    I'm one of the lead developers on the Open Source project Jive [coolservlets.com]. Many of our contributors work on the project as part of their job duties at their place of employment. In light of that, we've been considering a mandatory Contributor Agreement for all code that is submitted to the project (excluding one-liners).

    We want the agreement to accomplish three things:

    1. Stipulate that the code is being released to the project under the project's license (for our project this is the Apache License).
    2. Ensure that the contributor has permission to release the intellectual property to the project, including any necessary permission from their employer.
    3. Make sure that the contributor does not apply for patents for the code that they're submitting.
    My question is:
    1. Do you see legal value in this sort of agreement?
    2. Do you know of any boilerplate agreements that exist?
    3. Shouldn't more Open Source projects be worried about IP issues that a contributor agreement seeks to prevent?
    Thanks!
  • I'd moderate this up, but it's already at 5. My theory is that you shouldn't be able to be sued for public domain software written in good faith. If you write a virus or something like that, then sure, you deserve to be sued to hell and back, but I was rather hoping the fact that a program is not sold as a product would effectively indemnify the programmer against any kind of "merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose" type of claims. Say I write FooMail, a public domain mail client for [insert OS of your choice], and a bug in it causes your mail folders to be corrupted beyond repair under certain circumstances. Could a user of that program sue me for damages under any reasonable legal doctrine? Would it be advisable for me to slap UPPER CASE DISCLAIMERS all over the program, or wouldn't that help? I don't see how no-sue clauses in the GPL and BSD licenses can help, since you don't need to accept the license in order to use the programs in either case -- only to make copies and derived works.

    To summarise, what's the most effective means of doing a public service without risk of being sued for your efforts?

  • What is the validity of an agreement you don't sign? Does using (use/read the source, or even simply running it) the software imply you've read and agreed to the terms of the license?
  • To me it sounds like you are talking about distributing software in a "free" model, but in one which restricts anyone from profiting from its use(and/or)distribution. If that's you're talking about, then that's not free software. That's shareware.
    "Free software" licensing is designed to protect the intellectual property (or maybe just ordinary property) rights of the owner, while still granting the public an unrestricted right to use the software. Public domain software is essentially the same thing as free, but without the intellectual property protection.
    If you want to distribute software, but not unconditionally, then yes, you would need to license it. That's what a license is for, to set the terms under which you make you property available to others. I don't think the need for licenses has anything do do with the real or imagined existence of a "litigation crazed atmosphere in the US" (not that i believe it is imagined), but with the universaly accepted concept of "ownership" and how an owner can protect their property which is made availble to others.
  • Can they? Or can they just take my idea and get some other people to sign the papers and claim to be inventor? If they can force you, how do they go about doing it? A court order or something?
  • by Pahroza (24427) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:16AM (#240218)
    My question is what can we do as a group to change the perceptions and misconceptions that judges specifically, and courts in general have toward open source licensing. This industry has grown up telling us all that almost everything belongs to someone. How can we turn over a new leaf and bring into fruition the thought that yes, we can share, that it's OK to share?
  • by RavenDarkholme (27245) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:06AM (#240220)
    The main question I have is, how do you enforce your GPL or other Open Source licensed product? Certainly, you can go to the offending party, and say, "You are in violation of the license agreement," but if they don't comply, what can you do? What are the damages? If I GPL my software, I can't very well go to court and say "You are stealing my property and costing me money" and thus sue for money lost since, after all, the GPL means anyone can copy it without paying. Without a ton of money to begin with, I can't do anything at all about people violating the licence even if there were monetary damages. So, I'd like an attorney's opinion on what tack you should take when trying to enforce GPL/Artistic/BSD or other Open Source licenses in a way that would be effective.
  • by Valdrax (32670) on Monday May 07, 2001 @11:05AM (#240225)
    This is easy.

    You can license your own product under multiple licenses. Commercial vendors do this all this time with proprietary code. You can also release a product under multiple Open Source licenses. If you are the copyright holder, you control the licenses.

    Now, you can't retroactively change the licensing of version 1.0 or any other released versions to a non-GPL license, because you've already got a binding license agreement with your users. However, any future releases of the software can be licensed as the author sees fit.

    On the other hand, if you accept GPL'ed patches, and you don't get copyright from the patch owner, and you don't get their permission to relicense the work, then you are in violation of the GPL as it applies to their works.
  • There are quite a few lawyers who believe in open source. Personally, I think the GPL is a bit too predatory, but I do believe that open source software in general is a necessary counter balance to the increasingly vicious behavior of closed source suppliers like Microsoft. The problem is, it's very difficult to get funding to challenge Microsoft's dominance in operating systems, as well as certain applications. So the only legitimate challengers are open source folks... who don't need to make money to be successful.

    I think of the open source movement as the software analogue to the ACLU. They are necessary to counteract overly acquisitive folks who want to trample our rights. Sometimes they do things I can't support, but in general, their existence is necessary to balance the existence of their opponents.

    I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of the GPL, or of Mr. Stallman. And he isn't much of a fan of mine. But my original interest in open source stems from having used programs that are open source, and having coded in the past. I may not get anything out of it, but I do support the EFF, and the open source community... even if they think I'm evil sometimes.

    And you know, open source guys do like patents sometimes... you'd be surprised at how many folks whose code is in the kernel have applied for patents...

    Thalia
  • There is a high demand for IP (read patent) lawyers. The demand for business lawyers in the high tech field is decreasing as a result of the downturn in the economy (not surprising). But the demand for intellectual property work has not decreased in Silicon Valley. Starting salary for IP lawyers is about $120K, and over the 5-8 years to partnership it goes up to about $200K, with bonuses possible (depending on the hours you work). Whether that offsets law school or not is an open question. Consultants can make more... on the other hand, lawyers have fairly steady work and get benefits.

    But to be a good (and happy) IP lawyer, you should like to write papers (things like documentation natch!), research, and listen well.

    And, of course, you may lose some of the respect of your peers. There will be those who think you sold out... so think carefully.

    Thalia
  • by cr0sh (43134) on Monday May 07, 2001 @02:03PM (#240228) Homepage
    Don't ever say you can't afford it: I know it is possible, and yes, you will go into debt, but it can be done. Case in point:

    Three years ago my friend started a protracted court battle, over all things, the rights regarding an easement to get to a house he bought. The case was long and complicated, and basically boiled down to one asshole thinking he could change the rules, and with enough money, overcome my friend.

    Now, my friend is a truck driver - not rich by any means, but one of the best individuals you could ever know. He would truely give you the shirt off his back - both figuratively, and literally. I have seen him do things and help people, strangers even, just because it was the right thing to do. Anyhow - he didn't have a lot of money, but he knew he wasn't going to let this guy cave him in over a simple road (because that is what it boiled down to - a road to the top of the mountain upon which the house sits).

    He went into debt - HUGE DEBT. He had the family supporting him, in every way - food, friendship, housing (he has lived under his mother-in-law's house, in the basement apartment, for those years), even money in those times when we could get him to take a little (he is very proud, and will not take handouts - ya gotta sneak em in). He worked every day, and weekends (still does, gotta pay the lawyers), sometime pulling 24 hour shifts for a couple of days - most of the time working 12-16 hour days. Sometimes I would ride with him - to talk to him, keep him awake on the weekends, tell him something to keep his spirits up.

    In the end, he is coming out of it winning - he has spent a lot of money, but his hard work and perseverence has paid off, and he will have a very nice house to retire in, indeed. He deserves it, more than I can ever convey.

    So, it is possible - if you think you are right, you should pursue it. You may have to work yourself to death, maybe take a second job, who knows what else - but defending your rights and what you believe in is never an easy job - if it were, far fewer people would have died throughout history defending those ideals...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • Realistically, if it came down to a fight in court, what do you believe are the chances the Gnu General Public License would be upheld and enforced? (And please don't answer with, "It depends" :-).)

    The key is to find a one-handed lawyer, so he can't say, "On the other hand...". Does this lawyer have two hands?
    --

  • Ah, the old damages are everything tactic. Instead of assuming that monetary damages (which are suppsedly non-existant) are the only option, take some other tactics:
    • Don't take 'em to court for money (yes, your honor, I'm giving t away, but I want them to pay), take 'em to court and require that they follow licensing. In other words, you are suing to make it a legal requirement that they follow the licensing which you have set forth. And since you'll be able to show license violations (in numerous ways, since they almost have to help you do it), you should be able to win. You get your license followed. Oh, and make sure you include as punitive damages enough to cover some very high quality attorneys.
    • Another tactic to take is that they HAVE done monetary damage to you. After all, haven't they made money without recompense to you, based on your work? I think that's called derivative work in copyright law, and many courts are telling us that this is bad. Nail 'em for it.

      • Just my two cents worth.
  • How would the GPL hold up in a large, drawn out, court battle? In yoiur honest opinion. IE, is the license enforceable?
  • 1) You create program "Foo v1.0", release under GPL

    2) You change string "Hello World" to "Goodbye World", and release "Foo v2.0", under MS-License.

    You are totally within all your rights to do this. You "own" Foo, and release it to *OTHERS* under GPL. When you make changes to *your* code, and re-release, life is good.

    However, consider the following:

    1.5) HelpfulUser submits a modification to you which adds a feature. They give you license to use that code as GPL.

    ...in this case, you *cannot* relicense your code with their code under a more proprietary license than the GPL. That's because it's not all your code.

    For your last question: "Why can't a user of the Windows version sue for the source code, citing the GPL on the *NIX version? Why doesn't the GPL on the *NIX version trump the proprietary license on the Windows version?"

    From m-w: License: a permission granted by competent authority to engage in a business or occupation or in an activity otherwise unlawful

    It is unlawful to run code that belongs to other people without their permission. Usually companies give users a license (permission) to use their code, and it is totally legit for the *owner* of the code to discriminate (or place restrictions on it's use) when letting other people use it.

    --Robert

  • Just so you know, a minaret [dictionary.com] is a kind of tower. I am pretty sure fingers cannot weave minarets in any sense. Maybe you meant pirouettes?

    Although I don't know what they would be doing weaving those either.

    -your friendly grammar nazi,
    -konstant
    Yes! We are all individuals! I'm not!
  • You actually don't have to register the copyright immediately, in fact, you can register after the violation and sue them then.
  • by bwt (68845) on Monday May 07, 2001 @11:24AM (#240237) Homepage
    The open source community interaction with law and politics to date has been almost completely reactive. Typically some company or governement institution has or is about to do something draconian before we are able to mobilize. Sometimes we get there in time, sometimes not. Examples are: DMCA, UCITA, and hundreds of software patents, Microsoft's embrace and extend campaign of the week, ... the list goes on.

    What can we do as a community to be more effective in protecting ourselves. I'm someone who has joined the EFF, written letters to the copyright office, participated heavily on Openlaw, and written letters to my Congressmen. Many of us are involved in these ways, but somehow we've got to take it up a notch. What's the next step?
  • I have a number of patents to my name and have been through the drafting process a number of times - it's always amazed me that patent-legalese - the language that patents are drafted in is almost a specialized language unto itself - almost a programming language - with variabkes (instanced using the 'the' operator), operators, even the possibility of recursion (though I'm told you have to pay the USPTO more if you invoke it). Even little things like 'or' meanings from common usage and are confusing to even us regular mortals who use logic in their day to day work.

    Yet the patent law requires inventions to be described in a way that one who "is of ordinary skill in the subject" (ie of the invention, not the wired patent law language) has to be able to read the patent and be able to understand it .... arguably this would invalidate the bulk of the patents written today .... but I doubt one could actually get such a ruling in the current climate .... many houses of cards would come tumbling down.

    So my question .... has the concept of publishing patents in order to share the idea so that society as a whole can progress faster really just become something that we pay lip service to? or is maybe Open Source a return to that more idealistic age when people did read others patents and learned form them? or maybe to something more like the middle ages when things like the making of stained glass was kept under trade secret status, while music was freely available to anyone who could whistle?

  • My understanding is that copyright protection has been extended to source code by classifying it as a "literary work".

    If this is the case then how can source code be both a literary work and anything less than speech?

    It would seem to me that either code is speech or it is not copyrightable.

  • I keep seeing all of these people ask the same thing about the GPL, and haven't noticed anything at all about DeCSS yet. So, what is your opinion on the legality of DeCSS, and what about the DMCA being constitutional (mainly it being used as the reason you can't link to the code -- how can this work with the idea of free speech)? I really want to know how exactly the DMCA can be used to supress information (Like the SDMI being cracked research paper), and still comply with such important things as free speech?

    -------------
  • Since every trivial thing you can do with software these days is patented, doesn't releasing your open source also open you up to patent infringement attacks?
  • I can't very well go to court and say "You are stealing my property and costing me money" and thus sue for money lost

    Nope, you wouldn't have necessarily lost money, but perhaps that party gained money from your work without following the license. So this is similar to the RIAA's complaints that you haven't necessarily emptied a record store of it's inventory, but by duplicating copyrighted material that they lose on sales. Your corollary would be that they worked with your code, and didn't pay you back by releasing their changes.

    I could see suing for a fair chunk of their revenue from that product, and forcing them to releasing their changes to the code.

  • Source code != Computer programs

    Until source code is compiled, it's just a bunch of text. And like any text, it expresses ideas. Judge Kaplan and the inventors of the DMCA didn't seem to realize that. I can publish instructions on how to make a bomb - that's protected by the First Amendment. Actually making and using a bomb is a different story altogether. The source code to DeCSS should be no different, yet the court system has a hard time understanding that.
    --
    Lord Nimon

  • by LordNimon (85072) on Monday May 07, 2001 @11:12AM (#240247)
    Developers of Open Source software typically don't have large reserves of cash and big corporations backing them up. So far, the DMCA has been used against us, but technically anyone should be able to use it to protect his intellectual property. In what ways can an Open Source developer make us of the DMCA?
    --
    Lord Nimon
  • by LordNimon (85072) on Monday May 07, 2001 @11:14AM (#240248)
    Every programmer knows that source code is speech, and should be protected like any other speech. However, the courts just don't seem to realize that, probably because none of the judges have ever been programmers. What would it take for the court system to generally acknowledge that source code is speech, and how long will it take for that to happen? What do you think will be the biggest ramifications if/when it does happen?
    --
    Lord Nimon
  • ...to propietary software. Note: Hopefully this is not off topic, but this (in addition to licensing), seems to be an important issue.

    I have noticed that many open source projects are started as an alternative to a closed source product. For, example, from the looks of it, OASIS (an open sourc ad server), seems to be started by folks who wanted a better, open-source alternative to RealMedia's OAS (open AdStream). The name is very similar; likewise, *-GL or *-GLX seems to be the norm for Open-GL clones. From what I read on Slashdot and elsewhere, it seems SGI is more than happy to sue some of those *GL[X]? folks for trademark infringement.

    So, I guess, my question is: if you create an open-source project that is designed to compete with a commercial product, and you name is similar (like OASIS vs. OAS), what liabilities might you have in terms of trademark infringement? What is the likelyhood that a trademark holder would have the grounds to sue? Are there any legal tests/thresholds to determine this? Well-known federal case-law?
  • IANAL either,

    What you say is true (I think), but the question delt with needing clarification concerning the EEF's lawyer (in the link) saying "Open Source" is one way to insulate yourself from this liability.

    Posting source capable of infringement (whether intentional or not -- even if modification of the code is required), by your definition of "contributory", would aid and abet an infringing activity.

  • by cworley (96911) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:33AM (#240254)
    Fred von Lohmann wrote a White Paper [eff.org]for the EEF concerning avoidance of "contributory and vicarious copyright infringement" (being liable for writing software that promotes "fair use", but can be used for copyright infringement).

    In that, he states guidelines for developers. One of the guidelines is: "Be open source".

    I would think Open Source would set you up for liability in such matters: anybody who modified your code, making it able to infringe on copyrights, would make you vicariously liable for opening the code in the first place.

    Or, take for example, TiVo. Their systems are open source, they've posted their kernel and tool modifications on their web site (as per the GPL). Now they're worried that someone could use that to easily create code that will allow MPEG extraction from the unit [avsforum.com] (and widespread distribution of copyrighted materials).

    I'm not sure how being open source can protect a software developer from such litigation.

    Can you explain this?

  • What do you think of Distributed Copyright [distributedcopyright.org]? Especially the suggested remedy [distributedcopyright.org] sent to Judge Jackson? Thank you! Clark Evans
  • If you are working on a game and wish to GPL the game but not the "artwork" then the program you can simply specify that the GPL covers the software and that all artwork is seperatly copyrighted and licensed. These files can be in any format, however your code which uses it will be GPL so people can figure out at worst how to rewrite it. For an example of where this has been done (well sort of, they didn't start with any GPL) is Quake! All you need to do is make the distribution cleanly seperated and be happy in the knowledge that lots of people will copy the ancillary files aswell.
  • The author of the original code is not bound by licensing agreements because he wrote it. He owns the copyright. Hence, he's not bound by the GPL. Now then, had he accepted GPLed patches without requiring the submitters to surrender their copyrights to him, then maybe that'd be different.

    The only "intuitive" interface is the nipple. After that, it's all learned.
  • Many people talk about "contamination". For example, they will say things like, "if you are writing a compiler you cannot look at the source for gcc because it will contaminate you and you might later be held liable for GPL violation".

    I'm inclined to believe that this is FUD on the part of the Free Software community designed to make proprietary developers overly shy about getting ideas from other people's sources and/or to convince them that they need to GPL their work if they get ideas from GPL'd works.

    Unless your work can be shown to be plainly derivative of the GPL'd work, I find it hard to imagine that there could be any legitimate claim of "contamination".

    As a non-programming example, let me cite the recent "The Wind Done Gone" case. This was a violation of "Gone With The Wind" copyright because it used characters and places from GWTW. However, if the author had simply written a Southern novel, or made passing reference to Tara, or even done a parody of GWTW it would have been OK. In the case of a parody, the author would have certainly read all of GWTW but the parody would be considered a separate work.

    Likewise, if I read all the source for gcc, but create a totally different compiler from scratch using compiler algorithms that are generally known, and have a complete understanding of the working of the compiler as an independant work, and do not do any cut-n-paste from gcc, I don't see how any charge of "contamination" can be levied.

    Also, I have never heard of "contamination" in music, film, or other intellectual persuits. Except of course that there are limits on "sampling" which is analogous to cut-n-paste.

    As a side note, how do you feel about copyrights on "snippets". For example, some people have tried to pass off Duff's Device as GPL, when the original USENET correspondance made no mention of GPL.

    I'm of the opinion that code less than a certain length shouldn't be copyrighted, but placed in the public domain. However, *can* such short code be copyrighted? Is there any precedent in music (such as copyrighted "riffs") or film (such as attempts to copyright a camera technique, e.g., the "Matrix" pan).

  • AFAIK, you can ensure that you can collect some damages by registering your copyright with the Copyright and Trademark office. Every work is inherently copyright by its authors unless they explicitly place it into the public domain, but without registering it they're only allowed to collect real damages, i.e. proven economic losses resulting from the infringement. If it's registered, though, they're allowed to collect statutory damages, which are specific fines established by law as a punishment for violation. Also, IIRC, once you've won your case the violator has to stop distributing in violation of copyright, and if they continue to infringe then you can collect more in the way of damages.

  • Well for criminal cases yes, there are free attorneys provided by the state, but thats for criminal charges and things of that nature only.. Civil cases like this one you can't obtain a free lawyer from the government (unfortunately). And lawyers here are ungodly expensive, I was serious when I said put myself into debt for the greater part of the rest of my life, lawyer fees (especially if the case drags out) can top millions.. which is a strategy used by big corporations.. Instead of fighting for whats just, they fight until one side runs out of money.. its sad..
  • by antis0c (133550) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:20AM (#240267)
    I'm a freelance programmer, and like most programmers I do it for the love of the "art", and because of that most of my creations are licensed under GPL.. However, my question is, what would happen if Big Corporation X were to take my code, integrate it into a proprietary system, and sell it for millions, ignoring all demands to release source to the modifications (and thus breaking the GPL).. What could I honestly do besides writting letters threatening legal action?

    I obviously don't have the funds to compete in the courtroom with Big Corporation X, and even if I were to try, the expense and time alone would set me into debt for probably the greater part of the rest of my life. What chance does the GPL or any other Open Source licensed software have, if a good part of it's development team is composed of just average guys with bills, debt and little free time?

  • If you read the GPL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html [gnu.org]), you would have noticed the line in the beginning which states that "This License applies to any program or other work which contains a notice placed by the copyright holder saying it may be distributed under the terms of this General Public License."

  • by ekrout (139379) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:24AM (#240271) Journal
    Is this (http://www.junkbusters.com/ht/en/spam.html [junkbusters.com]) GPL'd disclaimer that an individual will not tolerate spam email really admissible in court? Could I change the amount from $10 per spam email to, say, $1000 per smam email, then send it to Spammer #1282733, and then take them to court if they send me another spam email and win $1000?

    I'm not money hungry, but I do detest spam.

  • by egc4ever (139385) on Monday May 07, 2001 @11:10AM (#240272)
    As an avid follower of Slashdot, I have a keen interest in open source systems, intellectual property, and technology. In my former life, I was an engineer, and I hold an advanced degree in mechanical engineering. I currently make a living working for a business consulting firm performing large scale technology implementations. Whether it's e-business, high-tech, or Internet-related, I experience a great deal of "Slashdot" in the workplace everyday.

    I would like to know how much demand exists in the field of law for a person with a skill set and background comparable to my own. Can the current market for lawyers who possess a deep technical background offset the cost of three years of law school, especially in comparison to what I would be making if I stayed with technology consulting?

    Judging from the sheer number of issues surrounding technology and the law raised in this forum, it seems that the open source/technology community could certainly benefit from more advocates with roots in technology. I'm just deciding whether it's worth it to make the move myself...

  • I have been using a piece of software on my site for several years, a useful bulletin board program which was originally released by the author under the GPL.

    The author has since removed any reference to the GPL in his latest releases, and is now using a proprietary license.

    I would like to take the GPL'd version of the code which he previously released and use it as a base for a continued open source project, but I'm not sure that I can legally do that if the author objects- after all, I'll be using his code to "compete" with his own commercial "fork" of the project.

    Can I fork his code to start my own project?

  • I am not a lawyer...

    Anyway. vicarious liability requires that you BENEFIT from the infringment and that you can STOP the infringing activity. Contributory liability requires that you intentionally AID and ABET an infringing activity.

    There doesn't appear to be contributory or vicarious liability for DMCA violations as far as I can tell.

    If they don't draw the line somewhere, the RIAA could sue the power companies that provide electricity to Napster users...

  • Send a take down demand to them, and their ISP (someone provides the connectivity to the company after all). They could then just go and file a counter notification and get it right back up, but if they lied in doing so it is considered perjury, which is a Federal FELONY. They could go to prison. And it costs nothing to ask the Feds to press charges.

    I am not a laywer, ask one for legal advice.
  • What about copyright restrictions on ephemeral copies? Such as that in RAM (some courts consider that an infringement!)?

    I could theoretically get GPL'd software, and ignore the license (no, *I* would never do such a thing, this is a HYPOTHETICAL argument), as long as I don't try to copy (including allowing a copy to be made in RAM) or modify the program, or perform any of the "exclusive rights" under 17 USC. I can use the CD as a drink coaster without any legal liability. But anything else, including actually running the program could potentially be an infringement.

    I am not a lawyer, ask one for real advice.

  • Posting the source to "cp" could expose one to liability then too, as it is capable of infrining activity. Also, I THINK contributory liability requires that it KNOWINGLY be INTENDED to further infringement, unlike vicarious liability. Also, a DMCA violation is NOT a copyright infringement. That is why fair use is not (seen as) a defense. But one might escape the theories of contributory and vicarious liability. Or maybe not. Those theories were added by court precendent to copyright, they could similarly be added to the DMCA.

  • If I write free software in my spare time but my employer finds out about it and disapproves, what can they do about it? Would using e-mail for the project constitute some kind of violation of corporate resources? Could I be fired? Would I have to stop working on it even if it's during my own time? Could I be sued?
  • Mr Ravicher,

    What is your opinion on the DeCSS court case involving 2600 Magazine and the MPAA? Do you think that DeCSS itself is legal? Should linking be legal?


    ------------
  • What advice would you give to people who are interested in technology and intellectual property and who are considering a cereer in law? What is the best way to start such a career? Can someone make an impact on the future of IP rights by pursuing a legal career? And do you consider it a viable career path?
  • by Alien54 (180860) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:29AM (#240288) Journal
    In your detailed paper, you note:

    37. For instance, under the first sale doctrine, an owner of a piece of software can transfer her program to whomever and for whatever she desires. The use of a license prevents this doctrine from applying, which allows computer programming firms to price-discriminate between customer characteristics. If Microsoft wants to give Windows software to public schools at a cost blow the production cost and the transaction consummates a sale, the first sale doctrine would apply, and the school could resell the programs at a higher price to a corporation, retaining the difference. This would cause Microsoft to charge all customers one price, either by lowering its price, forcing it to run at a loss, or raising its price, thus making the program unavailable to schools and other meagerly funded organizations. This result is economically inefficient and would most assuredly be politically unpopular.

    I am interested on the implications of the fact of Microsofts monopoly in as it applies to licensing. While it can be argued that the two issues are separate, and one is not relevant to the other, many people look at the practices of Microsoft in this regard and view it with horror and contempt. Are there instances where such licensing practices impose a non-legitimate enforcment of "rights", and in fact constitute improper maintenance of a monopoly? Or do people have these separate issues confused, when they should be treated separately?

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [eplugz.com] comic strip

  • by 3seas (184403) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:11AM (#240289) Journal
    What are the weakest points of the GPL?
    3 S.E.A.S - Virtual Interaction Configuration (VIC) - VISION OF VISIONS!
  • I'm curious, why would releasing the code in the PD make the author more likely to get litigated? All you need to do is put a disclaimer file in with your code stating you're not responsible, etc, etc (much like what you see in the GPL, Artistic License, BSD, etc, etc). Or, if you're just interesting in releasing your code freely, use a particularly free license (like Artistic) which has this caveat embedded in the licensing agreement.
  • The difference between European standards for patents and intellectual property has been shown to be vastly different to the rules applied in the US. The EEC has turned down patents in gene technologies and software that have been granted in the USA. Some patents, most of us feel, are less than worthy.

    Unless there is synchronisation between the difference sovereign territories in these issues how does the US or the EEC hope to enforce the issues of copyright and IP in other jurisdictions?

    Obviously without the issue going to a court there is no precedence for these issues directly. So I assume parallels from the state of current legislation for music, video and literature will be the basis. But these have not worked well in the past when considered on an international basis. Is there any hope of agreement for a single standard?

  • There's already several good answers to this question, and I'm coming late to the discussion, but nonetheless I'd like to take a slightly different tack than others have here.

    If I release code under the GPL, doesn't the GPL "virus" now infect my code and all derivitives?

    Every analogy breaks down if you try to stretch it too far. This is where the GPL-as-virus analogy breaks down. Always keep this in mind: the GPL is not a virus. Like a virus in some ways, yes. But different in others.

    In fact, it's probably best not to think of the GPL as applying to software at all. The GPL does not apply to software; it applies to people. It tells people what they can and cannot do. It's about software, of course; it tells people what they can and cannot do with a particular piece of software. As a convenience we talk about GPL'ed software, and know what we mean. But, ultimately, the GPL applies to people, not software.

    Now, there's some dispute about whether the GPL is a contract or a unilateral transfer of rights, but assume for the sake of argument it's a contract. (The analysis, for these purposes, is pretty much the same if it's a unilateral transfer of rights, but I find it's easier to think about as a contract.)

    In the GPL, the author gives the user permission to use his code. In exchange, the user agrees to a) make the source available, if he makes the binaries available, and b) allow any derivative works to be licensed according to the GPL.

    So, the GPL can be thought of as a contract between the author and the user. If several users license the software under the GPL, you can think of several independent (but identical) contracts existing, one for each user.

    Now, keep in mind that the parties in a contract are not interchangeable. Suppose I contract a roofer to do roofing work on my house, in exchange for which I will pay him a certain amount of money. Suppose instead, I do roofing work on the roofer's house, and he pays me money--neither of us have fulfilled the terms of our contract. Likewise, the author and the user are not interchangeable in the GPL, and the author is under no obligation to release derivatives of his own work under the GPL.

    Similarly, the author can release his GPL'ed code under a non-GPL license to, say, Microsoft, and then Microsoft can do with it whatever is permitted by that particular non-GPL license--distribute binaries without source, or create non-GPL'ed derivative works, if it's permitted by the non-GPL license. This follows easily as long as you keep in mind that a) the GPL applies to people, not software, and b) the parties in the GPL are not interchangeable. The user cannot license the software to Microsoft under a non-GPL license, of course, because that is prohibited by the GPL. But the author's obligations under the GPL are not the same as the user's obligations--the two parties to a contract are not interchangeable--and distributing the software under a non-GPL license is not prohibited to the author.

    That's not to say there couldn't be a contract which does prevent the author from distributing his software under any license other than that particular one. But the GPL is not that license.

  • Grr, somehow missed this AC comment [slashdot.org] when I was reading the responses before. He says what I was trying to, only more quickly and clearly. Downmod parent as redundant.
  • by Sodium Attack (194559) on Monday May 07, 2001 @11:50AM (#240297)
    Judges? Courts? Could you give an example of when a court has failed to uphold an open-source license?
  • by K45 (207177) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:32AM (#240303) Homepage
    How does the GPL affect non-sourcecode files that are part of an application?

    Specifically, I'm concerned about the images and sounds that are included with a game I'm working on [mugu.org].

    Does the GPL "contaminate" these other files that are included? If so, how do "source" and "binary" distribution apply to images and sounds.

    Thanks,
    K45

  • We have several licensing schemes available for the Open Source enthusiast, all dependant upon one's definition of 'Open Source'. Would you care to comment on each of these licenses, and their various pro's and con's?

    Off the top of my head: GPL, QT Open Source, Public Domain, BSD.. most likely others.

  • It's poetry by Jim Morrison. I don't pretend to understand, I just like it. :-P

    Well, your fingers weave quick minarets; Speak in secret alphabets;
  • Thanks for the insightful response. In retrospect, I should have been more careful, separating GNU/GPL and Open Source, but in the eyes of myself and many other programmers I know, the lines between them are blurred somewhat.

    I haven't been able to figure out which parts of the GPL Open Source folks find objectional, and you've offered some insight there. I lean more towards the purist side myself, having read Mr. Stallman's work for several years, and currently working on FSF projects.



    Well, your fingers weave quick minarets; Speak in secret alphabets;
  • As an open source programmer, my reasons for adopting the GPL in my programs are clear:
    • street cred
    • humanity
    • code review
    • inspiration
    • bug squashing
    I was wondering what could inspire a lawyer to believe in these sentiments enough to become involved with open source software.

    Well, your fingers weave quick minarets; Speak in secret alphabets;
  • Knowing the legal and political systems surrounding intellectual property as you do, what do you think the chances are that money (specifically, lobbying from organizations like Microsoft or the RIAA) will overpower Open Source by creating more and more insidious forms of copyright protection and law, possibly even to the point that Open Source becomes illegal because it "threatens" the closed-source business model?

    This seems to be one of the current trends in intellectual property law. Do you think it will continue?
  • Sounds like you're asking specific advice rather than a general law question, so no lawyer is going to answer you over the internet. As a non-lawyer, I'll answer you: If you hold the copyright, you can license as many ways as you please. However, contributions people send back for the GPL version might have copyright owners other than you, so you might not automatically be able to include them in the crippled version.
  • Sign the code over to the FSF, whom you can rely on to be more zealous about suing violators than any of your development team ever will be.
  • by brlewis (214632) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:17AM (#240312) Homepage
    The FSF's Why We Must Fight UCITA [gnu.org] article seems to say that UCITA invalidates free-software disclaimers. Is this true? Why or why not?
  • by wrinkledshirt (228541) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:36AM (#240316) Homepage

    Okay, some unknown hacker creates his/her foo application and releases the source under GPL. Something occurs that leads him/her to suspect that the foo source has been incorporated into a commercial product that isn't following the terms of the GPL with regards to rereleasing the source. Furthermore, the things that lead him/her to suspect this aren't basic paranoia -- someone with a conscience and access to the suspect source has leaked information about it or whatnot. Or maybe something else -- point is, there is a case that could be made.

    From a PRACTICAL standpoint, what sort of things would this unknown hacker have to do to make their case? Would it be possible from a practical point of view under (eg) the United States legal system for this unknown hacker to take the company to court? What sorts of costs would he/she incur? What sort of time-frame would it take to achieve resolution? What sorts of potential rewards or compensation could he/she expect? Are there any precedents that are analogous to this situation?

  • by Isamu Noguchi (240354) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:32AM (#240319)
    I've considered releasing software in the public domain as perhaps the simplest alternative to some copyrighted-yet-free approach, but I'm not clear on all the implications. Here's what I think:

    1) I have to explicitly state that the source is in the public domain, otherwise it is copyrighted by default,
    2) anybody else adding to or modifying the source would have to state that their mods are in the public domain (for the same reason),
    3) if a person adding to or modifying the source wants to copyright their mods, they'd have to specify the extent of their changes or their copyright might be invalid, unless they substantially changed the whole thing.

    If one intends for a work to be freely editable, it seems as though the only thing you give up by putting it in the public domain is some legal basis to sue. For example if somebody takes my public domain work and slaps their name and copyright notice on it, I may not have a good way to stop them although their copyright is invalid.

    Is this correct? Any comments?

  • by iomud (241310) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:18AM (#240320) Homepage Journal
    What changes if any would you make to the GPL to help support it's goals?
  • by Lonath (249354) on Monday May 07, 2001 @11:54AM (#240323)
    Since the US government allows software patents, is it possible to void the GPL by using patents?

    1. You take a GPLed product, and extend it. You add some patented code into it.

    2. You sell it to someone, and you give them the source code as the GPL requires.

    3. However, since the GPL doesn't cover the execution of the code, you tell them that the only way they can get a license to execute the patented code is by never releasing the source or binaries to anyone else.

    4. And anyone else who got the code downstream would have the right to have the source code, but not the right to execute it since that would be a patent violation.

    Does this mean that a company can use patents to "close" GPLed code?


  • by nanojath (265940) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:16AM (#240329) Homepage Journal
    I like the idea of open source but wonder how reliable the various open license models are. I'm concerned someone could release a program with an open license, then change their mind about its value, and start legally pursuing end users with the claim they never intended to release the program freely. Alternatively, an open license statement could get slapped on proprietary software in an attempt to avoid end-user liability for piracy. Are open source licenses legally robust enough to withstand these kinds of potential misuses?
  • by anwyn (266338) on Monday May 07, 2001 @11:28AM (#240331)
    Is GPL a contract or some kind of wierd unilateral grant of some rights? My untutored mind naively thought it was not a contract because there is no 2 way exchange ov value and no agreement. I have since heard legal people take both sides of this question. I think that UCITA will not apply directly to the GPL if it were not a contract, because UCITA seems to mostly regulate how contracts work. Thus I think that the above question turns on whether GPL is a contract. This is an important question to me because I have written and will write letters oppsoing UCITA to Texas state legislators. And I need to know whether to include Stallman's arguement. P.S. In a private comunication Stallman, the author of the GPL said he thought the GPL was not a contract, but agreed with the unilateral grant of some rights theory. But he is not a lawyer either.
  • This question has come up before, and I've seen flavors of it in this discussion:

    If I release code under the GPL, doesn't the GPL "virus" now infect my code and all derivitives? There are examples of GPL code that was simultaniously released under a different license, and examples of GPL code that was the basis for derivative works that were not released under the GPL. Please explain how this is legal, under the GPL.

    Several Slashdotters have said things like "Naturally, the author is free to do this" but I don't see the "natural" connection. If I release version 1.0 under the GPL, my reading of the GPL is that the "virus" infects all versions of the code, and that if I tried to release version 2.0 under a proprietary license then someone else could sue me because my version 2.0 violated the GPL on version 1.0. Yes, I'm the author and I hold all the rights, but when I release my code under the GPL I give up some of my rights and transfer them to the software's users. Don't the people to whom I gave those rights in version 1.0 retain those rights to all subsequent versions? If not, why not? The only way I can see for anybody, even the original author, to modify GPL code and not release the new source is to not release the new binarys either.

    Similarly, I don't understand how I, as author of the code, could possibly release it under the GPL and another license at the same time. Why doesn't the GPL trump the other license? If A can get the source under the GPL and do whatever they want with it, and I sell the same code under another license to B, what prevents B from using the GPL to give the code away to whomever B wants, even though B didn't buy it under the GPL?

    The specific example is a company that releases their *NIX version under the GPL but releases a Windows version of the same code under a proprietary license with no source code. Why can't a user of the Windows version sue for the source code, citing the GPL on the *NIX version? Why doesn't the GPL on the *NIX version trump the proprietary license on the Windows version?

  • the author is, obviously, allowed to do whatever he wants to with the code. however, since that previous version was released under the gpl, so are you. as long as you use code from a release that was done under the gpl, you're allowed to do whatever you like with it, provided that it doesn't violate the gpl. so the short answer to your question is "yes, you can."
  • 2) Nobody has to state anything, they can change one line of code, and claim copyright. If they want their own code in the public domain, then they can explicitly state it is in the pd, otherwise they retain copyright over the whole caboodle.

    A single line modification is not effectively copyrightable. Any use of such a small change is fair use. Claiming copyright on it would be a fraud against the people who are thus restricted from using it.

    OTOH, adding 20 lines which significantly change the function of a program (such as fixing a bug) would enable the modifier to claim copyright on his change.

    (IANAL)
    --
  • It specifies conditions which are not appropriate to non-programs, such as requirements to distribute the source.

    Applying it to a legal document is like applying a car warranty to a candy bar. Even if both sides agree to it, it doesn't make any damn sense, and won't mean a thing in court.
    --
  • by Flying Headless Goku (411378) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:20AM (#240349) Homepage
    A common justification for choosing an open source license, and putting up with all the license-compatibility issues, over simply releasing the code into the public domain is fear of litigation. Do you believe that the creator of public domain software (perfection disclaimed, use at own risk) is at any greater legal risk than the creator of open-source licensed software in the case of costly software failure? (I'm especially interested in any relevant precedent you are aware of)
    --
  • We made an MP3 jukebox to use in public places. The software I created uses a lot of GPL'ed code.
    Does it need to be GPL?
    Am I distributing the software when I put my machine for anyone to use on a public palce?
    And what if I sell the jukebox?
    Do I need to make my source code avaiable?
  • Recently I was playing around with MMX/SSE assembly code. It struck me that at the level of MMX coding, there were only a few ways to write a bit of code to perform well. So, due to the limited number of ways that MMX code can be written, for example, lets say that there is only one really nice way to write a function in MMX/SSE, all the others are much slower because they induce wait states etc. Following the example along, if I write this MMX code and GPL it like a good little boy, then any company can take it and use it in their non GPL code and claim that they wrote the same code because there is only one way to write that function "correctly". So it would seem (to my logic) that code like this is immune to the GPL. Or that the GPL gives no protection to my work in this case.
  • The FSF was insisting that all patches have their copyrights turned over, so the the FSF would 100% own the code.

    The FSF insists that because it's far more difficult for them to pursue GPL violators in the legal system if they're not the 'owner' of the code. People can release code under the GPL without signing it over to the FSF, but then it's their responsiblity to enforce the GPL, not the FSF's responsibility. With a program like GNU Emacs, not signing the copyright over to the FSF would lead to a gradual erosion in their control over the code.
  • by Urban Garlic (447282) on Monday May 07, 2001 @01:11PM (#240361)
    I am employed at a US national lab, involved in a scientific programming project for which we make the source code publicly available. We have an apparent difficulty with incorporating GPL'd code into this project. The problem is that code (or scientific papers, etc.) produced by the US government is, by statute, not subject to copyright. Government-produced code is just plain open. This means that the copyright hook the GPL uses to require subsequent copiers to disclose their source code does not apply. We cannot use licensing features to "bind our successors", as they say, in the way that the GPL would like us to. What are the implications of this for incorporating GPL'd code into our project? Can we do it at all?

This is a good time to punt work.

Working...