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The Courts Government GNU is Not Unix News

Professor Eben Moglen Replies 270

Posted by Roblimo
from the stalwart-supporter-of-the-EFF-and-FSF dept.
The call for questions went out on Feb. 10. Here are your answers. We'd like to give Prof. Moglen special thanks for taking time out from his busy schedule to do this.

1) Biggest win and loss so far?
by Em Emalb

What would you consider to be your biggest "win" so far?

How about loss?

I am sure a lot of us here think we know, but it would be interesting to hear it directly from you.

thanks for fighting the good fight.

Eben:

When lawyers are engaged in litigation, their work can be judged in terms of wins and losses. But most of the work that I've done for the Free Software Foundation in the past ten years wasn't about litigation. It wasn't about conflict at all; it was about helping people cooperate, so that more high-quality free software came into being, and stayed free. Every time I persuaded someone that it was better to comply with GPL than to fight with the Foundation, everybody won. Every time I helped licensors who couldn't or didn't want to use GPL to use a GPL-compatible free software license, so that their code and all the world's GPL'd code could be freely combined, everybody won. Many of the outcomes I feel most satisfied about over the past decade wouldn't even make a good story: they're just examples of how persistent, patient reasoning with people can convince them to do the right thing. On the other hand, the matters I most regret are places where I failed to persuade people to work together. Everyone in the /. community can think of controversies in the free software world, personality conflicts, failures of cooperation that have impeded progress. I've tried over the years to bridge some of those gaps, sometimes with no success at all.

There have been litigation controversies in which I've been involved over the years, not always for the Foundation, which lend themselves to the calculus of win and loss. I still feel very pleased with the efforts I and others made from '91 to '94 to prevent the United States Government from indicting Phil Zimmerman over PGP. Winning the crypto wars was one of the most important things our side did in the '90s, and it started with Phil. On the other hand, this year's defeat in the Supreme Court in Eldred v. Ashcroft, the copyright term extension case, is an unambiguous loss that's going to hurt the cause of free speech and free culture for years to come. I filed a brief amicus curiae in that case on the Foundation's behalf, and like my friend and colleague Larry Lessig, who argued the case in the Court, I take our defeat rather personally. But no defeat in court can possibly be as important as the victory all of us have won in the world: free software exists, and grows more powerful and more elegant every day. That's a victory of the profoundest consequence that we've all won together, and I'm intensely proud of the small contributions I've made to the cause.

2) Clarifying the GPL
by sterno

One issue that I know has come up for me is how the GPL applies in situations where I'm using GPL software but I'm not actually modifying it. For example, I write a Java application, and it is reliant on a JAR that is GPL'd. Do I then need to GPL my software? I haven't changed the JAR in anyway, I'm just redistributing it with my software. The end user could just as easily download the JAR themselves, it's just a convenience for me to offer it in my package.

Eben:

The language or programming paradigm in use doesn't determine the rules of compliance, nor does whether the GPL'd code has been modified. The situation is no different than the one where your code depends on static or dynamic linking of a GPL'd library, say GNU readline. Your code, in order to operate, must be combined with the GPL'd code, forming a new combined work, which under GPL section 2(b) must be distributed under the terms of the GPL and only the GPL. If the author of the other code had chosen to release his JAR under the Lesser GPL, your contribution to the combined work could be released under any license of your choosing, but by releasing under GPL he or she chose to invoke the principle of "share and share alike."

3) Helping independent developers work with the GPL
by SwellJoe

I've recently been doing some contract development work for other companies. These companies, so far, have all been very friendly to GPLing the work they hire me for that extends existing GPLed work.

However, when I'm preparing contracts I never know just how to specify that wholly original work we do for them will be "Work-for-hire" under whatever license they choose, but code based on and extending GPLed software will be placed under the same license.

I've browsed through the GNU site, in hopes of locating some example contract language that would make this clear to new customers and make it a legally binding aspect of any agreements made, but alas, I could find no help in this regard.

I should point out: my clients know that the GPL is an enforceable copyright, and don't have a problem with that--our work with GPL'ed software is usually the reason they come to us...this isn't a question of companies wishing to steal GPLed software. It is a question of how to make those terms compatible with an agreement that covers both GPLed work and non-GPLed "work-for-hire". Usually we are doing a bit of both types of work, and we'd like the contract to reflect that in a clear and comprehensive manner.

Seems like this would be a common problem for developers, and I was surprised that I couldn't find any documentation about adding this kind of clause to a contract.

Eben:

Two different issues arise here, and I think they're being conflated. One question is who will own the copyright on the code you are producing, and the other is what license terms the owner may use in releasing that code. Whether the code you write involves wholly new programs or modifications to existing GPL'd programs, your code constitutes a copyrightable work of authorship, and the first question is whether copyright will be vested in you or in the party with whom you are contracting. No matter who owns the copyright, however, modifications to or works based on GPL'd works can only be released under GPL. A "work for hire" provision in your agreement addresses the first question, and means that copyright in all the works of authorship will vest in your client. As to the works based on GPL'd code, in response to the second issue, you want your client to acknowledge its responsibility to release that code under GPL and GPL only. Any number of strategies in contract drafting might be appropriate, depending on the circumstances. The Foundation website doesn't make specific recommendations on how to draft contracts because contract law varies from country to country throughout the world, and no suggestion could possibly be right everywhere. Nor can I provide useful legal advice here, given the level of abstraction. On sensible approach, in a US contract, might be to include a provision in which the buyer acknowledges that the works listed in an attached schedule are subject to GPL, and promises that all code delivered under the contract modifying or extending any of the listed works will be released solely under GPL.

4) Put you in my will...
by wowbagger

I'm a single guy, no dependants. I just had to update all my benefits info at work - if I die, who gets my employer-supplied insurance money.

So how would I go about making the FSF a beneficiary? You might want to put that info on the web site.

Right now, the only organization I have listed is the NRA - they make it pretty easy to set this sort of thing up.

Eben:

Without information about the specifics of your employer's insurance program, I can't provide any detailed advice. The Foundation is of course enormously grateful for the support it receives from members of the free software community around the world. As a moderately large donor to the Foundation myself, I want to express my personal appreciation of your willingness to give. Anyone who wishes to donate to FSF, whether through testamentary disposition or direct contribution, can get further information from the Foundation's Director of Communications, Ravi Khanna, ravi@fsf.org.

5) PHB opinions
by Eric Seppanen

My boss' boss (who is quite sharp technically as well as an attorney) thinks that the GPL is stupid because it doesn't read like it was written by a lawyer. He doesn't object to the principles and methods involved-- he's just disgusted by the unlawyerly writing. He says it was written by an amateur, not a lawyer, giving the impression that everyone using it is an amateur, and not serious about their work. What would you say to that?

Eben:

With all due respect to your boss' boss, he may not have appreciated the context in which the GPL is drafted. Most distributors of copyrighted material use a different copyright license for each country in which their work is distributed. That's not feasible for the free software movement: we have no control over the international path that any given piece of code may take, as it is copied and redistributed by its users, and we must therefore do business all over the world on a single license. What would seem good lawyerly drafting to a lawyer in one country might seem like officious or loquacious nonsense to a lawyer in another. Moreover, unlike the licenses written by the legal departments of proprietary content companies, our licenses are meant to be read by individual programmers, who we hope will choose to use those licenses to distribute their own programs. So the GPL is not addressed to lawyers in a single legal system, but to developers in every legal system around the world. Doing optimal drafting for that rather unusual set of needs is plenty serious business, I will say. It isn't work for amateurs. Whether we have been successful in achieving our intentions can only be judged by the results.

6) What can be done about spurious legal threats?
by Tom7

I've noticed a scary trend in "de facto" internet law: Sites are shut down, projects stopped, and ideas silenced because of scary notices from lawyers. Lots of the time, these cease and desist letters don't actually have much to stand on, but they're so cheap to send, and so effective, that any business with a site it doesn't like and a lawyer on salary would be crazy not to do it. The effect of these letters is chilling (so to speak): sites that are probably legal are shut down without the benefit of a trial, and the "precedent" affects the way other laymen interpret the law. I've seen numerous mostly-serious posts on slashdot proclaiming "Wouldn't this be a violation of the DMCA?" when referring to any sort of activity the MPAA or RIAA, etc. wouldn't like. (Speaking of the DMCA -- it has built-in provisions for making precisely this kind of judge-free takedown by an ISP!) This trend seems to be a serious breakdown of the legal system, and I don't like it.

My question is: In your opinion, what can be done to change the way the system operates so that spurious legal threats aren't so economical? What can someone like me do, besides donating to the EFF or going to law school?

Eben:

It's true that it's cheap to write letters threatening legal action, and it's true that many people would prefer to stop doing whatever they're doing that causes them to receive such letters. Bullying of this kind is one of the ways that the rich and powerful oppress the weak and poor. Your question contains specific versions of the only two general answers I know: those of us who are lawyers should fulfill our obligation to provide assistance pro bono publico (for the good of the public, which means without charging fees) to those who need our help and can't pay for it; those of us who aren't lawyers should contribute to organizations, like EFF and FSF, that provide legal support to individuals who need help furthering the causes we believe in.

7) Question
by edward.virtually@pob

Given the failure of the DOJ and other cases against Microsoft (no meaningful penalties, technically incompetent judge overseeing DOJ case, requirement to support Java in IE endlessly held up in court) and the continuing wide-spread abuse of IP law to monopolize cyberspace (patents on obviously invalid claims -- decades of prior art, etc.), do you think Free Software (and it's more "popular" spin-off Open Source) has any chance of long term surival in the United States or it is just a matter of time before it is crushed?

Eben:

Despite the annoyances you mention, which I regard as unfortunate but inessential, I think the position of free software is almost impregnable, both in the United States and everywhere else. The most important threat to the survival of free software is the concept of "trusted computing," which really means the building of hardware you as a user can't trust at all. "Trusted" computers are computers that can be trusted by media companies not to run software that users can modify, so that media company "content" can be delivered without fear that software modified by users will exercise fair use rights that media companies don't want to allow. If the free software movement and its allies can avoid having "trusted" computing forced on PC consumers by either mandatory legislation or industry "consensus," I believe free software will be around forever, and will become the dominant mode of software production and distribution in the course of the next two decades.

8) Being like you.
by Anonymous Coward

As an undergraduate in computer science I have found licensing and intellectual property issues so interesting that I have chosen to go to law school. I would like to advance many of the causes that you support. What advice would you have for an aspiring lawyer who wants to promote freedom and the public domain? What steps would be necessary to support my family and still fight for the cause? How best can a lawyer help society without selling out to big money?

Eben:

There are businesses all over the technology sector that are making money through the employment of free software. They sell hardware, services, solutions, expertise, and even the software itself. They employ lawyers who promote freedom by helping businesses that promote free software. There are going to be businesses all over the media landscape in the next decade that help cultural producers (writers, musicians, videographers, etc.) escape the system of cultural ownership that produces the schlock jamming the eyeballs and eardrums of the world. They're going to need lawyers to resist the onslaught of the "content" oligarchs, who will try to do everything to keep free content from succeeding. There is going to be a major movement in the next two decades to free the electromagnetic spectrum from the iron triangle of the broadcasters, the politicians, and the "campaign contributors," all of whom have tremendous interests in preserving the system where "free speech" means Rupert Murdoch has a million times more right to speak than you and I. Getting back the wireless bandwidth of the world for the people themselves, giving everyone an equal right to communicate, is the next great frontier of freedom. So there are enterprises that need lawyers, provide livings to those lawyers, and further freedom all at once. There are non-profit organizations too that we can work for or donate our time to. Being a young lawyer, as I tell my students at Columbia, is--at its best--an imagination test. We are very fortunate members of this society, in that we can imagine the lives we want and then make them happen. My advice is, aim high.

9) FSF's W3C patent policy position
by The Pim

I sent the following to info@fsf.org on January 1, and have not received a reply. Since it is a legal question, perhaps Professor Moglen would answer it here. Some context:

I'm writing because I cannot understand some parts of the "FSF's Position on Proposed W3 Consortium 'Royalty-Free' Patent Policy", at http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/w3c-patent.html .

First, it is quite clear that you believe that software exercising patents with "field-of-use" licenses cannot be distributed under the GPL. However, it is not clear whether you believe that such software could be distributed as free software at all. Paragraph two seems to say that it could not, but it also appears to conflate GPLed software with free software, so I am not sure this is what the author meant. Paragraph three equivocates by saying "licensing under other free software licenses does not imply free", without saying "licensing under other free software licenses implies not free".

The impact of the proposed policy on the free software community obviously depends greatly on whether it could prevent us from implementing some standards at all, or only under the GPL. Which is it? (Since most of the document focuses on the GPL, I assume it is the latter. But it should be stated explicitly, and the hints to the contrary should be cleaned up.)

Second, who exactly would be prevented from distributing software exercising such patents under the GPL? Those in jurisdictions in which the patent applies, or everyone?

Third, why exactly are "field-of-use" patents incompatible with the GPL? The addendum intended to clarify this matter does not succeed. Step 4 in its example says,

C's patent license prohibits folks from taking his URL parsing code and putting it into, say, a search engine.
But C's patent equally prohibits folks from taking a (hypothetical) GPLed search engine and adding URL parsing code. So by that argument, nobody can distribute a GPLed search engine, either. What really is the criterion that prevents distribution under the GPL? Is it that the author "knows" that others will be "tempted" to modify the software such that it no longer meets the "field-of-use" restriction? Is it that the author has accepted the patent license himself?

And how does this differ from the situation of distributing GPLed software that cannot be used in some jurisdictions? If I distribute cryptographic software under the GPL, it will end up in the hands of people in repressive countries who are not allowed to use (never mind redistribute) it. This would seem to imply that such software cannot be distributed under the GPL.

I hope you can answer these questions and update the text on your web site.

Eben:

The question as asked is quite complex. Let me try to simplify it somewhat. Free software should be freely modifiable and redistributable by its users. Of course, any code once modified may practice claims of a patent about which the modifying user is uninformed. So anyone distributing free software is unable to assure his users that each and every modification they may want to make is noninfringing. But when someone distributes apparently-free software under actual but undisclosed legal restrictions preventing modification or redistribution, the software is not really free. GPL tries to deal with this problem through section 7, which says that if code you are distributing is actually under restriction that is incompatible with the terms of the GPL, you can't distribute under GPL at all. So if you have accepted a patent license that prohibits you from reusing some of your code, or code you have received from others, in different contexts, GPL section 7 means that you cannot distribute under GPL, and if the code you received was under GPL, your acceptance of the patent license precludes redistribution altogether. The goal is to ensure that, so far as each redistributor's actual knowledge is concerned, each item of GPL'd software distributed is fairly labeled: it can be freely copied, modified and redistributed.

From the Free Software Foundation's point of view, any code subject to field of use restrictions is not free software, but most free software copyright licenses don't read on the problem at all, and GPL section 7 only addresses one aspect of the problem. With respect to the specific issue involved in your question--the W3C proposed patent policy--GPL section 7 will be relevant in the following circumstances: a patent-holder contributes patent claims to a W3C Recommendation, and requires each implementer to take an explicit license containing a field of use restriction. GPL section 7 will preclude GPL'd implementation of that Recommendation. Apparently-free software can implement that Recommendation under, for example, BSD or X11 licenses, but despite its release under those licenses the software will not, from the Foundation's point of view, be actually and fully free.

10) Legal equivalent of GNU
by nattt

If free software / open source / etc. is seen as the saviour of the computer world, what do you see as the route or force to act towards making a better legal profession?

Eben:

I don't think I would talk about free software as the saviour of the computer world. I would say that free software is an important tool for preserving freedom of speech and freedom of thought in our networked society. The equivalent forces acting to produce a better legal system and a better legal profession are the constitutional norms in the US and other societies that protect freedoms of expression, inquiry, and publication. Our job as lawyers is to defend those freedoms, and to increase the relevance of legal doctrine in new social and technological environments.

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Professor Eben Moglen Replies

Comments Filter:
  • Fraud! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    He didn't say "GNU" nearly enough. Can't be with the FSF.
  • Thank you (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jaybird144 (558619) <.jaybird144. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday February 20, 2003 @12:36PM (#5344978)
    I would like to echo the post by saying thank you to Professor Moglen for his willingness to take time to respond to these questions...I can only imagine how busy his time is, and that his willingness wo do things like this is very indicitave of his support for the FSF. Thank you!
  • by B3ryllium (571199) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @12:41PM (#5345016) Homepage
    I demand that all words in this article be preceded by "GNU", by decree of the Dark Lord Stallman. This comment is exempt.
  • by jazman_777 (44742) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @12:44PM (#5345038) Homepage
    Was the phrase "IANAL". Finally, someone on /. who _is_ a lawyer, not just playing one.
  • Nice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by t0ny (590331) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @12:47PM (#5345051)
    wow, its nice to see someone working to help open-source without sounding like a zealot. I guess thats why he is out ther getting things done, and a lot of other people are typing baseless complaints into an internet forum.
  • Disclaimer (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Thursday February 20, 2003 @12:47PM (#5345055) Homepage
    Disappoiningly, not one of his answers begins 'IAAL, but...'
  • by adamofgreyskull (640712) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @12:51PM (#5345085)
    He obviously charges less per word than Shatner! [slashdot.org]
  • Rational Face (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aridhol (112307) <ka_lac@hotmail.com> on Thursday February 20, 2003 @12:52PM (#5345086) Homepage Journal
    Looks like Prof. Moglen is the rational face of the FSF. He is able to explain things without ranting "Proprietary software is evil" and "Linux is really GNU/Linux" (although the word "Linux" never appeared in the article, so it's possible that he'd say it). He didn't object to the use of the phrase "open source".

    Why don't we let the good Professor be the public face of the FSF and banish the zealots to a sound-proof box?

    • Re:Rational Face (Score:4, Informative)

      by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Thursday February 20, 2003 @01:00PM (#5345159) Journal
      He didn't object to the use of the phrase "open source," but I'd suggest that that's because it was used accurately.

      People on both sides of the Free Software vs Open Source debate usually get equally upset when folks misuse the words. They mean different things. Even RMS doesn't get angry when folks discuss Open Source. He corrects them when they mistakenly suggest that he promotes Open Source Software.
      • Re:Rational Face (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Fnkmaster (89084) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @01:16PM (#5345287)
        Do you understand how annoying it is to talk to RMS in person? You have to consciously keep telling yourself not to use the word Open Source. Despite your assertion that he only gets mad when people "misuse" a word, and that the Open Source people are equally fanatical about the words people use (they aren't), he is a nut. If you ask him for his thoughts on something like Linux, he'll correct you and say, "Well, I can't tell you that, but I'll tell you about my thoughts on GNU/Linux...".


        It's not that HE chooses to refer to Linux as GNU/Linux or that HE chooses to speak exclusively for the Free Software movement, but the obnoxious and geekily obsessive-compulsive way he corrects other people's language all the time that pisses everybody off.


        It's like if somebody asks you about those "hackers" that broke into some web site. If you start out by saying "I can't tell you about 'hackers', because I only know about 'crackers' and that's the only terminology that I will use..." - well it doesn't matter if you are technically correct, you are an asshole and people will hate you. I appreciate the fact that it can be frustrating to hear people abuse language in discussing topics close to your heart, but subtlety is a virtue if you don't want to inspire enmity in everybody you meet.

        • Re:Rational Face (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Elwood P Dowd (16933)
          Yeah. I've gotta agree with you there. If someone misuses a term, and that causes real confusion of meaning, then it's fair to politely request clarification. If they misuse a term, but that does not cause confusion of meaning, then all you can do (politely) is to use the word correctly, or use the correct word.

          So I am diminished :) RMS doesn't need to be such a jerk. He could (and damn well better) remain just as ever-vigilant.
        • Re:Rational Face (Score:2, Insightful)

          by 1984 (56406)
          "I appreciate the fact that it can be frustrating to hear people abuse language in discussing topics close to your heart, but subtlety is a virtue if you don't want to inspire enmity in everybody you meet."

          Good point, well put. It matters if the person across the table thinks you're a nut, and it's short-sighted to the point of being infantile to think that deliberately being a prick to that person is the quickest, surest or most complete route to your goal. Unless your goal is to be thought a prick.
        • Re:Rational Face (Score:2, Interesting)

          by wunderhorn1 (114559)
          http://www.jwz.org/why-cooperation-with-rms-is-imp ossible.mp3

          ;-)

        • If you ask him for his thoughts on something like Linux, he'll correct you and say, "Well, I can't tell you that, but I'll tell you about my thoughts on GNU/Linux...

          Personally, I'd prefer listen to that remark, which at least shows some humor, than your aggressive attack, which only shows bile.
        • Rather than focus energy on FSF promotion for itself (GNU), why not get people thinking about our broken language another way.

          I suggest the FSF should pushing for the use of spanish words gratis and libere in place of free. It focuses on American assumptions on cost and rights, and might help the world get free of hollywood's chinese finger trap.

          Copyright is an problem of American misunderstanding first. If copyright is the Free Software Foundation's enemy, this is where to strike. It's time to think outside the jail of our language. LSF has a nice ring to it.

          "With words they try to jail ya" - The Police

        • Let's not lose sight of the significance of Richard Stallman's massive achievement, which was to kick start the entire free software movement that eventually led to the burgeoning world of open source we enjoy today. Back around 1990 before the web, before Linux even existed, it was already possible to get unixalike software tools from the FSF to run on non-Unix operating systems. Maybe you ought to consider just how far would linux have got without any software to run on it. An OS kernel on its own isn't a general purpose computing environment. You can use it for embedded applications but that's all unless you have a shell, command line tools, networking software etc.

          As things are, the Linux kernel was mostly responsible for the sudden explosion of interest in free software but it really would have counted for very little if there hadn't already been a fertile free software environment ready and waiting for a handy free kernel to come along and complete the picture.

          In my view we all owe a debt of gratitude to Richard Stallman and his zealous pursuit of an ideal. He was a driving force among the first few who helped to create something out of nothing, without him Microsoft might well have had the entire field all to themselves by now.
    • Why don't we let the good Professor be the public face of the FSF and banish the zealots to a sound-proof box?

      Agreed. I thought the answers were tremendously cogent and well thought out. I didn't get the feeling any of the questions were being ducked, and I did get the feeling that he truly believes in what he is saying. I was able to understand a lot of what was said, despite the largely esotoric nature of the subject matter.

      Basically, thanks Professor, and congratulations on an excellent interview.

    • Re:Rational Face (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stevenj (9583) <stevenj@@@alum...mit...edu> on Thursday February 20, 2003 @02:30PM (#5346069) Homepage
      The sad thing is that most people on here who criticize RMS for being irrational are demonstrably far more so than he. For example, name-calling (e.g. "zealot," "ranting") is an ad hominem attack. Putting words in someone's mouth is little better. (I've never read a single criticism of the FSF's position on "GNU/Linux" that responds to their actual arguments on the issue. Usually, people create strawmen and/or make arguments that the FSF has already responded to in writing.)

      It is quite possible to disagree with Richard Stallman's views, especially if you don't start with the same values as axioms. And, in person, he is not always the most suave and charming character, to say the least. But if you actually read anything he has written [gnu.org], you'll find that his essays never make personal attacks, almost always try to directly respond with reasons to the actual arguments of those who disagree with him, and maintain a calm tone.

      It is unfair to base your opinion of him on the strawmen propped up continually at Slashdot, and embarrassing that his strongest critics don't measure up to RMS's level of rationality.

      (To be fair, the particular post I'm responding to is pretty mild; it doesn't make any arguments, it simply takes the Slashdot characterization of RMS as a given.)

      • Never? You've never read a single criticism of the FSF's position that responds to their actual arguments on the issue?

        How about this. The one thing guaranteed to be common about all Linux distributions is the kernel -- Linux. While all current end-user distributions use a lot of GNU software, end-user distributions are not the only form of Linux. My TiVo runs Linux. It has almost no GNU programs on it by default, but it is a Linux OS.

        Secondly, things are named by the people who drive their development. The FSF claims that Linus developed the last remaining puzzle piece in the GNU system, the kernel. But if he's the one who finally got a widely-used stable system, he's the one who gets to name it. Most inventions are simply improvements on existing products, or amalgamations of several products, but the person who choses which parts to use and who makes a complete system out of those products can call the whole system whatever he/she wants.

        Finally, things with a GNU in their name are almost universally things whose development is driven and led by the FSF. From what I know, the FSF didn't lead development of operating systems based on the Linux kernel. GNU Emacs is called GNU Emacs because RMS is the one who chooses which features get implemented, what code is good enough to be checked into CVS, and basically runs the development program. Calling all operating systems based on the Linux kernel GNU/Linux would imply that RMS or the FSF is providing a similar leadership role to those projects, which it isn't. If the FSF wants to direct development of a Linux based OS, choosing what software is included, how the installer works, what package management system to use, how the /etc directory is laid out, etc. then it would not be misleading to call their version GNU/Linux, or heck, even GNU-OS if they prefer. (I know they're probably saving that name for when they have Hurd ready but if they wanted to use it for a Linux based OS that's their right).

        • How about this. The one thing guaranteed to be common about all Linux distributions is the kernel...

          Nice try, but this in in their FAQ [gnu.org] (although "Frequently Made Arguments" would be a better name). You are free to disagree, but you have to respond to their counter-arguments or things will just go in a circle.

          Secondly, things are named by the people who drive their development.

          This isn't an argument, this is a statement of fact. The FSF doesn't dispute that people do, in fact, call the system Linux, and they even support people's free-speech right to call it whatever they choose (this is a FAQ, too). Their argument is over what the system should be called.

          From what I know, the FSF didn't lead development of operating systems based on the Linux kernel.

          The whole purpose of the GNU project, starting in 1984, was to develop a free operating system. It's hard to say that they didn't "lead" the development when they were the people to start it. This in, in fact, the FSF's main argument, which you have still failed to address. (They also respond specifically to suggestions that the GNU name only be used for those components they particularly developed.)

          I don't really want to have to argue the side of the FSF here; I'm not their spokesperson, and my views are not identical theirs. I just find it frustrating to watch people argue in circles about this all of the time because they don't respond to counter-arguments. Still, your post is much better than the vast majority on the topic.

        • by stevenj (9583)
          I'm not claiming it's impossible to make a rational argument opposing the FSF's views. It's quite possible for reasonable people to disagree about these things, and I'd be happy to see people do so; rational discussion is a healthy thing. (But I'm not interested in arguing the matter myself in this forum, so don't try to drag me into a GNU/Linux debate, please.)

          My main point is that some of the best examples of reasoned argument are to be found in the FSF's essays, and often not in the writings of those who accuse them of zealotry and irrationality.

      • ad hominem

        What'd you call me?!
  • Reasoning works? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jezral (449476)
    ...persistent, patient reasoning with people can convince them to do the right thing.

    I wish I had seen the effects of that more often.

    In my experience, people are fanatic about their way of doing something, even if it is completely illogical and not in their best interest.

    Or maybe I am the wrongheaded zealot...nah, never...

    -- Tino Didriksen / ProjectJJ.dk
    • In my experience, people are fanatic about their way of doing something, even if it is completely illogical and not in their best interest.

      In general I've found it's possible to get people to change their minds, if they are reasonably intelligent and don't have a large investment in one particular viewpoint (ie little emotional attachment to it). Even then, it's still possible to defeat people in argument, even if they don't change their minds straight away, sometimes it seems to plant the seeds of doubt in their minds - maybe, just maybe, this guy has a point.

      Silly though it may sound, I've had my mind changed by what I've read on Slashdot for instance many times. A year ago, I was of the opinion that X sucked and Linus should make all the GNOME developers work on KDE :)

  • Great quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TopShelf (92521) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @12:57PM (#5345136) Homepage Journal
    The most important threat to the survival of free software is the concept of "trusted computing," which really means the building of hardware you as a user can't trust at all

    Well said - this is a perfect example of Doublespeak, for which you could also say that the built-in presumption is that the user cannot be trusted.

    • the built-in presumption is that the user cannot be trusted.

      Quasi-true. (1) Many users do not trust themselves and (2) often (without well-thought out security), you do not know who is "using" the machine (ie, who wrote the code).

      Both these problems have solutions which don't have to include draconian "Trusted Computing," of course, but don't underestimate the power of those two arguments as a support for TC. I know people who use them ("But I _don't_ know much about my computer... it's be nice if there was automated security to let me know what I could trust...")
  • by fnurgel (98702)
    "Here are your answers"...

    I'm really not a language expert (this not being my home language and everything).
    But I was pondering the "Here are his questions and here are your answers" and was just still wondering who's answers and who's questions was it again?

  • by e2d2 (115622) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @01:02PM (#5345176)
    "Trusted" computers are computers that can be trusted by media companies not to run software that users can modify, so that media company "content" can be delivered without fear that software modified by users will exercise fair use rights that media companies don't want to allow.

    But can the "trusted computing" scenarion be used to protect GNU works? Can we make sure that others are not infringing on the GPL using this or am I grasping at straws here? Is there anything in this initiative that could be used to promote our freedoms?

    • by aridhol (112307) <ka_lac@hotmail.com> on Thursday February 20, 2003 @01:23PM (#5345341) Homepage Journal
      Can we make sure that others are not infringing on the GPL using this
      No.
      or am I grasping at straws here?
      Yes.

      OK, now to be a little more helpful ;)

      Trusted computing requires that the binaries be signed by a trusted signer. For example, Company A is a trusted signer, and Product B is GPL. Company A can take Product B, modify it to their heart's content, and publish it as their own. As long as they sign it, the computer will run it. The computer has no notion of license, just signed or unsigned.

    • No.

      Free software means the user can modify it, including modifying it to work around any hardware restriction.

    • by DickBreath (207180) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @02:47PM (#5346247) Homepage
      The "trust" in trusted computing means that the user and the software provider can both be assured that the software and hardware are not tampered with. The software intregity is assured.

      While this does mean that, yes the software is not compromised by a spy, or spy agency, or some enemy, or by some virus; it also means that the software is not compromised by the end user.

      A software package that does something good, such as securely handling classified data, can be trusted to do its job properly.

      But also, a software package that
      • limits your rights
      • sends your private data to some corporation
      • pops up ads in your face
      • tampers with search results to cause their own links to come to the top

      such as program can likewise be trusted to do its job properly.

      You know, I've read all the people who have said "I've read the TCPA / TPM specs, and this is good and won't hurt us.".

      Are people really so gullible today? Yeah, maybe it won't hurt us if everyone plays nice. Do you really think Microsoft (or any corporation) is going to play nice? Maybe today. What about in ten years when everyone has forgotton?

      You know what? I just don't trust corporations. They lie through their teeth. Microsoft has already disclaimed that Palladium has anything to do with DRM, yet The Register soon afterward showed some Microsoft help wanted ads for Palladium that expressly stated that you would get to work with cutting edge DRM, etc.

      Haven't you learned anything from thousands of years of human history?

      If not, then....

      Haven't you learned anything from Babylon 5. The suspension of civil liberties and rights is just temporary.

      Haven't you learned anything from Jar Jar Binks? Meesa thinks weesa should give the chancellor emergency powers. Chancellor: I will lay down these powers after the emergency has passed.

      Don't they teach World History in high school anymore?

      Some people ask, but aren't there some advantages to trusted computing?

      Hey, there are advantages to living in a police state. Just ask anyone how low or non-existant the crime rate was in Soviet Russia. (Please no Soviet Russia jokes.) You could walk in a dark alley at 3 AM with no fear of getting mugged. (or very little fear)

      I'm sure there are probably some advantages to having a system that takes away my freedom and takes away my control over the software.

      It's so funny how youngsters these days who were born way after most of the horrors of the 20th century seem to think it could never happen to them. I guess I'll end up laughing my ass off and saying I told you so.
  • by egg troll (515396) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @01:04PM (#5345202) Homepage Journal
    Now RMS is going to hunt you down and assassinate you for your insurance money! That RMS is like cat, or a ninja, or a ninja cat!
  • by Sloppy (14984) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @01:08PM (#5345224) Homepage Journal
    The language or programming paradigm in use doesn't determine the rules of compliance, nor does whether the GPL'd code has been modified. The situation is no different than the one where your code depends on static or dynamic linking of a GPL'd library, say GNU readline. Your code, in order to operate, must be combined with the GPL'd code, forming a new combined work, which under GPL section 2(b) must be distributed under the terms of the GPL and only the GPL
    That's pretty broad. If I take that really literally, then if my networking program does DNS lookups in order to make it easier for users to specify what host they want to talk to, then my program is a "combined work" with a DNS server program?

    That's obviously absurd. (Right? Please tell me I'm right!))

    Somewhere there's some line that is crossed that determines whether two works are really combined or not, and I think that the JAR question was intended to nail that down. At face value, Moglen's assertion that the paradigm doesn't matter, seems pretty radical IMHO. Because if it really doesn't matter, then the whole internet is one combined work.

    • Its simple -- your program doesn't require a GPL DNS server, it just requires a DNS server.

      'nuff said.
      • Ok, then back to the JAR example: the program doesn't require the GPLed JAR, it just requires any JAR that happens to implement that interface.
        • Ok, then back to the JAR example: the program doesn't require the GPLed JAR, it just requires any JAR that happens to implement that interface.

          Here's another example, one that I've seen in the real world (though not at my company, lest someone think IBM is engaging in such duplicity):

          A company sees a GPL'd library they'd like to be able to use, but they don't want to GPL their own application. So, they write a simple HTTP server that accepts XML-formatted requests, processes them and returns the XML-formatted results. This simple server is linked (in the 'ld' sense) to the GPL'd library and the server uses the library to perform part of the request processing. The server is released under a GPL-compatible license. Both the server and the library are distributed on a hardware device that contains a whole bunch of other of other GPL software, including source code for all of it. Any application can use the little server and the GPL is complied with in every respect. The server does significantly more than just wrap the library, and does constitute a widely-useful (though not widely-used) component. There is also clear technical value in making it a server that can service multiple clients simultaneously, using shared context, and there's clear value in making it usable over IP, rather than just on the local machine (though it's primarily used in "local" mode).

          Now, the company can write its own applications to use the server in somewhat the same way they'd use the library, but without linking to the library at all. And, of course, their applications would also work with any other server that implements the same XML-over-HTTP interface. Of course, none exists.

          So, is this legal? If not, does it mean that if I were to create a new network protocol and license the server under the GPL that only GPL clients could be written? If so, does it not constitute a fairly widely-applicable mechanism for bypassing the contraints of the GPL?

        • Right, but remember that wasn't the question. The question had to do with bundling the GPLed JAR with the author's program.

          Take a Jakarta/Tomcat servlet example: you write your servlet and part of its logic calls out to some GPLed JAR -- maybe some super-nifty XML parser or something. So you build a WAR file that can be dropped into any Tomcat webapps directory to enable the servlet. The WAR file contains your code, but it also contains that pesky GPLed JAR -- which means that you have to release the WAR file under the GPL.

          Now, the easy way I see to get around this is to ship your WAR without the GPLed JAR inside it and in the distribution notes you say something like, "This servlet requires a super-nifty XML parser in order to load and run, and it needs to implement org.sumdumgai.niftyParser. You can get one of those over at some.place.else/nifty.jar for instance, but whatever you use, you need to modify myservlet.properties so the servlet knows where to find the class to use." Bada-bing, you can now release this servlet under something that isn't GPL -- just make sure that your warranty states that the thing isn't guaranteed to do anything other than take up storage space.

    • The "line" you cross is distribution. If I write a program that depends on a GPLed work, such as the Linux kernel, I can distribute it without licensing it under the GPL if I require my users to obtain the Linux kernel from a different source. However, if I distribute the Linux kernel along with my program, as a convenience to my users, then I am obliged to offer the source code not only for the Linux kernel but also for my program.
      John Sauter (J_Sauter@Empire.Net)
    • That's pretty broad. If I take that really literally, then if my networking program does DNS lookups in order to make it easier for users to specify what host they want to talk to, then my program is a "combined work" with a DNS server program?

      IANAL, but ... like most legal documents, there is a certain amount of slack involved, a certain fuzziness which is open to interpretation. Most of the time, common sense rules the day, and everybody lives happily spending their time Getting Things Done.

      Occasionally there may be a dispute over the wording, or the interpretation. At that point, the two parties can normally resolve the issue between them. If they can't, then it goes to court, and the issue is decided there. If it's law, then it goes down as "case law" and in future judges will use it to aid them in their judgement. I don't know what the equivalent is for software licenses.

      Basically the GPL is an agreement between two human parties. It implies a modicum of cooperation, of flexibility. If that cooperation doesn't exist, then the lawyers become useful :)

    • The issue is linking. Is your program linked (in the compilation sense of the word) with the DNS server? If you contact the DNS server over a network, your program is not linked with it, even if the DNS server code is GPLed. If you've incorporated GPLed code into your program, then your program becomes GPLed (this is a gross simplification of course).

      • The issue is linking. Is your program linked (in the compilation sense of the word) with the DNS sever?

        I don't think that is the issue. After all, with Java there's not necessarily any compilation going on at all (if it's not running in JIT mode) - it's just an interpreter, and the programs (the non-GPL program and the GPL'd JAR) are just inputs to that interpreter.

        The GPL says:

        If identifiable sections of that work are not derived from the Program, and can be reasonably considered independent and separate works in themselves, then this License, and its terms, do not apply to those sections when you distribute them as separate works.
        It seems to me that anything that needs to use GPL software in order to be used cannot be considered independent of the GPL software, and hence must be distributed under the GPL license.

        How is an interpreted Java program that relies on a piece of external GPL code qualititavely different from (say) a document written with a GPL word processor (in a format specific to that word processor)?

        I don't think it is... and I hence I can understand entirely the reluctance of Apple's lawyers to countenance the bundling of any GPL code with MacOS X...

        • Well it is the issue that the poster was asking about (DNSs etc).

          As to your specific point, I'm afraid I don't know much about the process of executing Java programs. But what you describe sounds enough like the process of dynamic linking to make me think that the GPL still applies: if you want to make a program which needs that GPLed JAR to work (whether at "compile" time or at run-time), then you have to GPL your program.

          I think the bundling point is bogus. The GPL specifically addresses the issue of distribution on the same media, and that is not treated the same as linking.
    • by spitzak (4019) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @02:02PM (#5345768) Homepage
      I think the answer is that although the GPL could in theory lead to perverse examples, this never happens in the real world.

      It is obvious that the DNS server was written to allow closed-source software to call it. Otherwise it would be quite useless, people would not use it, or ignore the restriction (because it is impossible to enforce technically). I think all the really perverse examples that can be come up with it can be shown quite obviously that the writer intended non-GNU software to call it.

      As for "libraries", it seems that all real-world examples are LGPL or similar. The only counter-example I have ever heard of is readline, can anybody (even RMS) name another? By this I mean a library that could in any concievable way be used by more than one program with significantly different functions. Libraries designed to work around the Windows DLL limitations so that "plugins" can load do not count.

      In the real world (as opposed to RMS's fantasy wourld) the LGPL (or an even looser version that explicitly allows static linking, like I use) very well protects your clever algorithim from being stolen. People have to use your library (or write possibly worse algorithims from scratch) and that can hugely limit the amount of damage they can do with their closed-source, since the library and what it does is open, and because the license requires that reverse-engineering be allowed.

      IMHO putting the GPL on libraries seems to be an attempt to lock the *interface* so that non-GPL code cannot call it. This sounds suspiciously like what MicroSoft does. It also does not work, the result (like for readline) is that nobody uses the library at all. Even for GPL code, since part of the GPL is the freedom to change your own code to be non-GPL if possible, and using that library means that is not possible.

      • Another example of a GPLed library is QT. This allows developers to use QT if they are willing to let their software fall under the GPL. If you want to use QT in a commercial product you must pay money for a commercial (non-GPL) license.

        As for your belief that GPLing a library is an attempt to lock the *interface*, that's blatantly false. As proof of this take a look at libedit [sourceforge.net]. It's goal is to be 100% API compatible with readline, but with a BSD-style license.

        The FSF argues that there is little reason to GPL a library that is a reimplementation of a commercial library (ie glibc), because if you did that no one would use the GPLed library. However, if your library has new and interesting features that aren't found in a commercial library then the GPL makes sense. People will want to use the library in their own programs (because of the features), but they will need to release their software under the GPL to be able to use it. There are several examples (ncftp using readline being the prime example) where this has actually been the case.

        • As for your belief that GPLing a library is an attempt to lock the *interface*, that's blatantly false. As proof of this take a look at libedit [sourceforge.net]. It's goal is to be 100% API compatible with readline, but with a BSD-style license.

          I write an application called FooEdit, which dynamically links to a GPLed library called libfoo. I distribute FooEdit under some closed license, requiring my users to get their own copy of libfoo. Have I done wrong? If I understand your post correctly, then you believe that the FSF does not really have a case against me.

          What I get from this interview is that the FSF does think it has such a case. The question I'd like to see answered is how it would go about enforcing it. In distributing FooEdit, I haven't agreed to the terms of the GPL, so they would have no choice but to go after me for copyright infringement. In order to gain any traction they would have to argue that my use of libfoo's API constitutes copyright infringement.

          Is the FSF willing to argue that point in a court of law? Or are they just blowing hot air and hoping to scare people into licensing their applications under the GPL?

          • Re:Clear up (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Jason Earl (1894)

            I write an application called FooEdit, which dynamically links to a GPLed library called libfoo. I distribute FooEdit under some closed license, requiring my users to get their own copy of libfoo. Have I done wrong? If I understand your post correctly, then you believe that the FSF does not really have a case against me.

            If you write an application that links (dynamically or statically it doesn't matter) with a GPLed library then you must distribute your application under the GPL (assuming you distribute your application). This doesn't "lock" the interface or the API because you are perfectly free to create your own replacement for libfoo (called libbar, of course). Example: libedit is a replacement for readline.

            What I get from this interview is that the FSF does think it has such a case. The question I'd like to see answered is how it would go about enforcing it. In distributing FooEdit, I haven't agreed to the terms of the GPL, so they would have no choice but to go after me for copyright infringement. In order to gain any traction they would have to argue that my use of libfoo's API constitutes copyright infringement.

            If your application doesn't work without libfoo then it is clearly a derivative work of libfoo. You are infringing on the copyright not because you used the libfoo API, but because you created and distributed a derivative work without the permission of the copyright holder.

            Is the FSF willing to argue that point in a court of law? Or are they just blowing hot air and hoping to scare people into licensing their applications under the GPL?

            Here's a little secret. The reason that the GPL has never been tried in court is not because the GPL is on shaky ground, but rather because it is on such firm ground that only an idiot would want to get up in front of a judge and become a precedent. First of all, all of the major software houses rely on copyright to protect their own intellectual property.

            Take the large software development firms, for example. The last thing that IBM or Microsoft would want is a legal precedent that weakened copyright. So count out the large software houses as potential GPL litigators. This explains why there is not a single major software company that hasn't responded, and responded quickly, to perceived GPL violations. Even Microsoft distributes GPLed software, strange as that may seem.

            So that leaves the small-time developers. Now imagine your local software consulting firm paying for the lawyer fees that would arise from butting heads with the likes of Moglen or Lessig. The FSF has access to excellent lawyers, and in a copyright case the FSF could even push for the reward of heavy damages. So not only would the small consulting firm be faced with large legal bills, but they would also be faced with the possibility of losing their own copyrighted works (since they would be a derivative of the FSF's works), and paying a hefty fine. It's no wonder that a case hasn't gone to court. Especially since the FSF is happy to forgive you if you simply make the source code available to your customers (note, you don't have to make the source available to the whole world). And the FSF almost certainly would win the court case anyhow. You see, they were very careful to make sure that the GPL relied on the "distribution" of the software as the key to their license. Under normal copyright terms the end user is denied the right to distribute copyright material without permission of the copyright holder. The GPL simply points out the terms under which the original copyright holder is willing to allow you to distribute their work. Either the end user accepts the GPL, or they don't have permission to distribute the software (or its derivatives). The end user can still use the software, but that's it.

            • If your application doesn't work without libfoo then it is clearly a derivative work of libfoo.

              Apparently, you're using the same faulty definition of "derivative work" that the FSF is. Go read up on Title 17 then get back to us. Dependency is not derivation. Duh! ...it is on such firm ground that only an idiot would want to get up in front of a judge and become a precedent.

              No one challenges the FSF because you don't want to go to court to begin with. If you're a little guy, you don't go head to head with the FSF because they have millions of dollars and hundreds of lawyers. If you're a big guy, you don't go head to head with the FSF because a lawsuit if very bad for business. It has nothing to do with the validity of the GPL, but everything to do with the size and reputation of the FSF and the bad mojo that goes along with a lawsuit. Remember, every still thinks the winner of the McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit was a nincompoop, even though she was in the right.

              Most of the GPL is quite valid. But there are two parts where it is somewhat shaky. The first is the imposition of terms upon third parties. The second is implicit treatment of linkage as derivation.

              The end user can still use the software

              Not if it's a library. Using the library means linking to it, and that's restricted by the FSF.
              • I actually have read Title 17, and I am afraid that I will have to agree with the legal folks at the FSF (and every major software company). Not that it matters what I think. As you have pointed out only a fool would go to court against the FSF on this issue. If the FSF is right about what constitues a derivative work in software then the offending company's software would essentially become property of the FSF and they would have to release the source code to this software to all of their customers (plus any monetary penalties). In short, it would be instant death. Even releasing the source code to your crown jewels is probably a better alternative.

                Big Corp A would be crazy to base their proprietary software on GPLed code because anytime between now and whenever the copyright wears out on said code the FSF can come and wreck their party. And the FSF can even wait until after it has found an easier target to be the legal precedent.

                So you can pretend that the GPL is on shaky ground when it comes to linking, but you can bet that your legal department isn't likely to advise you to press the issue. If Mr Moglen called your company you would cave, just as everyone else has. So think what you want, for all practical purposes the FSF is right as rain on this issue.

                Your "so-called" imposition on third parties, on the other hand, is just pure hogwash. It doesn't matter where I get the copyrighted work, if I try and distribute it I have to get the permission of the copyright holder. Without that permission I can't distribute the work. There is no third party. The only way to get permission to distribute GPLed code is to make source code available.

                Which brings us to your last point, where you talk about the GPL restricting the "use" of software. I am perfectly free to download a GPLed library and link my own personal programs against it, as long as I don't distribute my derivative work to someone else. In short, I am free to "use" the software how I wish (including linking), I just can't distribute the GPLed software, or its derivative works, without the permission of the copyright holder. As long as you don't distribute the software the GPL has absolutely no hold you.

            • If you write an application that links (dynamically or statically it doesn't matter) with a GPLed library then you must distribute your application under the GPL (assuming you distribute your application). This doesn't "lock" the interface or the API because you are perfectly free to create your own replacement for libfoo (called libbar, of course). Example: libedit is a replacement for readline.

              That doesn't make any sense to me. If (as the parent post assumed) you're not distributing libfoo, how can you violate its copyright? The situation you're presenting seems to require some kind of "quantum entanglement" between the existence of a compatible libbar and the legality of distributing a program that is able to link to libfoo.

              How about a simpler example. I write a Windows program; it can't run without Windows. Does that make it a "derivitave work" of windows? Is Microsoft entitled to royalties on my program?

              • Re:Clear up (Score:3, Informative)

                by Jason Earl (1894)
                The folks at the FSF explain it much better than I could here [gnu.org]. Long story short you don't link against "Windows" it is a separate program.

                Let's imagine that you took one of Steven King's novels and wrote an alternative ending. Could you legally distribute that and tell your customers to go and purchase Steven King's book if you want to read the first part of the story. Of course not. Creating a program that requires an external library is a similar type deal.

                Now if your program communicates with a separate GPLed program via pipes (or other methods) that's a totally different story. Read the FAQ, it should clear things up.

                • Re:Clear up (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Waffle Iron (339739)
                  So I looked at the FAQ and the GPL again. Clearly, I can't redistribute a GPL'd program that I've modified to depend on a proprietary program. However, the question here was whether I could distribute a proprietary program that depends on a GPL'd program. The proprietary program would be distributed by itself; the end user would have to obtain the GPL'd library.

                  I still maintain that the GPL can in no way affect my distribution of my program. It is not a deriviative work until it is actually linked. Just because it doesn't do anything by itself doesn't mean I can't sell it; there's no guarantee that anybody will ever try to link it to the GPL'd code. Nor is there a guarantee that a compatible non-GPL'd library doesn't exist or will never exist.

                  The question then boils down to whether the end user can legally link the two parts together and use them. That's a stickier question. However, here's the actual restriction from the GPL:

                  You may not copy, modify, sublicense, distribute or transfer the Program except as expressly provided under this General Public License.

                  If the end user were to install (copy) the GPL'd library first before running it with the proprietary program, then he would no longer be covered by any of the above restrictions (which do not prohibit using the program). The next sentence in the GPL forbids using the program if you violate the above conditions, but the user isn't violating them as written.

                  The end-user would probably considered to be "modifying" the GPL'd library by linking it to form the derived work. However, the GPL only says (in paragraph 2a) that the user must place notices on modified files (he modified none), and (in paragraph 2b) that if he redistributes it, the whole thing is GPL'd. Obviously, the end user couldn't redistribute it. But I still think he can get away with just using it.

      • dietlibc. It's a very cool drop-in replacement libc that is orders of manitude smaller (and somewhat faster) than GNU glibc. It's also GPL by choice of the author.

        And what about your HDR to 8-bit conversion code?? It looks to me like it's GPL only, yes? (interesting, in the copyright header it refers to BOTH "the GNU General Public License" and "the GNU Library General Public License" - which is it?)
  • Color Me Confused... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by redragon (161901) <codonnell@mac. c o m> on Thursday February 20, 2003 @01:11PM (#5345249) Homepage
    "Eben:

    The language or programming paradigm in use doesn't determine the rules of compliance, nor does whether the GPL'd code has been modified. The situation is no different than the one where your code depends on static or dynamic linking of a GPL'd library, say GNU readline. Your code, in order to operate, must be combined with the GPL'd code, forming a new combined work, which under GPL section 2(b) must be distributed under the terms of the GPL and only the GPL. If the author of the other code had chosen to release his JAR under the Lesser GPL, your contribution to the combined work could be released under any license of your choosing, but by releasing under GPL he or she chose to invoke the principle of "share and share alike.""

    Based upon this, wouldn't any software linking against libraries (assuming they GPL-ed) on a system be required to be GPL-ed? Seems like it would be difficult to write any software that didn't need to be GPL-ed if you were doing it on a Linux system.

    I'm just curious, trying to understand better.
    • >> Based upon this, wouldn't any software linking against libraries (assuming they GPL-ed) on a system be required to be GPL-ed?

      Yes

      >> Seems like it would be difficult to write any software that didn't need to be GPL-ed if you were doing it on a Linux system

      It is, though not impossible. Not every library on every linux system is GPLd, and you can always statically compile against the proprietary libraries (after you licensed them) that the GPL'd ones are based on.

      Ever notice commercial linux softwares tend to have gigantic executables?

      There's a certain 'indian-giver' aspect to the GPL thats distasteful when applied to library code. Luckily most are bright enough to use the LGPL, and no doubt the true GPL'd libraries will fade away into non-use (like proprietary ones like Motif largely did)

      • It is, though not impossible. Not every library on every linux system is GPLd, and you can always statically compile against the proprietary libraries (after you licensed them) that the GPL'd ones are based on. Ever notice commercial linux softwares tend to have gigantic executables?

        That's not entirely accurate. In fact, virtually no system libraries are exclusively GPL, and in the rare cases that they are, they normally contain exception clauses that let you avoid using a free or open source license (or they are dual licensed).

        The reason commercial programs are often so large is because we really suck at binary distribution. Making portable binaries is hard work, which we cunningly avoid by distributing software as source. Commercial software doesn't do that, nor can it make a new binary for every version of every distro, so they statically link stuff to keep themselves sane.

      • Wrong. Nearly every useful library on Linux is LGPL already (the only counterexample anybody seems to be able to come up with is readline, I would like to hear what the others are).

        The reason commercial software is statically-linked is that they are afraid of binary incompatabilities. Those static-linked libraries are the same ones.

    • by Jason Earl (1894)

      Yes, software that links with a GPLed library needs to be released under the GPL. However, most of the libraries on a typical GNU/Linux box are LGPLed, and not GPLed. Readline is the prime example of a widely used GNU library that is released under the GPL.

  • by WetCat (558132) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @01:12PM (#5345253)
    What happens with GPL-ed code after the
    copyright on it is expired?
    I probably can do with that code whatever I want.
    • by JoeBuck (7947) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @01:45PM (#5345582) Homepage

      It's a moot point: no copyright on GPLed code will ever expire, because we lost the Eldred case. This means that Disney will have its paid congresscritters extend the copyright term again every time Mickey Mouse threatens to go into the public domain. As a result, all GPLed code will always be copyrighted.

      If we had won Eldred, then eventually GPLed code would enter the public domain.

    • The direct answer is that yes you will be able to do anything with the code after the copyright expires. GPL is a license to violate the copyright in certain restricted cases, so if the copyright is expired the GPL is meaningless.

      I agree with all the joke responses that this is probably never going to happen in the USA.

  • Lawyer (Score:4, Funny)

    by twoflower (24166) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @01:17PM (#5345296)
    Legal questions, on Slashdot, being answered by a lawyer.

    How refreshingly novel.
  • by CoughDropAddict (40792) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @01:24PM (#5345354) Homepage
    Your code, in order to operate, must be combined with the GPL'd code, forming a new combined work, which under GPL section 2(b) must be distributed under the terms of the GPL and only the GPL.

    Section 2(b) of the GPL does not contain the "only under the GPL" part of that statement. It is my understanding that if I write a program that links against a GPL library, I may distribute the source code to my own program under the terms of (say) the MIT license as long as I also provide it under the terms of the GPL.
    • Exactly. You can license your code any way you wish.

      However, the combined work has to be licensed under the GPL.

      You (supposedly) read source code carefully; read Ebden's language carefully as well. He writes in a very clear, consise and exact way.

      Now, there is an interpretation that if your code is not functional without the GPLed other software, then it might not be considered a work in it self, but only a derivative of the GPLed work. If that interpretation is correct, then distributing your own work falls under the GPL, and you can only license it under the GPL.

      I tend to think that if you are distributing your own work as source code, then you are in the clear: the code doesn't have to compile into a functioning binary as such to be useful. However, distributing binaries linked statically against GPLed code is clearly a derivative work, and you must make your source code available under the GPL.

      There is some contention about dynamically-linked executables; many GPL proponents make the case that it's essentially the same as with statically linked binaries. However, in theory, anybody could implement a compatible library that has the same ABI, and so would allow running the non-GPL binary without using any GPLed code.

      I personally would draw the line between "ubiqutous" APIs (libc, etc.) that are designed to be a framework, and code that has been ripped from an existing project and just compiled into a dynamic library just to avoid the "GPL hassle". Obviously, there are quite a few murky cases in between...

  • Another question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by riptalon (595997) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @02:21PM (#5345969)

    It would be interesting to know Prof. Moglen's views on the main point in this article [ilaw.com.au] in the unlikely event that he is reading this. Namely that while the GPL and most other Free/Open software licenses are perfectly enforcable, there exists a weak point with the copyright holder themselves. If the copyright holder of a peice of free software decided to they could change, or totally revoke the license of the software, and that change would apply to all copies of the software not just future versions. If this is indeed true it is certainly not the way most users of free software believe things work.

    I don't think most users believe that Linus could wake up one morning and decide he is going to revoke the license to all the code he has contributed to the Linux kernel and bring linux development to a crashing halt until all that code could be reimplemented by other people. While this is an unlikely senario there are plenty of companies that contribute to free software which might be bought out, go bankrupt or simply have a change of heart.

    What about the case of an individual free software developer going bankrupt? Couldn't the copyright of some free software be considered an asset that could be seized to pay their debts? Would the FSF even be a safe copyright holder? Wouldn't it be possible for the FSF to be forced into bankruptcy? Would it be any different from a company or an individual going bankrupt?

    My limited usderstanding of this is that the GPL only really applies at the point where a copy is made of the work, although our friends at the RIAA/MPAA are doing their best to make copyright property, rather than a limited monoply on copying. If this is the case then revoking a free software license would seem to only directly affect the distribution and development of the software and current users would be free to continue using it. Although I know there have been attempts to argue that using software involves copying it into memory and so is covered by copyright. What is the status of that?

    Of course provided most copyright holders don't do this, free software as a whole can advance but it would be preferable if you could rely on a piece of software staying free after it has been released under the GPL. But in the end I think free software licenses are just a necessarily imperfect attempt to mitigate some of the evils of copyright and that it is suprising that it does as well as it does.

  • How about an "Ask Slashdot" with Hank Mishkoff of www.taubmansucks.com [taubmansucks.com] and/or Paul Levy of Public Citizen [citizen.org]? Their fight and eventual win against Taubman and their crooked lawyers (just read the account and you'll see -- they're lying and distorting throughout the process, and frankly I find it amazing what they *get away* with[0]) is not only important in itself, but the way Hank documented it is an inspiration to all. It provides real insight into fighting a corporation out the crush you.

    Great work by the team of Public Citizen; Press Release [citizen.org] (Won appeal)

    Here's an article in the Dallas Observer [dallasobserver.com] about the case -- check the spin Taubman tries! (third paragraph from the end)

    [0] Maybe we should Ask Slashdot with Julie from Gifford-Krass-Groh-Sprinkle and ask her how she sleeps at night. "Great", I guess :-\

  • Okay I've been around long enough to hear this question come up time and again in one form or another, but I've rarely had a true-blue lawyer (who's head is apparently attached to his body, as is the case with our guest here, thankfully) convey the answer.

    But the answer is, to me is kind of muddled. And I think it has primarily to do with the question. A *.jar is basically a zip file. Usually filled with compiled classes. My restatement of the question would be:

    For any given language, I use compiled library X(a DSO, DLL, etc.). If the code, Y, which when compiled yields compiled library X, is released under the GPL, that forces my code Z to be GPLed as well?

    In most simple terms, the license for my code is in part dictated by the libraries, packages, (sharable) objects, and classes I use in my code?

  • by Yeechang Lee (3429) <ylee@pobox.com> on Thursday February 20, 2003 @03:27PM (#5346620) Homepage
    . . . One day a few years back, while working on the helpdesk hotline Columbia's IT department [columbia.edu] runs, I got a call from a law professor wanting to report portscan attempts on his office box. I assured him that I had the same thing happen on my personal box connected to the campus network, that they were done by people who were probing the entire Columbia network as opposed to him specifically, and that as long as he made sure to follow security bulletins and upgrade software when appropriate he probably didn't have much to worry about. After the call I mentioned it to my manager, as Unix-savvy faculty is awfully rare in my experience. He nodded his head and said "That's Eben."
  • Speaking of the DMCA -- it has built-in provisions for making precisely this kind of judge-free takedown by an ISP!

    What provisions are these ? Are they pro-user or pro-copyright holder ? I don't understand...

  • Whoa. (Score:3, Funny)

    by gheidorn (613169) <greg...heidorn@@@gmail...com> on Thursday February 20, 2003 @03:46PM (#5346839)
    I'm surprised he didn't switch his name back to "Ben" after the dot-com craze died down. *shrug*
  • How does giving away "free" software protect free speech? It may be a role model for free speech, but I don't see how it protects free speech.

    What it really does is it undercuts the value of commercial software, which destroys jobs in the software industry.

    Anyone think that can't happen any more?
  • Eben Moglen writes:

    But most of the work that I've done for the Free Software Foundation in the past ten years wasn't about litigation. It wasn't about conflict at all; it was about helping people cooperate....

    Interesting. Gangsters use exactly the same term -- "cooperate" -- when they coerce victims to pay them protection money or otherwise do their bidding. And the FSF now has, or so it says, a "compliance" engineer, specifically charged with finding people to coerce to give away their work.

    It appears to me, at least, that the fact that the FSF needs a lawyer like Moglen to rattle sabers at people smacks of the exact opposite of freedom. What do you think?

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