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Suit Claims Diebold Voting Machines Violate GPL 252

Posted by kdawson
from the insult-to-injury dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Diebold Inc. and its subsidiary, Premier Election Solutions, is using Ghostscript in its electronic election systems even though Diebold and PES 'have not been granted a license to modify, copy, or distribute any of Artifex's copyrighted works,' Artifex claims in court papers filed late last month in US District Court for Northern California. The gs-devel list first brought up the possible GPL violation a year ago."
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Suit Claims Diebold Voting Machines Violate GPL

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  • The thing is (Score:2, Interesting)

    The GPL only applies when you distribute software. They are probably not distributing the software outside their own company.

    For one of the people who will be running the election hall on election day, when they get delivery of the election machine, is that counted as receiving a copy of the software?

    The machine itself is closed and locked down, and most likely cannot be opened without a special key from Diebold.

    If that is not the case, hit me with a cluebat.

    • GPL was violated (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Changa_MC (827317)
      If you give people GPLed software to use you must also make the source (including all changes you've made) available to them. That is not waived just because you don't let them take the program home.

      In this case that means every voter can demand diebold's source, which in a Free Society can only be considered a Good Thing.

      • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @04:44PM (#25632317) Homepage Journal

        It's my understanding that anyone who has "object code" is also entitled to "source code."

        This means the owners of the voting machines have standing to sue. If the machines are leased, depending on how the courts determine what distribution means when a lease is involved, the local governments may or may not have standing.

        The copyright owner might only have a claim of "license violation" if an owner asked for and was denied the source code.

        There's also the whole issue of "how viral is viral." If the printing code is done as an independent program, then Diebold might only be obliged to release it. After all, if I publish a BSD LiveCD that contains some GPL programs, I'm obligated to publish the GPL source but not the source to BSD-licensed code. The same would apply if the PDF-generating code were in a self-contained application in the "rom filesystem" in the firmware.

        • by marxmarv (30295)

          The copyright owner might only have a claim of "license violation" if an owner asked for and was denied the source code.

          Read Section 3 of the GPL, reproduced a few comments up. PES MUST inform their licensees as to how to obtain source for the Ghostscript module. If they did not do so then PES is not authorized under the GPL to distribute Ghostscript. If PES also has no license to distribute under the AFPL, then they're making unlicensed copies. Ergo, pwnt.

      • In this case that means every voter can demand diebold's source, which in a Free Society can only be considered a Good Thing.

        Looks like we have another person that doesn't understand how the GPL works - the voters get to demand nothing, since the software was not distributed to them. Only the people that received the hardware from Diebold can request the source code from Diebold, the voters are not receivers of anything in this case.

        So, the question becomes - has anyone who purchased or rented a Diebold voting machine actually requested the source code, and if so what was the result?

        Remember, Diebold doesn't have to conduc

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        Except we are only entitled to the GPL parts. I doubt Diebold has made substantial improvements to Ghostscript.

    • Re:The thing is (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @04:30PM (#25632065)

      They are probably not distributing the software outside their own company.

      Considering they *sell* the machines to the government, that most certainly counts as distribution.

      Just because it's loaded on closed hardware doesn't mean that it's not being distributed.

      For one of the people who will be running the election hall on election day, when they get delivery of the election machine, is that counted as receiving a copy of the software?

      Unless Diebold is

      A) a part of the US government

      or

      B) running the election

      that's pretty much irrelevant. They're distributing the machine to the government, who sends them to the election halls, and *that* is what counts as distribution.

    • Re:The thing is (Score:4, Interesting)

      by tthomas48 (180798) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @04:34PM (#25632143) Homepage

      Many people have said this, but delivering software on a hardware platform is delivering it. This is why we have source code for things like the linux running on Linksys routers. The routers are mean to be as locked up as a voting machine, but because of the GPL they are forced to distribute the source.

      • Re:The thing is (Score:4, Interesting)

        by bmwm3nut (556681) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @04:39PM (#25632209)
        This is something I never thought of before today. But how would they (the GPL folks) handle it if the hardware was leased just for election day. I.e., the precincts pay Diebold $LARGE sum to deliver, set up, run, tear down, and take back the machines each election. Then Diebold isn't distributing anything. They're just providing a service. This would be similar to if I modify a GPL webserver that stays on my personal server. I'm never distributing the software, just giving the output to someone (people who browse my site). Here Diebold isn't distributing the software, just giving the tallies of the votes to someone (people who count the votes).
        • 1. If I run Linux on my laptop, and I let you borrow my laptop, have I distributed Linux and am I required to provide you wish the source? 2. What if I let you borrow it for money, aka "lease" it?

          3. What if I run Linux on my laptop, and I let you into my home or office to use my laptop; have I distributed it then?

          I'm pretty sure the answer to 3. is NO. I'm not so sure about 1. or 2.

        • There would probably be cries of 'circumvention!!!' and demands for the GPLv4 to 'fix' the 'problem' :)
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          But how would they (the GPL folks) handle it if the hardware was leased just for election day. I.e., the precincts pay Diebold $LARGE sum to deliver, set up, run, tear down, and take back the machines each election. Then Diebold isn't distributing anything. They're just providing a service.

          How would the MAFIAA handle it if someone were to do the same with DVDs or BLU-RAYs and large portable theaters? I'm pretty sure that not only would the MAFIAA see such use as distribution, so would the courts.

          • by bmwm3nut (556681)
            Well, I think in the case of movies or music when you purchase the CD or DVD you're also purchasing a license that prohibits public performance (or maybe it's implied that you're not allowed to do public performance). I know that the guy who runs my gym is aware that he's not really allowed to play music off of his iPod during classes, but he does anyway. So in your example, the large portable theaters are a case of public performance (the definition of public performance is all insane - I remember during
      • by rs232 (849320) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @04:52PM (#25632415)
        "The routers are mean to be as locked up as a voting machine, but because of the GPL they are forced to distribute the source"

        No one is forcing Diebold Inc. to use Ghostscript in its electronic election systems ..
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DragonWriter (970822)

      The GPL only applies when you distribute software. They are probably not distributing the software outside their own company.

      Incorrect. The GPL governs copy, modifying, distributing, and sublicensing. If you do any one of those (outside of any rights you have under law that do not require a license from the copyright holder), you are permitted to do so only under the terms of the license. Some terms of the license are only relevant to certain of those acts (or certain combinations of them).

      Note, particular

  • by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @04:22PM (#25631967) Homepage

    Diebold and PES 'have not been granted a license to modify, copy, or distribute any of Artifex's copyrighted works

    In a later statement, Artifex said that they would overlook this violation if all the machines were reconfigured to auto-vote for Obama.

  • by Dan667 (564390) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @04:27PM (#25632035)
    Would not want anyone of questionable ethics that would steal or worse help by counting votes. /sarcasm
  • Actually, maybe if it was Microsoft Suit Claims Diebold Voting Machines Violate GPL.
    • No, these days it'd have to work in something about the software being rejected from the iPhone application store by Apple to hit the real Slashdot-buzzword bingo.

  • by logicnazi (169418) <logicnazi AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @04:52PM (#25632427) Homepage

    Based on the totally inadequate summary it seems like there is no violation, except perhaps the minor one of Diebold not having their own ftp site with the normal GPLed gs code available (which they could fix in an hour).

    I mean if Diebold didn't modify gs but merely used it on their machines they are only required to distributed the standard gs code. The mere fact that gs runs on the same machine doesn't make the rest of the diebold code a derived work. It's all about what is a derived work of the gs code.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by 91degrees (207121)
      They don't even need a public FTP site unless they have a public FTP site for the binaries. Unless the software that uses ghostscript is a derived work, supplying the ghostscript source on the hard disk or on any reasonable medium with the machines would be enough to satisfy the terms of the GPL.
    • by logicnazi (169418)

      I should add to this that I suspect something more is going on otherwise no suit would be being filled. I was just saying that from just the info in the summary it didn't seem like a violation.

  • by Madball (1319269) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @04:54PM (#25632449)
    After RTFA (which does not even mention GPL) and the gs-devel post, it would seem that the lawsuit most likely centers around their in-house "AFPL" which apparently forbids commercial usage (regardless of source availability). One would have to find the actual filing to know for sure.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bruce Perens (3872) *
      It could be GPL. Is Diebold making the source to Ghostscript, as used in their product, available?

      They would have to do that if it's GPL. This would not require them to release source to other software on the disk. There is a difference between aggregation and the creation of a derivative work. A program that just calls Ghostscript to run isn't a derivative work of Ghostscript.

  • Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe under the GPL they only need to show the GhostScript source to the people who bought the machines (that is, whoever takes care of elections in the US, assuming someone does). Unless Diebold really used a non-GPL version of Ghostscript, I don't think the lawsuit is reasonable. And if it is about a the AFPL version of Ghostscript, it's not a GPL issue, obviously.
    • That was changed, it's now open to third parties requesting the source. Otherwise, the secondary market (used equipment) is locked down again.

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      They need to provide the source with the binary on media commonly used for source code distribution, or they need to provide a written offer to provide source code to any third party.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Apparently elections aren't the only thing they steal.

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