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GNU is Not Unix The Courts Your Rights Online

GPL Wins In French Court Case 266

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the here-come-the-jokes dept.
viralMeme writes "An appeals court in Paris has upheld the ruling from a lower court, which found that the French firm Edu4 had violated the GNU General Public License (GPL). The plaintiff was the French Organisation Association francaise pour la Formation Professionnelle des Adultes (AFPA), an umbrella organization for adult education." The basic charge was the removal of copyrights and such from VNC source code, and not distributing it.
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GPL Wins In French Court Case

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  • French, eh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by autocracy (192714) <[slashdot2007] [at] [storyinmemo.com]> on Thursday September 24, 2009 @09:46AM (#29528033) Homepage
    They should turn off Edu4's Internet too. </tongueincheek>
    • Re:French, eh? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Noryungi (70322) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @09:57AM (#29528171) Homepage Journal

      Very funny... NOT.

      Just remember that the recent HADOPI 'three strikes and you are out' law can -and will- be challenged in front of the French Constitutional Court, which will probably strike it down as un-constitutional and contrary to human rights.

      Which is a big relief, at least for me (being French and all that).

      • Re:French, eh? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Balinares (316703) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @12:16PM (#29529935)

        I would very much not count on this. The rewritten law is designed to route around the Conseil Constitutionnel's earlier objections.

        Now the convictions will have to be signed off by a judge using the ordonnance pénale procedure, which is, if I got it correctly, the procedure used to deliver, for instance, driving-related fines. The gist of it: a cop has no right to sentence you to anything, only a judge can, but it's assumed that if a cop directly witnessed you speeding then you're as good as guilty and a simplified, faster procedure is thus used; that's the ordonnance pénale. You can challenge the ruling, in which case it goes to a regular court.

        So is this procedure appropriate to the case of copyright infringement? Hell no. To start with infringement can be witnessed as coming from a given IP address, not an identified person, making those cases immensely less clear cut than common driving-related offenses. But does that make it unconstitutional? Nope, I don't think. My bet is that the law will likely stand as such.

        The law tries to brain-damagedly route around the lack of direct IP to person mapping by making the owner of the Internet account legally responsible for everything that happens on it. I'm not sure of the constitutionality of that, but I'm afraid it may stand too, ill-thought patch job that it is. Meaning the death of open access points.

        So I wouldn't be optimistic.

        All this because the French president's trophy wife is a singer. The mind boggles.

    • No, this went to court. To have the internet connection disconnected, they'd need to point at the CEO, stick their tongue out, and shout "FILE SHARER!" three times.

      Ok, I just tried that, and it came out as "THAATH THAAYAAAH!" so maybe the tongue idea was a bit off.
      • by Abreu (173023)

        To have the internet connection disconnected, they'd need to point at the CEO, stick their tongue out, and shout "FILE SHARER!" three times.

        Betelgeuse! Betelgeuse! Betelgeuse!

  • by NoYob (1630681) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @09:54AM (#29528119)
    ...an umbrella organization for adult education."

    So they teach about porn?

  • Hang on just a second. Does the AFPA (the plaintiffs) own the copyright on the GPLd source? They do not. Then what standing do they have to sue anyone over it, or receive payment? This is GPL related, but the relief went to a 3rd party!

    • by selven (1556643)
      If they added even the slightest bit to the code, and redistributed their version (following the GPL of course), then they own the copyright to that version of the code.
      • My understanding of the GPL is that if they made a patch, changed some code, or added some new code, they would own the copyright to those changes only, the rest is owned by the original creator(s) of that code. The GPL is not a copyright assignment, but a distribution license. This is why some of organizations require copyright assignment to them from community contributors, so that they can sell versions of the software under a different license without having to track down the contributors and make licen

        • by selven (1556643)
          Sorry, that was a mistake, the distributor only owns the changes, they can't redistribute the work under a different license. But they do still have the power to sue for redistributing their modifications without source code.
    • by Narishma (822073) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @10:21AM (#29528467)

      Read the article. The AFPA requested the source code of the modifications the company (Edu4) did to VNC but the company refused to provide it and so they were sued.

      • by Rogerborg (306625)
        Read the VNC source. Do you see "Copyright AFPA" in there? What kind of crackpot legal system lets Alice sue Bob over Carol's copyrights?
        • by godrik (1287354)

          Any sane legal system should let ANYBODY sue over ANY illegal thing. Unfortunately, it is not like this in France.

          IANAL but I believe in France the only thing you need to be allowed to sue is to have something to gain. Here AFAP have access to the source code to gain, therefore is allowed to sue.

          • by mea37 (1201159) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @11:34AM (#29529373)

            "Any sane legal system should let ANYBODY sue over ANY illegal thing"

            Say what?

            First let's put this in context: people sue over civil matters - not criminal ones. Indeed the case in question - a GPL violation - is a civil matter. So what you're saying is "if I do something that makes me liable to Bob, Jim should be able to sue me".

            What if Bob and I are perfectly happy to resolve the matter out of court? Why, then, would it be any of Jim's business? The civil courts are there as one means of conflict resolution - and most reasonable people consider them a last resort. If you're not part of the dispute, you don't get to decide what method should be used to resolve it.

            Again, if we were talking about a criminal offense, that's completely different. It would be considered the business of everyone in the society - which is why neitehr Bob nor Jim sue in that case, but rather the state brings charges (potentially even if Bob would rather they didn't).

            • by godrik (1287354)

              I believe that law should be respected. full stop. My interest as a citizen of a country is that laws are respected. It is the only point in having a state.

              I believe US laws allow a lawyer to sue in the name of someone that may not agree with the lawsuit. I think it is linked with class actions but I am not sure of it.

              There are case where you can not sue due to the costs of the lawsuit or due to pressure applied on you. It is classical in employer/employee relation. It is classical in France in the employme

        • All of them when Carol has guaranteed Alice the right to have access to her work covered under the copyright in question. Carol has standing as the original copyright holder and can sue for any number of reasons. Alice can only sue to obtain access to the copyrighted works (the sourcecode) because the GPL explicitly states that Bob has to give them to her if he distributes the binaries. In most cases the relief will be access to the code, legal fees, and possibly some punitive damage amount to remind Bob to

        • by mea37 (1201159) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @11:27AM (#29529277)

          They didn't sue over the copyright. They sued over license violations that impacted them. The operative words are "that impacted them"; that gives them legal standing.

          The license gets its force from the copyright, but that changes nothing. The plaintif had a right which the defendant violated, regardless of the fact that the right in question was granted by a document whose authority came from somebody else's rights.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          AFPA is a customer of Edu4. They buy an software system from them, for a given purpose. When they receive the product, they see that part of the software is not owned by Edu4 and that Edu4 has no right to redistribute this software as they don't comply to GPL and they don't have alternate license to redistribute it. AFPA sue Edu4 for selling them something they have no right to redistribute.

          Imagine you go to a shop and buy a MS Office License. You go home and it appears this is an illegal copy. Don't you ha

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      Sorry... I forgot where I was for a second. I meant to say: this is like the RIAA stealing your car, crashing into a bus of drunken cheerleaders, then Microsoft embezzling the insurance money.
    • by Aim Here (765712) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @10:28AM (#29528561)

      It's an idiosyncracy of French law. The plaintiff here was a customer who did, yes, successfully sue for the source code. It probably couldn't happen in the US or UK.

      FSF France's take on this finds this noteworthy: [fsffrance.org]

      "But what makes this ruling unique is the fact that the suit was filed by a user of the software, instead of a copyright holder. It's a commonly held belief that only the copyright holder of a work can enforce the license's terms - but that's not true in France. People who received software under the GNU GPL can also request compliance, since the license grants them rights from the authors."

      Just when you thought the German courts were GPL-friendly, this shows up. Vive la France!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Just when you thought the German courts were GPL-friendly, this shows up. Vive la France!

        Okay, we are returning "Freedom Fries" back to their original name "French Fries". Happy now?

        We still apologize for French's Mustard, which is not french and can barely be called mustard.

        • by dwater (72834)

          > We still apologize for French's Mustard, which is not french and can barely be called mustard

          How about English Muffins? I'd never seen one before I went to the US.

          • English muffins are readily available in the UK and other Western countries.

            In the same theme, "Danish pastries" (Wienerbrød) and "Brazil nuts". (castanhas-do-Pará) And to extend it
            further, the shower water heating unit in my UK bathroom had a model name of "California", even though
            I've never seen such a thing in the US.

            Never mind "Double-dutch", or indeed "French", when talking about swearing.

          • by Nursie (632944)

            Are you english?

            Because we just call them muffins over here. Very tasty, not too popular these days though. We also call the US style muffins (cakey things) muffins, just so we can keep things clear.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rogerborg (306625)
        Thanks, that's interesting reading. I'm still puzzled as to what kind of wacky statue gives AFPA standing to receive relief for breach of someone else's rights. That's like... well, there is no appropriate analogy. It's exactly like receiving relief for breach of someone else's rights. The mind boggles as to the size of the can of legal worms that opens up in France.
        • by iYk6 (1425255)

          It's like somebody else getting in an accident on the highway due to a manufacturing error, and you get to sue the manufacturer for negligence.

          It might not be a great analogy, but at least it involves cars.

    • by russotto (537200) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @10:30AM (#29528591) Journal

      Hang on just a second. Does the AFPA (the plaintiffs) own the copyright on the GPLd source? They do not. Then what standing do they have to sue anyone over it, or receive payment? This is GPL related, but the relief went to a 3rd party!

      Well, first of all, this was French law, not US or English, so their idea of standing might be different.

      Second, the AFPA were third party beneficiaries of the GPL -- as receivers of the binary, they were entitled (by the GPL) to receive the source. This might have granted them standing even in the US.

      From
      http://ejustice.org/federal_practice_manual_2006/chapter_5/chap5sec3.html [ejustice.org]

      Section 302 defines all beneficiaries of a contract as being intended or incidental. Only an intended beneficiary has standing to enforce a contract between two other parties. Whether a person is an intended beneficiary with the resulting right to sue depends upon the intention of the parties to the contract. That intent may be articulated in the contract itself, or discerned or imputed from the statutory context that prompted the contract to be executed.

      The GPL (IMO, IANAL) makes it crystal clear that the person receiving the binary is an intended beneficiary.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sumdumass (711423)

        If I understand the sets of circumstances here, the Edu4 stripped the GPL and copyright notices from the product and pretended it was their own. They even pretended that they didn't distribute the product even though they left it on the computers they installed.

        If these claims are true, it would be near impossible for an end user in the US to claim to be the intended beneficiary. This would be because they had no idea of the specific contract obligations until after the fact which would push them more to th

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by russotto (537200)

          If these claims are true, it would be near impossible for an end user in the US to claim to be the intended beneficiary. This would be because they had no idea of the specific contract obligations until after the fact which would push them more to the incidental beneficiary then the intended.

          Nothing in the information I posted or linked to says anything about concealing the terms of a contract from an intended beneficiary makes the intended beneficiary incidental. If you have other information please post

  • Backdoor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phme (1501991) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @10:40AM (#29528719)
    From the text of the decision, it appears that the provider (Edu4) had not only removed GPL copyrights from VNC, thus making the product likely to be considered counterfeit, but also introduced a backdoor

    Considering that Edu4 [...]
    - modified VNC protection mechanism by introducing a non-modifiable password known only from Edu4, thus allowing Edu4 to take control of any workstation, bypassing the protection mechanism Edu4 delivered;
    - did not mention any of this to AFPA;
    - [...]

  • Gemalto. OpenSC. "Where is the source of libgemsafe0?"
  • by Hognoxious (631665)
    Ah sontance yow to a slarp acroz ze face.

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