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

    by Noryungi (70322) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @08:57AM (#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).

  • Backdoor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phme (1501991) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @09:40AM (#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;
    - [...]

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @10:09AM (#29529077) Homepage
    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 sumdumass (711423) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @10:14AM (#29529137) Journal

    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 the incidental beneficiary then the intended. Further more, the VPN software was installed as a support and deployment resource and it's arguable that under English law, if any transfer actually took place or not. I have installed software under these circumstances and haven't transferred it before.

    In the french court, all that didn't matter and they were found guilty. Now, in an english court, if the GPL was presented to the end user or the software was marketed/promoted as GPLed software, then it would likely have standing under contract law. I have been arguing for years that the GPL is a contract concerning copyright while entities like the FSF and their fan base attempt to claim it's just copyright. The truth of the matter is that the GPL is a contract affording certain rights to copyright under certain conditions so it's rightfully both. (ie, you cannot do the things copyright law reserves to the copyright owner unless you agree to a contract and fulfill obligations specified in it as they pertain to your use)

    This concept of the end user being able to enforce the GPL shouldn't surprise anyone who has been paying attention. In this particular case, the concepts were a little blurry and probably wouldn't survive in a US or UK court. It's sad that the FSF and people like Bruce Perens and Stallman have fought so hard to bury that concept in order to keep in line with their mantra or ideology. IF they hadn't, then the real power of the GPL should have been seen a long time ago.

  • by Permutation Citizen (1306083) * on Thursday September 24, 2009 @10:37AM (#29529413)

    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 have the right to sue the shop to get a real one you have paid for ?

    To come back to initial case, that's good news as when you are OSS user, you never know if the copyright holder of code you use will bother to take the expenses and risks to go to court to help you.

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

    by Balinares (316703) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @11:16AM (#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.

  • by Rene S. Hollan (1943) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @04:07PM (#29533417)

    Actually, it CAN be a heavy burden. For a company that is starting to use GPL code, and DOES wish to comply with the GPL, but has not historically distributed source, to their clients, much less, anyone who asks, this can be a significant burden because it lacks the distribution channels to do this professionally.

    I ran into this hurdle with a former employer. The problem was that to distribute source effectively would require distributing much of our build mechanism as well because of the dependency hell that would otherwise ensue for anyone actually trying to use it -- and this was (a) hardly polished for external consumption, and (b) there was some desire to keep the build and interdependency resolution system proprietary.

    While I eventually sorted that out, and made it possible to deliver "nice and friendly" source distribution CDs, these were delayed by about a month after the product was ready to ship (an embedded system). Manufacturing was balking at including "unnecesasry" components in the parts breakdown, and IT was balking at having to support a web server to distribute source to ALL comers, or worse, have to go into the CD pressing business. Finally, we actually had some customers that WANTED binaries but EXPRESSLY did not want source. The written offer would have placated them (they could ignore it), but the fact that it would have to be transferrable worried us.

    In our case, we leveraged GPL code in rack-based systems that performed remote internet protocol diagnostics (down to PPP negotiation debugging on T1/E1 digital channels fed from telco-side modems in ISP cages). We sold to few customers, but for millions of dollars. Some of the code we modified was arguably useful outside of that context to a wide audience. But, our whole distribution mechanism was not geared to accomodate a "wide audience".

    So, we had (a) a delay in making a source distro, (b) packaging and IT that were "out of the loop", (c) customers who didn't WANT source distros, and (d) strong opposition to the alternate "offer" requirement to meet all comers.

    In the end, I felt my job had been done in putting together a source distro, and my warnings about what GPL v2 required.

    Our customers (telcos offering ADSL), understandably, having spent millions of dollars for what we provided (hw, software, and support), were not eager to share the bits they got, so the "wide-spread all comers" scenario never came to pass.

    We had a further problem related to distributing source code to some of our subcontractors: RMS was of the opinion that if it runs on their machines and not ours, we have to provide them source. All well and good, but there was a delay in making that possible: our build mechanism was tied into our source control system (Clearcase) for resolving dependencies, and they were not to have unfettered access. We ended up having them work inhouse, on our hardware.

    Oh, and the customer who ademently didn't want a source CD? They didn't get one. but the "parts breakdown" for the manual was interesting in that it included a CD sleave and CD.

    The point is that the logistics of GPL v2 complience for a company not used to wide distribution or source distribution are sometimes non-trivial. Often it comes down to not minding sharing source with direct customers, but not wanting to start up a CD pressing plant.

  • Re:French, eh? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rohan972 (880586) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @05:43PM (#29534489)

    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.

    Not sure how it works in France, but you can get a ticket for speeding sent to you because of the car number plate, which identifies the car not you. If it wasn't you the options are to identify who was driving your car, requiring a statutory declaration from them, or challenge it in court. Sounds like this law will work much the same way.

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