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GNU is Not Unix The Courts

Software Freedom Conservancy Wins GPL Case Against Westinghouse 225

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the do-the-dance-of-joy dept.
fishthegeek writes "The Software Freedom Conservancy has received a judgement against Westinghouse Digital Electronics for $90,000 in damages, $50,000 in costs plus a donation of all of the offending HDTV's that were using BusyBox in violation of the GPL. Given that WDE is nearly bankrupt it's likely that most if not all of the cash will disappear in a legal 'poof,' but it is a victory regardless."
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Software Freedom Conservancy Wins GPL Case Against Westinghouse

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  • by JazzXP (770338) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:55AM (#33148888) Homepage
    Isn't this the first proper test of GPL in a court of law?
  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:10AM (#33149016) Homepage

    That the GPL is a valid license was never seriously in question.

    Certainly not among competent contract lawyers. SCO lawyers might argue it isn't, sure, but that's what I mean.

    That's why out of all the GPL cases the EFF has brought, so many are settled out of court and in the EFF's favor.

  • Re:Confused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nursie (632944) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:11AM (#33149024)

    The GPL vs BSD license argument never gets old for some folk does it?

    Some say BSD-like licenses are bad because they permit people to use the code in a closed, non-free way.
    Some say GPL-like licenses are bad because they forbid the same behaviour.

    Each to their own, but the GPL allows people who contribute to the public good to make sure that their work is not abused (as they see it), by taking their effort, profiting from it and not sharing back. If that's not the way you roll, so be it, but it gives freedom to users that the BSD license does not.

  • by Java Pimp (98454) <java_pimp AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:28AM (#33149164) Homepage

    In many senses it was a "win by default" - it was unchallenged, they couldn't afford to challenge it...

    How typical... He with the most money wins! God our justice system needs an overhaul!

    Oh wait... we won... nevermind!

  • by Andy Dodd (701) <.ude.llenroc. .ta. .7dta.> on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:42AM (#33149270) Homepage

    It would've been pretty easy to fully comply with the GPL in this situation without giving anything of substance away to competitors.

    There's no reason to be afraid of using GPLed code as long as you actually READ THE DAMN LICENSE and comply. For something like busybox there is almost no one who would suffer any competitive disadvantage by publishing the source code for the GPL software used in compliance with the license, and a pretty good market advantage (don't have to develop any of the basic functions busybox provides, so you can focus on developing the product-specific functionality).

  • Re:Confused (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:57AM (#33149390)

    Each to their own, but the GPL allows people who contribute to the public good to make sure that their work is not abused (as they see it), by taking their effort, profiting from it and not sharing back.

    Key words emphasized there. As I see it, if I am truly contributing to the public good, then that should allow anyone (the "public") to do what they want with that contribution (the "good"). Even if that means using it in a closed way. It does not detract from the original contribution which is still there for anyone else to use.

    I personally don't believe that it is in good form to expect something back from a voluntary contribution. I do it because I want to do it, not because I want something out of it.

    If that's not the way you roll, so be it, but it gives freedom to users that the BSD license does not.

    Just as the BSD licence gives freedom to users that the GPL licence does not. They are different types of freedom but, objectively, one is not "more free" than the other.

  • Re:Confused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chibi Merrow (226057) <`mrmerrow' `at' `monkeyinfinity.net'> on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:02AM (#33149448) Homepage Journal

    but it gives freedom to users that the BSD license does not.

    Or, you could say, it TAKES freedom from users (ie: developers using a library) that the BSD license does not.

    Not saying BSD is better, just saying GPL doesn't give "more freedoms" on a whole, it just assigns them to different people.

  • Re:Confused (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hcpxvi (773888) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:07AM (#33149494)
    Please tell us how one would magically put their code into the public domain without first dying and then waiting a few decades. I think you can just release it with a statement that says something along the lines of "This software is public domain. I, the author, hereby forego any copyright on it." Or you could write it as part of your job while an employee of the United States government. There is a fair amount of numerical software that is public domain for that reason.
  • by hcpxvi (773888) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:16AM (#33149554)
    IANAL, but ... My guess would be that public domain is actually quite simple. You forego copyright on your code, thereby placing it in the public domain. And then anyone can do whatever they like with it. I also guess that whoever wrote that pseudo-license on that (unlinked) NASA website had a very shaky understanding of both software licensing and of copyright law and has written something which is self-contradictory. If he wanted to retain some control over the code he should not have placed it in the public domain. By placing it in the public domain he has foregone any right to tell people what they can and can not do with it. (Can any actual copyright/licensing experts confirm my guesses?)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:18AM (#33149572)

    Never in serious question but that doesn't stop people going "it's never been tested in court" what about in Germany? "it's never been tested in US court" what about here? "it's never been tested in court and found legitimate by the judge rather than settled before then".

    Well, now we've got an answer to the NOT SERIOUS question "it's never been tested in court without being settled out of court before the judge gets to it".

    Though I guess that there'll now be the question "It's never had to pass being contested in front of a Judge in a US court".

    Just because the GPL has never been seriously contested as a legitimate copyright license doesn't stop people questioning the GPL as a valid license.

  • Re:Confused (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:27AM (#33149668) Homepage

    It takes the freedom to take away freedom.

    I will never, ever, feel any sympathy for anyone who thinks they are actually less free as a consequence.

  • Re:Confused (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:35AM (#33149784) Homepage Journal

    I have no problems with reciprocating when I am so inclined. To be forced to do so is ridiculous.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:40AM (#33149842)

    GPL copyright good
    RIAA copyright bad
    MPAA copyright bad
    Disney copyright bad
    Pixar copyright bad
    Apple copyright bad, good? bad.

  • by b4dc0d3r (1268512) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:52AM (#33149994)

    The source code itself probably won't run as-is on different hardware, but there are clues and hints and subtleties that can be copied. A more efficient algorithm for this, or a creative way of doing that. Something clever like Carmack's inverse square root which most sane people would shy away from until proven are great examples. An efficient, error-tolerant input achieved by creative hit testing might give your interface usability advantages.

    Clever ordering might save users from the problem I have where my cheap Dynex TV takes forever to change channels, where a better TV would implement frequency locking and input independently, with a way to 'cancel' the signal acquisition. My TV seems to take the approach of channel down, update frequency, aquire signal, begin display, then return to looking for input. Maybe it's a simple check before signal locking for additinoal input, or maybe it's a limitatino of the hardware that something in process can't be cancelled. The source code modifications would be a clue to that.

    You're right that the source code as-is wouldn't be helpful, but there are certain levels of competitive secrets that might be interesting to lift, and with the GPL it's legal. Lift and improve, good for customers but bad for trade secrets.

  • Re:Confused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by orasio (188021) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:54AM (#33150028) Homepage

    but it gives freedom to users that the BSD license does not.

    Or, you could say, it TAKES freedom from users (ie: developers using a library) that the BSD license does not.

    Wrong. It takes freedom from those developers only while they are wearing their distributor hats. They can use GPLed libraries as much as they like. They are just limited from distributing in a way that takes freedom away from users. Their freedom as _users_ is not harmed.

    Not saying BSD is better, just saying GPL doesn't give "more freedoms" on a whole, it just assigns them to different people.

    You are right here. It takes freedom away from distributors, and gives it _all_ to users. Just they are not necessarily different people, just different roles.

  • developers users (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:09AM (#33150244)

    developers users

    Just have a look at the number of users of, say, Windows compared to the number of Windows developers.

    YOU want the freedom to take the freedoms away from the users. Increased freedom for you: 1 unit. Decreased freedom for 10,000 users: 1 unit each.

    Net loss: 9,999 units.

    The only other alternative is that you think that what code you develop will have NO MORE than one person looking to learn from the code, expand it or just read it for giggles. And even in the case where ONLY ONE person you're marketing to has interest in the code they bought, there is no difference in the freedom between the case of the BSD license and the GPL. Just who gets the shaft.

    And, since the person who PAID you for that code gets the shaft in the BSD case, I think we should give them the tiebreaker.

    So, is the code you create so worthless that NOT ONE person cares about the code you sold?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @11:21AM (#33151206)

    Seems like too much trouble; just download the "Firmware Update" package on the manufacturer's website and run strings on that.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @12:09PM (#33151750)
    All copyrights good. Taking public domain material, slightly modifying them, and then suing anybody who tries to use the material (which is what Disney does, and sort of what Microsoft does) bad. RIAA do have a right to enforce their copyrights, preferable through take down notices. What we hate about the RIAA is their sleazy methods, e.g. suing children and old ladies that have never used a computer. Apple intellectual property protection good when it covers their actual innovations, bad when it covers stuff they stole from other people (anybody remember Xerox PARC?) See, it's not really as hypocritical as you make it out to be.
  • Re:Confused (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IICV (652597) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @01:15PM (#33152680)

    No, it explicitly does not. Freedom is, if anything, the antithesis of civilization.

    Who is truly free? The loner who lives out in the wilderness by himself, or the cosmopolitan city dweller?

    The loner, of course - he is free to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, restricted only by the requirement that he provide for his own needs. He is unbound by social restrictions, by financial needs, by the necessities of cooperation. Indeed, depending on how he supports himself, he probably even "works" far fewer hours than the city dwellers - I believe nomads need to spend something like three or four hours per day hunting and gathering to provide enough food for themselves, depending on the environment.

    The city dweller, on the other hand, is far less free. In order to provide for his own needs, he must spend far more time working; in order to maintain his social status, he must perform social activities. He is restricted in innumerable ways - wearing the wrong clothes might reduce his status, being a jerk will make his job harder and in fact risk losing it, killing and skinning a squirrel in public will almost certainly get him arrested - but as a tradeoff, he can call upon the powers of his civilization.

    The loner doesn't have electricity; the city dweller does. The loner doesn't have access to reliable medicine; the city dweller does. The loner doesn't have access to other people, but the city dweller does. The city dweller has men with guns who enforce his property rights; the loner must do that himself. The city dweller has access to goods from all over the world; the loner only has that which he makes himself.

    And why does the city dweller gain these extra privileges? Because he sacrifices of himself to further his civilization. Judging from your signature, you're something of a Christian; surely you understand that sort of self-sacrifice for the good of all people, even if it is only on the scale of eight hours per day? After all, the city dweller might work in a shipping concern that brings foreign goods to other people, the city dweller might work at a power plant that provides power to his neighbors; he gives up some of his freedoms and some of his time and ability in order to provide something for other people, and in return they give far more back to him.

    When we become civilized, we give up a great many of our freedoms - but in return, we gain the ability to call upon and rely upon the abilities of our civilization. That is why reciprocation is the fundamental unit of civilization; I give part of my time and energy and freedom to my people, and they give back to me; the benefit we get in return is far greater than the initial sacrifice, but we still must give up that initial investment. For some reason, people seem to forget that - they forget that you can't just take back those freedoms you gave up initially, and expect civilization to still work. It's like saying "well the table is in place, so I'm going to take the table legs back and use them for myself".

    Keep in mind that I'm not saying we give up all our freedoms, or even that it's necessary to subsume yourself in the civilization like some mindless drone - however, the freedoms we give up (like the freedom to be a douchebag and not cooperate, or the freedom to keep all of everything you make, or the freedom skin squirrels in public) are freedoms we can't just take back and assume civilization will remain standing.

  • by DrXym (126579) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @01:24PM (#33152804)
    I've written set top box software that runs on embedded Linux with busybox taking care of most of the shell side of things. And I can't for the life of me figure out why Westinghouse didn't simply release the source code when they were asked. Even if they were clueless about their obligations, surely it would be simple to meet them after being notified.

    I have to wonder if they did something completely insane like link their TV application software straight into the busybox executable because I can't think of any other reason to withold it upon request. If they did straight link then more fool them.

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