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Hosting Company Appears To Be Violating the GPL [Resolved] 418

Posted by kdawson
from the ten-years-is-long-enough-for-anyone dept.
palegray.net writes "A web hosting provider called Appnor has recently moved the network diagnostics utility WinMTR off of SourceForge, and is now claiming the program to be a closed source, commercial application (it was previously made available under the GPL). I emailed the current maintainer of the original mtr utility about this, and have been informed that this event most likely constitutes an overt GPL violation, as it is presumed that WinMTR contains mtr code. Appnor claims that they have the right to do this, as there have been no external contributions to WinMTR in over ten years. I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think copyright law works that way." Update: 01/10 18:24 GMT by KD : The CEO of Appnor, Dragos Manac, has posted a response, claiming that no GPL violation occurred, and promising to revert the code to GPLv2 by the end of the week.
Update: 01/11 14:01 GMT by KD : That was fast. WinMTR announced that the code is now available under the GPLv2.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Hosting Company Appears To Be Violating the GPL [Resolved]

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  • by Nursie (632944) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:00AM (#34822472)

    It's been extended to the ridiculous, remember?

    So even if they've somehow removed all the GPL code contributed by others, then there's the whole 'derivative works' thing.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      I agree. My first thought was in the lines of "it would be great if they actually were in the right, because it would mean that the copyright had expired". As it stands, copyright basically never expires. And that's not the idea behind copyright.

    • Please explain "the whole 'derivative works' thing."

      If I have a codebase that I'm the only contributor to, because anybody else's code has been removed -- why wouldn't that be entirely my copyright, which I'm allowed to do what I like with?

      You can't copyright ideas in the US. Only specific manifestations of those ideas. So even if WinMTR is doing the same sort of thing, copyright doesn't come into play.

      I'm not saying that's the case with WinMTR -- my guess is that they have MTR code in there and are not i

    • by bondsbw (888959)

      Only the copyright holder may bring suit over copyright claims.

      IANAL, but I believe that means that if I contributed code to WinMTR, and these guys violated the GPL for all the code except that which I wrote, then I would have no legal claim. And thus, even if "derivative works" that are completely made of original code are violations of the GPL, nobody would have a legal claim against the violators.

  • by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:00AM (#34822474) Journal

    From what I know, the Software Freedom Law Center ( http://www.softwarefreedom.org/ [softwarefreedom.org] ) provide pro bono legal representation to creators of Free and Open Source projects. Maybe you should contact both the SFLC and the maintainer of the mtr and see if there's any way of getting them together to file a GPL violation case or an injunction.

    • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:24AM (#34822736)

      Perhaps before going in with guns ablazing, some tact would be helpful. Their webpage doesnt exactly scream "hostile", as they are still offering the utility free (provided you sign up for a newsletter). They may be violating the GPL, but it may be entirely unintentional or out of ignorance-- could the author of MTR simply email them, informing them of the situation? He will eventually have to contact them anyways, I believe-- wouldnt any eventual lawsuit have to come from an author of MTR anyways?

      I mean, its GOOD that someone is updating this utility; going after them with a lawsuit right off the bat doesnt exactly make "lets update abandoned GPL software" look like a good idea.

      • by Peeteriz (821290)

        In addition, GPL doesn't mean that they have to provide the utility free of charge to anyone - they simply must include the source + GPL rights to those people that buy their product.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      What's a "GPL violation case"? The GPL is a license, not a contract. You'd have to find someone with a copyright interest in the source, and the cause of action would be breach of copyright, not "GPL violation".
  • Somebody created a program called MTR, and a web company modified it to WinMTR and stole the author's labor without payment. Is that the general gist of it?
    Sounds like something RIAA/MPAA, record, and Movie Companies would do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by homb (82455)

      No, they didn't steal the author's labor without payment, at least not originally with WinMTR. They made a derivative work, still using the GPL, so all is acceptable.
      It's only when they changed the license to commercial that they broke the contract with the original developer who specifically requires anyone using mtr code to provide their software under GPL (among others).
      So unless they can prove that there is no more mtr code in WinMTR, they must absolutely provide WinMTR under the GPL. Otherwise they hav

      • by pe1rxq (141710) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:11AM (#34822604) Homepage Journal

        The post just mentions it is 'presumed' that it was based on mtr...
        I find that a bit week. First you have to prove that there ever was mtr code in winMTR, then you accuse them with a GPL violation.... Either the summary is incomplete/incorrect, or the submitter is jumping to the second part without doing enough fact checking.

        • Guys, on the WinMTR page (linked in summary), it explicitly states that it is an update to a 10 year old abandoned linux/unix utility called MTR.

          The summary isnt SUPPOSED to be complete, youre supposed to man up and "read".

          • by Red Flayer (890720) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:46AM (#34823030) Journal

            youre supposed to man up and "read".

            Sorry to be such a noob, but I did man up, and the man pages for that command are completely useless in the context of this discussion.

            I'm running Debian lenny if that helps.

            • by trapnest (1608791)
              OS X user here, I don't even have an up command. Perhaps the GP was thinking of another command?

              Last login: Sun Jan 9 19:12:18 from m355a36d0.tmodns.net
              [seanconnolly@fenrir:~]$ man up
              No manual entry for up
          • by KiloByte (825081)

            Uhm, mtr "abandoned"?? Most distributions seem to be removing old staples like traceroute from default installs, having replaced them with mtr, which certainly doesn't seem to be pining for the fjords.

            mtr does everything traceroute did, except instead of doing every probe only after the previous one has timed out, it sends them all concurrently, a packet every a fraction of second, providing a nifty real-time display of statistics.

          • by FrootLoops (1817694) on Monday January 10, 2011 @11:19AM (#34823398)
            Actually, the site reads "[WinMTR] was started as a clone for the popular Matt’s Traceroute (hence MTR) Linux/UNIX utility." That doesn't mean source code was necessarily copied, just that they wanted to duplicate MTR's functionality. However, Rob Shinn posted evidence that code has been copied in a comment [palegray.net] to the summary's Palegray link. For instance, the lines

            sequence[seq].index = index;
            sequence[seq].transit = 1;
            sequence[seq].saved_seq = ++host[index].xmit;

            appear in both sources.

            • by pclminion (145572)
              So, you're making the same type of argument that SCO made when they claimed they actually owned Linux. "See, look at this scrap of code, it looks a lot like this other scrap of code." Of course, we all know how well that worked out for SCO.
      • by Zibri (1063838)

        So unless they can prove that there is no more mtr code in WinMTR, they must absolutely provide WinMTR under the GPL. Otherwise they have no right to use mtr code.

        Innocent until proven guilty, no? The burden of proof lies with the accuser.

        • by Moryath (553296)

          No. I'm not a lawyer but I imagine the argument goes something like this:

          "Burden of proof" in a civil (e.g. copyright) case is "preponderance of evidence."

          WinMTR previously was GPL'ed and the source was available. Part of its licensing was the licensing of the mtr code. This constitutes prima facie evidence that at some point in time, at least, there was mtr code in WinMTR.

          Therefore, the burden is now on WinMTR to prove that all mtr code has been removed from WinMTR. At bare minimum, there is enough evidenc

      • by Stumbles (602007)
        Point of clarification... they have to right to distribute. They would be fine if the code was kept in house.
    • Nah, payment doesn't really come in to this. They legitimately benefited from the labour of the original artist, with certain conditions applied, but much later-on decided that these terms no-longer applied to them. Kind of like being allowed to stay rent-free in a house, on condition that the lawn is kept tidy, but after a few years deciding to screw the lawn and sell the lawnmower in order to buy crack.

      Mind you, you're right about it sounding like RIAA/MPAA behaviour.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        The overly expansive nature of modern copyright meants that the actions of this company would be still considered "piracy" long after the authors are dead and long after we're no longer around to argue the point.

        Interestingly enough, 10 years of abandonment is getting close to the limit of the original copyright term.

        Thus the concept of "abandonware" for 20 or 30 year old discarded works.

      • Or someone made a mistake? Geez, I see no indication that anyone actually tried to contact Appnor (despite the summary implying it), and people are labeling them as monsters (MPAA comparisons? Really?)

        How about a polite "You guys might be violating the GPL, any chance we can discuss?" email, or something? You dont have to fire off a lawsuit immediately, and generally the places that help with enforcement (ie EFF) tend to NOT want to cram a lawsuit down someones throat until all other avenues have been tr

  • by pe1rxq (141710) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:05AM (#34822524) Homepage Journal

    They might actually have that right IF:

    - It contains only code they have copyright over
    - They have permission from (if any) all other copyright holders.

    However they can't revoke the license they gave everyone who downloaded their gpl versions, these old versions and their license is still valid.

    However if the code indeed contains mtr code and they have no permission from the copyright holders to distribute is under something else than the GPL.... Then they have a problem
    But you have to prove that first.

    • by Andy Dodd (701)

      Yeah, it IS possible to relicense GPL code, but you need to be able to prove in a court of law that you attempted to contact EVERY single contributor and give them plenty of time to reply.

      (As I understand it, there were some Mesa GPL contributors that could not be contacted, but the Mesa developers went through a lot of trouble to try and contact everyone and gave them many months to object.)

      In this case, it sounds like there were "no external contributions for 10 years", but even ONE contribution still pre

      • by Pharmboy (216950)

        Yeah, it IS possible to relicense GPL code, but you need to be able to prove in a court of law that you attempted to contact EVERY single contributor and give them plenty of time to reply.

        Wrong. If you own the copyright to a piece of code, no matter how many times they try to contact you, they are still infringing on copyright if they use the code. Copyright doesn't go into the public domain just because the owner doesn't enforce it. You don't lose your rights as copyright holder if you don't enforce the

  • You're quite correct (Score:5, Interesting)

    by laughingcoyote (762272) <barghesthowl.excite@com> on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:05AM (#34822528) Journal

    Unless everyone who originally submitted code to the GPL project has explicitly agreed to the relicensing, they're breaking the law. You don't "implicitly" agree to relicensing of code you've submitted just by not contributing any more for a while. The only time that a time frame comes into it is when the copyright actually expires and the project falls into the public domain, which in our era of life-plus and Mickey Mouse Copyright Perpetuation Acts, is basically never. This is the exact type of scenario the GPL was designed to prevent.

    • I believe as well that a project can be relicensed by the copyright holder if part of the submission process involves contributors assigning copyrights over to the person or project who run the show.

      Yup, they're playing fast and free with the GPL. Based on their excuse I'm assuming that their legal team sees Yahoo Questions as an authoritative source of legal advice, or they're just dicks.

  • Does this depend on the version of the GPL? I thought you were allowed to hold-on to your source code except in cases where you provide a product with GPL'ed code in it (and in later versions a service with GPL'ed code), only then are you required to provide source access to those people on request. What the buyer does with it is after that doesn't apply.

    Am I right in thinking there's no problem removing the source code and charging for a sale, but the authors would then (and only then) be required to provi

    • I think that's been pretty consistent in all versions. If you distribute a GPLed product (excluding internal use within organisations) then you must make the source available to anyone receiving your product, and there are a number of ways suggested for this distribution. Technically they're not required to make the source available to the general public, but these days it tends to be the easiest option. I suppose limiting it to distribution of source based on distribution of the actual product made sense i

  • Why does sourceforge allow the removal of GPL'd projects in the first place? You'd think that would be something you can't take back...
    • Re:Question... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by e70838 (976799) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:46AM (#34823024)
      If, by accident, I have published copyrighted material on sourceforge in a gpl project, I need to be able to rectify my mistake and remove it.

      I think, it is a mandatory use case.
    • by Tetsujin (103070)

      Why does sourceforge allow the removal of GPL'd projects in the first place? You'd think that would be something you can't take back...

      Here's a pretty good reason, IMO:

      Ten years ago, I was really interested in writing programs for PalmOS. I spent some time working on some programs of dubious utility, plus a game that never quite got to the point of 100% working properly. Then, at some point, I just stopped. I moved on to other things. But still those projects were on Sourceforge.

      Now, PalmOS is basically dead. You have to jump through some arcane hoops just to get an SDK. PalmOS is just about ready to drop off the map entirely.

      I could

  • If it didn't start off as a version of MTR, as discussed, then it's possible that this is a fork of a previous version. This is a pretty common practice.

  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:21AM (#34822712)

    It may be a GPL violation, but who cares? Those tools already ship free in every OS on the planet. Nobody's going to make any money off this. And the fact that nobody from the community contributed code in 10 years kind of tells us what level of interest there is.

  • So it still is free, is it not?
  • by 6031769 (829845) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:29AM (#34822818) Homepage Journal

    Are you sure Appnor is a hosting company? If so, it's not exactly a great advert that their site is slashdotted already.

  • by MonsterTrimble (1205334) <monstertrimble@hot m a il.com> on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:31AM (#34822836)
    It's 8:30 Monday morning after a night of insomnia. DO we REALLY need to deal with GPL this early? Can't we do something simple like create world peace?
    • by msauve (701917) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:53AM (#34823110)

      # This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
      # it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
      # the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
      # (at your option) any later version.
      #
      # This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
      # but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
      # MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the
      # GNU General Public License for more details.

      # You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
      # along with this program. If not, see <http://www.gnu.org/licenses/>.
      #
      #include <stdio.h>
      main()
      {
          for(;;)
                  {
                          printf ("World peace!\n");
                  }
      }

  • by nedlohs (1335013) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:32AM (#34822858)

    Everyone else can do exactly nothing (well not use it and rant on the interwebs about it I guess).

  • Some Clarifications (Score:5, Informative)

    by dmanac (1973926) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:48AM (#34823048)
    I think there is a need for some clarifications:

    1) The company has rights over the entire source code, bought from the original maintainer. There is NO other code from contributors.

    2) The whole thing is written from scratch for Windows. No MTR code is used.

    3) The binary is available for free. We just thought nobody cared too much having it Open, since there were no contributions in almost 10 years.

    Again, we are not trying to violate GPL and we will make sure there are no licensing issues. We are checking this with our lawyers.

    Dragos MANAC
    CEO Appnor MSP S.A.
    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday January 10, 2011 @11:32AM (#34823532) Homepage Journal

      1) The company has rights over the entire source code, bought from the original maintainer. There is NO other code from contributors.

      2) The whole thing is written from scratch for Windows. No MTR code is used.

      If the code for v0.9 looks anything like this [google.com], no it doesn't. There are direct copies from Matt's Traceroute (mtr), so I've forked your previous Sourceforge project, as is my right under the GNU General Public License.

    • by palegray.net (1195047) <philip.paradisNO@SPAMpalegray.net> on Monday January 10, 2011 @11:35AM (#34823572) Homepage Journal
      As others have noted, several people have apparently found mtr sources in WinMTR. This means either (1) you've been misinformed, (2) you're deliberately lying, or (3) they're lying. Given that people have posted actual code excerpts to back up their claims, I strongly suspect you're lying.
    • In case your lawyer gives bad advice, I'd suggest you double check with the "original maintainer" whether he had copied (or "adopted") code from elsewhere, and do a diff or something against the mtr sources.

      If the original maintainer misrepresented his ownership of the winmtr code, you probably have a claim against him.

      I am not a lawyer. Good luck.

  • by Just Brew It! (636086) on Monday January 10, 2011 @10:58AM (#34823178)

    If not, then they can make future versions proprietary if they wish, since they presumably hold all of the copyrights. OTOH if there have been outside (community) contributions, then they can only take it proprietary if everyone who has touched the code consents. So we still don't know enough to say whether this is a violation or not.

    Note that the above has absolutely no bearing on past versions; you can't "take back" existing code after it has been distributed under the GPL. If they are trying to go after people for distributing old versions (or derivatives thereof), then this is indeed a blatant GPL violation.

  • by BLKMGK (34057) <morejunk4me@@@hotmail...com> on Monday January 10, 2011 @11:33AM (#34823554) Homepage Journal

    They aren't saying that MTR hasn't been updated. They have sometime in the past created WinMTR, hosted it on SourceForge as GPL and OpenSource, but in the past ten years never had anyone but themselves making changes. So... they decided to convert to a commercial license! Now I'm not arguing that this is right since original MTR source likely still exists within it but the ideas that they are denying MTR as having been updated is incorrect.. This is sort of like how other products have gone from OpenSource to closed in the past when no one was helping out except the original developers... except that in this case they aren't the very original developers having converted someone else's code some ten years in the past. It's not clear if they have continued to use updates to the original MTR code or not.

    Here's the post from their page in case it's still Slashdotted...
    ========
    Present (2010-2011)

    WinMTR is managed and developed by Appnor MSP.

    The current version is 0.9. We plan to roll out a new version each quarter. More in the Development section.

    License: Commercial. We changed it from GPL since in the last 10 years there was no external development. Still, we plan to offer it for free.

    WinMTR has got a new home, moved out of Sourceforge on to WinMTR.net!
    Past (2000-2010)

    The WinMTR project was started in 2000 by our good friend Vasile Laurentiu Stanimir.

    Timeline:

            * 20.01.2002 – Last entered hosts an options are now hold in the registries. Home page and development moved to Sourceforge.
            * 05.09.2001 – Replace edit box with combo box which hold last entered hostnames. Fixed a memory leak which caused program to crash after a long time running. (v0.7)
            * 11.27.2000 – Added resizing support and flat buttons. (v0.6)
            * 11.26.2000 – Added copy data to clipboard and possibility to save data to file as text or HTML. (v0.5)
            * 08.03.2000 – Added double-click on host name in list for detailed information. (v0.4)
            * 08.02.2000 – fix ICMP error codes handling. Print an error message corresponding to ICP_HOST_UNREACHABLE error code instead of a empty line. (v0.3)
            * 08.01.2000 – support for full command-line operations (v0.2)
            * 07.28.2000 – first release (v0.1)

    Future (2011-2038)

    We plan to further develop WinMTR, keep it running on newer platforms and add the requested functionality. Find out how you can help by reading the Development page.

  • by ryanisflyboy (202507) on Monday January 10, 2011 @02:03PM (#34825424) Homepage Journal

    The CEO has promised to revert the product back to GPLv2:

    http://winmtr.net/slashdot.html [winmtr.net]

    "Instead of dealing with this, I decided to take the blame and do the mature thing: revert to GPL v2. By the end of the week (January 16 2011) the updated sources (stating the new license) will be on Sourceforge for all to download and further enhance."

    Please update the story. It seems like Dragos is at least trying to operate with good faith and fix a potential mistake.

  • by kimvette (919543) on Monday January 10, 2011 @02:42PM (#34825908) Homepage Journal

    They can thank Disney and Sonny Bono for the situation; they will not be able to offer it as closed source until 75 years after the last GPL contributor has died, unless they work out a separate distribution license with each and every contributor. However, even if they work out that license, the GPL version must still remain GPL, but what they can release at that point is a closed source/proprietary fork/derivative of the project.

    Hey, that's pretty much how StarOffice/OpenOffice and MySQL worked!

    However, after reading the "fine" article rather than just the summary, I learned that the maintainer insists there was one checkin from another contributor, and that the code has been removed. So, if the offending code has been removed, I fail to see the problem. However, since it was GPL and distributed recently, the source must remain available to any who request it for three years following the latest distribution (download, sale, CD sent via carrier pigeon, whatever) of the binaries. So, if they are refusing to provide the source upon request, they are still in violation of the GPL even if the "offending code" has been removed.

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