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Why the GPL Licensing Cops Are the Good Guys 233

Posted by timothy
from the they've-got-a-good-track-record-too dept.
Reader rtfa-troll writes: "'GPL enforcement by Software Freedom Conservancy puts electronics makers on notice, leaves business users untouched,' says Infoworld, going on to explain 'You are several orders of magnitude more likely to be raided by your proprietary suppliers, in the form of the Business Software Alliance, than to ever hear from SFC, let alone face any action. License compliance is a major and costly issue for proprietary software, but the case concerns an end-user license agreement (EULA), not a source license.' The article gives a good summary of why having GPL licenses enforced helps everybody, except for 'hardware manufacturers — typically those creating low-cost consumer and business electronics' who need to verify that they pass on the same rights to others as they received with the original code."
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Why the GPL Licensing Cops Are the Good Guys

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  • by Bookwyrm (3535) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:48AM (#40200981)

    Out of curiosity, If APIs cannot be copyrighted, does this mean they cannot also be covered by the GPL? This would seem to be a fairly major implication of the Oracle vs. Google case. (Speaking strictly about API definitions/header files.)

    • by oiron (697563)

      Most probably, yes.

      There's not really any question that GPLed APIs are not under copyright. The whole viral effect stems from the linking stage, which FSF claims will include the GPLed code into the non-GPL program, which the license doesn't allow. IIRC, there are judgements on this too, probably dating back to the Unix wars.

      • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice.gmail@com> on Sunday June 03, 2012 @11:10AM (#40201117)

        For a loooooong time the MySQL team were claiming that any library which implemented the API required to talk to MySQL also fell under the licensing terms for MySQL - you didnt have to link to anything provided by MySQL, you just had to use the same structures and names.

        Then they quietly stopped claiming it and all traces vanished from the MySQL website.

        • "For a loooooong time the MySQL team were claiming that any library which implemented the API required to talk to MySQL also fell under the licensing terms for MySQL"

          I've been around here quite a long time and I don't remember such an assert. Can you provide any link?

          What I *do* remember is that MySQL position was that if you wanted to *link* code to their GPL-provided libraries, such a linked code should be under the GPL too.

          Which, AFAIK, it the FSF position too.

          • I don't have any links - I tried looking for stuff to back this up a year or so ago and couldn't find anything linkable then - but I do have an archive of a dozen or so emails between myself and a MySQL salesman in 2002 where he outlined the exact issue described. Up until 2006 or so, MySQL considered *all* communication mechanisms with the MySQL server as "linking", and thus the license applied even if you wrote your own library and communicated with the TCP/IP socket directly, not calling any of MySQLs l

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        The whole viral effect stems from the linking stage, which FSF claims will include the GPLed code into the non-GPL program, which the license doesn't allow.

        That's why nearly anything you'd want to link to is LGPL - that way, you can link to the library in question without being a derivative work under GPL definitions. For instance, you can write anything you want on top of glibc, and it won't have to be GPL'd.

        The whole "viral effect" of the GPL is to prevent somebody from taking a useful GPL'd application, adding a few bells and whistles to it, and then pawning the whole thing off as their own. Linking to an LGPL library does not do that. If you want the funct

      • by PPH (736903)

        I suppose that would depend on whether the linked code was covered by the GPL or LGPL [wikipedia.org]. The former does not allow linking by non-GPLed code whereas the latter does. As the linked Wikipedia article states, its a matter of strategy: Do you want to carve out an advantage for GPL apps? Or do you want to attract vendors (with other licensing policies) to your platform?

        The no copyright for APIs decision might make this issue moot. If proprietary APIs can't be copyrighted (to impose proprietary licensing restrict

    • Can't see any other way, copyrights are copyrights. And I don't think the GPL has ever implied that it can cover the APIs.
    • by StormReaver (59959) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @12:35PM (#40201659)

      Out of curiosity, If APIs cannot be copyrighted, does this mean they cannot also be covered by the GPL?

      The GPL exists within copyright law, so yes, that's what it means.

      This would seem to be a fairly major implication of the Oracle vs. Google case. (Speaking strictly about API definitions/header files.)

      The judge's decision about API non-copyrightability merely continues the status-quo that has been in place for decades, and is little more than a footnote in computing history; a footnote that reads: "Nothing new happened. An evil company was unable to change decades of standard practice to fit its own warped agenda."

      The GPL continues on as it always has.

    • by chrismcb (983081)

      Out of curiosity, If APIs cannot be copyrighted, does this mean they cannot also be covered by the GPL?

      Correct. The GPL is only enforceable because of copyright. If the API isn't copyrightable, you don't have to listen to someone's else copy right.

  • Wrong link (Score:5, Informative)

    by mrsam (12205) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:58AM (#40201041) Homepage

    Another job well-done, by the alleged editors. That link goes to the second page of a two-page article.

    First page [infoworld.com].

    • My bad. Sorry. I even spotted it during submission but seem to have copied the wrong link over the one I got right. I guess it proves that I really am the RTFA-troll though. If the editors had read the article they would have noticed :-) :-)
  • Effects (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Chemisor (97276)

    When you use laws to advance your agenda, you will find that the effects are not what you intended. These "good guys" appear to believe that enforcing the GPL would result in more mobile devices with all software on them open sourced. But that, of course, isn't going to happen. If a company does not want to release the source code now, it will not release the source code in the face of legal sanctions either. It will simply stop shipping the product. Then it will purge all GPL software from any future devic

    • Re:Effects (Score:4, Informative)

      by inglorion_on_the_net (1965514) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @12:18PM (#40201527) Homepage

      When you use laws to advance your agenda, you will find that the effects are not what you intended. These "good guys" appear to believe that enforcing the GPL would result in more mobile devices with all software on them open sourced. But that, of course, isn't going to happen. If a company does not want to release the source code now, it will not release the source code in the face of legal sanctions either. It will simply stop shipping the product.

      Got any numbers to back up that claim? I know of several cases where vendors have, from the get-go or after legal action, made source code available. At least some of those vendors still ship devices + GPL code (DLink is an example of a vendor that initially resisted, but now provides access to the source code). I don't know of any vendors that have stopped shipping GPL code when made to comply with the license. But that's just what I know. If you have data that shows there is a significant trend in either direction, please share.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      If they don't want to follow the simple rules, then they don't have to use the product. Sure there are other OSes, but few are as cheap, widespread, and as easy to use as the GNU/Linux and BusyBox/Linux combinations.

      In fact, I would love for all the people who don't want to follow the GPL when it comes to Linux, BusyBox and the GNU tools to stop using them. Start using costly alternatives like QNX, or whatever. If the products are better, people might buy them. But the cost of the OS will make the cost of t

    • Re:Effects (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday June 03, 2012 @12:47PM (#40201735) Homepage Journal

      These "good guys" appear to believe that enforcing the GPL would result in more mobile devices with all software on them open sourced. But that, of course, isn't going to happen.

      [citation needed]

      If a company does not want to release the source code now, it will not release the source code in the face of legal sanctions either. It will simply stop shipping the product.

      If the company depends on the success of the product and it will otherwise go out of business it will release the source and then sell the product. Otherwise, you are correct. Not my problem, or yours either.

      Thus the end result of GPL enforcement is not more open source devices, but fewer.

      No, and also no. The end result of GPL enforcement is more open source devices, because some of them will release the code, whereas without the enforcement, none of the offending parties will release the code, and thus the source remains closed.

      It is true that none of them will be "stealing" the work of GPL programmers, but is that really of any concern to anybody but them?

      Who is "them" in this case? Try harder.

      The result for users is fewer available choices, each running on a proprietary OS with weird UIs.

      [citation needed]

      There's lots of companies "making" hardware without doing any R&D at all. They license designs, or they steal designs. Then they contract someone to build the parts, assemble the devices and so on. When it comes time to assemble a software stack they're looking for whatever is going to enable them to make the most profit. If the hardware supports Linux and they think their market will embrace Linux then it's a no-brainer; the software stack is free. They customize some graphics, and offer the source from their website for at least as long as they hope to have it on the market, or as long as the company is in existence which is sometimes even shorter. More and more cheap Linux-based devices are showing up all the time in spite of your assertions and in spite of ongoing GPL enforcement efforts. Your statements are thus utterly unfounded.

  • Maybe we could simply encourage the companies to put their code changes in a repo, such as GitHub and just provide a link to their profile?

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