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Ask Slashdot: Where Do You Draw the Line On GPL V2 Derived Works and Fees? 371

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-do-you-think? dept.
First time accepted submitter Shifuimam writes "I downloaded a DOSBox port for Android recently to get back into all the games of my childhood. Turns out that the only free distribution available hasn't been updated in nearly two years, so I looked for alternatives. There are two on Google Play — DOSBox Turbo and "DOSBot". Both charge a fee — DOSBox Turbo is $3.99; DOSBot is $0.99. The developer of DOSBot says on his Google Play entry that he will not release the source code of his application because it's not GPL, even though it's derived from source released under GPL v2 — this is definitely a violation of the license. The developer of DOSBox Turbo is refusing to release the source for his application unless you pay the $3.99 to "buy" a license of it. The same developer explicitly states that the "small" fee (although one might argue that $3.99 is pretty expensive for an OSS Android app) is to cover the cost of development. Unless I'm misreading the text of GPL v2, a fee can only be charged to cover the cost of the distribution of a program or derived work, not the cost of development. And, of course, it doesn't cost the developer anything for someone to log in to Google Play and download their app. In fact, from what I can tell, there's a one-time $25 fee to register for Google Checkout, after which releasing apps is free. Where do you draw the line on this? What do you do in this kind of situation?"
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Ask Slashdot: Where Do You Draw the Line On GPL V2 Derived Works and Fees?

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  • by djmurdoch (306849) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:31PM (#42234953)

    The GPL doesn't prohibit you from charging for your software. It does require you to give the source to anyone who gets the binary and charge only the cost of distribution, but failing to do so is a license violation against the copyright holder, not against the user who wants the source.

    So you need to convince a copyright holder of the original GPL2 version to go after the individual who isn't releasing source.

    And you need to pay the $3.99 before you can get the source from the other guy.

  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:34PM (#42234993)

    "If you don't give someone the binary, then you don't have to give them the source either."

    Not according to the GPL.

    3(b) of the GPL "Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution.."

    That's distribute one copy and you are obliged to give a written off "to give any third party", not merely parties you distributed to.

  • GPL != Free (Score:5, Informative)

    by kagaku (774787) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:40PM (#42235059)

    The GPL doesn't mandate that the software/source code be released for free, it mandates that the source code MUST accompany the binary if (and only if) the binary is distributed.

    For example, I work for Random Fortune 500 Co. and take a copy of DOSBox, heavily modify it and deploy it to all the workstations in my organization. At no point am I publicly distributing a binary, thus nobody has the right to demand I release my source code.

    Example 2: I decide to take the DOSBox source code and make an Android port. I put this port in the app store and sell it for $5. Unless you purchase the application, again you have no right to request the source code. If 100 people purchase my application, they have the right to request the modified source code. If you buy it, you can request the source code.

    Once you get the source code, you can do whatever you want with it, within the bounds of the GPL. You can give it away for free, package it up and resell it (modified or unmodified), or never give it away to anyone!

  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrJimbo (594231) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:45PM (#42235101)

    FUD much?

    You took clause 3(b) completely out of context. Here is the full context from GPL-v2 [gnu.org]:

    3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

    1. a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

      b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

      c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

    What emurphy42 said was correct. Clause 3(b) is an option, not an absolute requirement like you made it seem. The suggestion by emurphy42 is an equally viable option.

  • Re:GPL != Free (Score:5, Informative)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:51PM (#42235139) Homepage

    The GPL doesn't mandate that the software/source code be released for free, it mandates that the source code MUST accompany the binary if (and only if) the binary is distributed.

    Yes and no. Source code only has to be made available if the binaries are distributed, that much is correct. But the GPL v2 does not mandate that the source code must accompany the binaries. For commercial distribution, what it mandates (down in section 3, paragraphis A and B [gnu.org]) is that either:

    • The source code must be distributed along with the binaries, or
    • You must offer the source code, at a cost of no more than the cost of your making and delivering the copy, to any third party who asks for it.

    So yes, if you put up a port of DOSBox in the app store and don't include source code in the package, I can indeed come along and demand the source code from you without ever buying a copy of your app. If you refuse to provide it, you're in breach of your license to distribute the DOSBox code because you're failing to comply with section 3 regarding availability of the source code (no source in the binary package means paragraph A doesn't apply, your failure to make it available to any third party means paragraph B doesn't apply, and since you're distributing commercially through the app store paragraph C doesn't apply).

  • by davydagger (2566757) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:54PM (#42235159)
    "he developer of DOSBot says on his Google Play entry that he will not release the source code of his application because it's not GPL, even though it's derived from source released under GPL v2"
    gross violation of the GPL, report it to the EFF and the FSF immediately, they can and just might sue.

    "The developer of DOSBox Turbo is refusing to release the source for his application unless you pay the $3.99 to "buy" a license of it."

    which is allowed under the GPL, specificly. Stallman himself said he has no problem with people charging money for software so long as the source code is included, and the consumer is given the right to look at, modify, recompile and redistribute software.
    https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/. He's also made it very clear, Free software is "Free as in speech, not free as in beer".

    So if you have the opinion that no one should ever charge for software, fine, but your views do not represent either the FSF, nor its illustrious founder, nor the bulk of the Free software community, and certainly not the Open Source community(which has found a solid business model to profit off Free software).

    You could obviously pay the 3.99 and re-upload the app, or copy from someone else who has it.
  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Entrope (68843) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:55PM (#42235173) Homepage

    The AC had it right -- one must choose one of 3(a), 3(b) or 3(c) when one distributes a binary form of the work. It seems clear that the "DOSBox Turbo" distributor is not using 3(a) and is not eligible to use 3(c). If he wishes to comply with GPLv2, then, he must choose 3(b), and his written offer to provide source code must be valid for any third party. $3.99 is clearly not the distributor's cost to perform source distribution.

  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:2, Informative)

    by BitZtream (692029) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:14PM (#42235305)

    He only has up give the source to anyone HE DISTRIBUTES BINARIES to. Not anyone in the world. In effect, technically, he only has to give the source to Google. They are responsible for further distribution.

    Also, I would love to see you argue in court that it costs less than $4 to distribute it anyway. You'll have a really hard time considering lawyers themselves charge hundreds of dollars for simply answering an email with copies of documents THEY ARE REQUIRED TO DISTRIBUTE.

    You don't get to determine the cost of his time nor his methods of distribute.

    Ignorance like yours is why so many people avoid GPL like the plague that it is.

  • Re:GPL != Free (Score:4, Informative)

    by john.r.strohm (586791) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:19PM (#42235327)

    The GPL does not require that the source code accompany the binary, although that is the simplest way to comply with clause 3 of the GPL.

    Clause 3 gives three options. Clause 3(a) allows one to distribute the source with the binary. Clause 3(b) allows one to offer to distribute the source to ANY third party. Clause 3(c) allows one to refer requests up the food chain. (Al puts the app out there. Bob grabs a copy, and gives it to Charlie. Charlie asks Bob for the source. Bob is allowed under clause 3(c) to tell Charlie "I got it from Al, he said you could get it from HERE".) Clause 3(c) is restricted to noncommercial distribution, and only works if all you got was a clause 3(b) offer. If you got the source with the binary (clause 3(a)), you are required to give it up on request.

    Your Example #2 is SPECIFICALLY wrong. If you do not distribute your GPL source WITH your GPL binary in accordance with clause 3(a), you are required by clause 3(b) of the GPL to make your source code available to ANYONE who requests it.

  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebraining (1313345) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:20PM (#42235339) Homepage

    No. If the binary doesn't come with the source, he does have to give the source to anyone in the world who got a binary, even if it wasn't him who gave them the copy. From the GPLv2 FAQ:

    What does this âoewritten offer valid for any third partyâ mean? Does that mean everyone in the world can get the source to any GPL'ed program no matter what?

            If you choose to provide source through a written offer, then anybody who requests the source from you is entitled to receive it.

            If you commercially distribute binaries not accompanied with source code, the GPL says you must provide a written offer to distribute the source code later. When users non-commercially redistribute the binaries they received from you, they must pass along a copy of this written offer. This means that people who did not get the binaries directly from you can still receive copies of the source code, along with the written offer.

            The reason we require the offer to be valid for any third party is so that people who receive the binaries indirectly in that way can order the source code from you.

    https://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/gpl-2.0-faq.html#WhatDoesWrittenOfferValid [gnu.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:25PM (#42235383)

    This exactly points out what is wrong with this world.

    When you think that 3.99 is too much, please take a look at the number of downloads. See how that fits into your current salary.
    If the math is working well for you and you live on fast noodles and in a cardboard box, then complain!

    I'm not a software engineer, just someone who is shocked by consumer attitudes over and over again.

  • by msauve (701917) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:27PM (#42235389)
    The FSF has explained what "third party" means in GPLv2, and it is different than what you claim.

    If you choose to provide source through a written offer, then anybody who requests the source from you is entitled to receive it.

    If you commercially distribute binaries not accompanied with source code, the GPL says you must provide a written offer to distribute the source code later. When users non-commercially redistribute the binaries they received from you, they must pass along a copy of this written offer. This means that people who did not get the binaries directly from you can still receive copies of the source code, along with the written offer.

    The reason we require the offer to be valid for any third party is so that people who receive the binaries indirectly in that way can order the source code from you.

    -- http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/gpl-2.0-faq.html#WhatDoesWrittenOfferValid [gnu.org]

    Which makes sense, since the first two parties are the two involved in the license, "any third party" is anyone else.

  • by Grimbleton (1034446) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @04:09PM (#42235759)

    Because I am an adult.

  • Re:Yes you are (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 09, 2012 @04:31PM (#42235965)

    You can request the source code of the trail binary, as well as any keys used to digitally encode or sign the binary.

  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:4, Informative)

    by DrJimbo (594231) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @05:02PM (#42236225)

    The DOSBox Turbo web page says that it is licensed under the GPL, and also has a FAQ explaining why it is "not free". That does not seem like compliance with the spirit of the GPL.

    The GPL is not about "free as in beer" which is what you are complaining about now. The GPL is about "free as in freedom".

    It seems that we are damned if we do and damned if we don't. People erroneously complain that you have to give your software away for free if you use the GPL. Now you are complaining that not giving your software away for free is somehow not in the spirit of the GPL.

    It seems like you are just looking for an excuse to complain. If you don't like the GPL, that's fine. Don't use it. Please stop spreading and defending anti-GPL FUD.

  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrJimbo (594231) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @05:33PM (#42236483)

    Stop with the apologetics for GPL violations!

    What violation? There is no evidence of any GPL violation here. Falsely charging someone with violating the GPL when they are not is a common anti-GPL FUD tactic. You have even gone so far as to claim they violate the spirit of the GPL because they choose to charge for their software and don't also have a spiel about "free as in freedom".

    When I said DOSBox Turbo was following the spirit of the GPL it was in regard to their offer to send the source code after you buy the app. Instead of conceding this point, you switched topics to the fact that they charge money for the app, saying that violated the spirit of the GPL. When I countered your new argument you switched back to your original unfounded claims that they are violating the GPL even after you tacitly admitted there is no evidence of a violation besides conjecture on your part.

    There are plenty of people who are clearly violating both the letter and the spirit of the GPL. If you are truly a friend of the GPL and Free Software then go after them instead of defending AC FUD here.

  • by Yahma (1004476) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @05:33PM (#42236485) Journal

    Thanks for the very lively and interesting discussion. The OP e-mailed a few days ago asking for the source code for DosBox Turbo [google.com]. I informed him that I make available the source code to my users whom I've distributed a binary to and that the GPL specifically allows for this. I also make available the source code to the upsteam DosBox devs, and forwarded them copies not too long ago. Furthermore, I've contacted the aDosBox devs and offered to port many of my improvements into the free aDosBox software for everyone to benefit. I've never heard back from the aDosBox devs, and I am assuming it is a dead project, as there has been no activity in over a year and no response to my messages in over 4 months.

    While I respect the OP's opinion that (actual price on Google play is $3.49) is too much to pay (don't forget Google takes 30% off the top), the reality is, a majority of my time is spent providing user support, fixing bugs in various Android devices that my users have, and implementing new features and suggestions from my user-base. I've amassed a collection of no less than 8 different Android devices, so that I can reproduce a wide range of reported bugs.

    The OP and I may disagree on what my time is worth; however, we did have a constructive discussion about perhaps moving to a model of charging for the value add-ons (which I currently provide for free), although, I'm not sure how easy that would be within the Google Play framework. I also suggested to him that there were numerous avenues for him to obtain a copy of the binary free of charge if price was a factor (one only has to search the various Android warez sites) and that I had no problems with him going that route.

    While the OP may disagree with me, I believe that being able to charge for GPL software (and comply with the GPL) allows for development of better software with features and bug fixes that would normally never occur. Believe me, it is very time-consuming to sit around for hours answering user e-mails, or spending hours to fix hard to reproduce bugs that occur only on a specific version of Android or a specific device. Few, if any people, would do that kind of tedious work for free.

  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Entrope (68843) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @06:08PM (#42236769) Homepage

    So, I did pay the $3.99 for DOSBox Turbo, installed it on my phone, and moved it to the SD card. When mounting that as a disk drive, the only thing I can see related to "dosbox" is .../.android_secure/com.fishstix.dosbox-1.asec, an 8.5 MB binary file that is apparently encrypted. When I run the application itself, it does not include anything that looks like a link or other offer to the corresponding source code. My conclusion: This is a clear and blatant violation of both the letter and the spirit of the GPL. Now will you admit that you're wrong?

  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Entrope (68843) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @06:20PM (#42236885) Homepage

    Okay, I spent the $3.99. As far as I can tell, the binary install does not include source code; the only related file I can find is an 8.5 MB binary blob, apparently encrypted (it's in an ".android_secure" directory and "strings" doesn't show any apparent English text). When the application runs, it does not appear to provide any link to the corresponding source code, or any contact information to request the source code. The only way I found to contact the distributor is to go through Google Play. So: Do you still think this turkey complies with the GPL?

  • by Entrope (68843) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @06:39PM (#42237061) Homepage

    As a point of fact, the GPL does not "specifically allow[]" you to make the source code available only to users who pay for a binary version. GPLv2 offers three choices when distributing a binary work covered by its terms: 3(a) accompany the binary version with the source code; 3(b) accompany the binary version with an offer to provide the source code to anyone, at no more than your cost to distribute the source; or 3(c) -- for non-commercial redistribution of binary forms -- with the same offer that one received according to 3(b).

  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Yahma (1004476) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @10:11PM (#42238435) Journal

    So, I did pay the $3.99 for DOSBox Turbo, installed it on my phone, and moved it to the SD card. When mounting that as a disk drive, the only thing I can see related to "dosbox" is .../.android_secure/com.fishstix.dosbox-1.asec, an 8.5 MB binary file that is apparently encrypted. When I run the application itself, it does not include anything that looks like a link or other offer to the corresponding source code. My conclusion: This is a clear and blatant violation of both the letter and the spirit of the GPL. Now will you admit that you're wrong?

    If you purchased DosBox Turbo from the Google Play store, click on the link next to the app icon and send me a request for the source (if you haven't already done so). I'm currently away from my main desk; however, I will get your request processed within 24 hours.

  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Yahma (1004476) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @10:15PM (#42238461) Journal

    The GPLv2 is not deficient in the manner you claim, at least in this case. This is a commercial distribution in a binary form, which means section 3(c) cannot apply. If installing the binary form also installs the complete corresponding source code, then the distributor satisfies section 3(a). If it does not, he must comply with section 3(b), which allows any third party to request the (complete corresponding) source code. The implication from the article summary is that 3(b) does apply, and that $3.99 is more than the "cost of physically performing source distribution" -- a blank CD plus US postage for same is certainly less than that.

    I, for one, am not willing to pay $3.99 for an experiment where the outcome seems so likely to be unrewarding. I would guess that the source code would be incomplete and/or would not correspond to the version that one can get through Google Play, and that the distributor would also claim a GPLv2-incompatible license for some of the Android-specific bits. Because I do not hold a copyright that would be infringed in such a case, it is not worth my time or money to confirm my guess. Even if that guess were wrong, I would not get $3.99 worth of value from either the source or binary form of the app.

    The source I've distributed to my end users includes all the necessary Android-specific bits to compile a working executable just like the one in the Google play store.

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