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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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  • Pay the $3.99 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:22PM (#42234855)

    Then post it on the internet yourself.

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

    by emurphy42 (631808) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:30PM (#42234927) Homepage
    If you have to pay $3.99 to get the DOSBox Turbo binary, and then you get the source free along with it, then that's definitely not a violation of the license. (If you don't give someone the binary, then you don't have to give them the source either.) It's also definitely open to someone following the AC's suggestion.
  • Re:Work for Free (Score:5, Insightful)

    by faedle (114018) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:30PM (#42234931) Homepage Journal

    What about the rights of the people who worked on it in the past, with the understanding that their "compensation" would be in the form of others donating their time to continue improvements?

    From what I understand, the "heavy lifting" of getting a MSDOS emulator working has been done under these terms. DOSBot and DOSBox Turbo can replace the GPLed code that OTHER PEOPLE HAVE WRITTEN AND DESERVE TO BE COMPENSATED FOR with code they've written themselves if they don't agree to those terms.

  • by TwineLogic (1679802) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:30PM (#42234939)
    I thought you could charge any amount you want for distribution -- that you aren't limited to covering costs of the media, but you are actually allowed to make money for the "support" you provide by compiling the open source into a binary. However small that support may be, the GPL v2 does allow a company to carve out a small branded zone here. Providing binaries in the Google Play market is a valid thing to charge a little money for, and make a little money on

    I also thought that whenever a binary is made available, the source code had to be made available. I thought it was this source code distribution which must be performed for the media cost (GPL v2 coming from a day when tapes were occassionally still considered a possible choice of distribution medium).

    What this would mean, to me, is that DOSBox Turbo should be making the source code freely available. Then the market will decide if $3.99 is too much to bear for the product they provide -- some service in compiling the binary, and a brand.
  • Re:Pay the $3.99 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:38PM (#42235031)

    and 3(b) is the only section in that part of the license. They labeled 3(b) because they thought it looked cool. That's definitely not taken out of context.

  • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:40PM (#42235055)

    I thought you could charge any amount you want for distribution...

    Yes and no.

    1. If you sell a binary that contains GPLv2 code, you must also make available the source code , and for distributing that source code, you can only charge a reasonable fee to cover costs.

    But...

    2. The binary you may charge whatever you want - 1 cent or $1000 or whatever.

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

    by CCW (125740) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:48PM (#42235109)

    "If you don't give someone the binary"

    I believe the intent of the parent poster was using give as in "provide" not "give" as in make a gift of.

    You are absolutely allowed to sell the binary for any price the market will bear, and then for compliance with the GPL you must either have a written offer as you describe or include the source code with the binary distribution. It isn't clear from the facts whether the distributor of DosBox Turbo is in compliance or not, it would depend entirely on whether there is a written offer for how to get source at a minimal expense included in the help text of the app or in the app description. Without that, then it seems to me to be in violation, but it doesn't hinge on the cost of the binary.

    One critical fact is that anybody who does get the source has full GPL rights to it, and can redistribute it should they choose. This ability to compete is what limits the pricing, not the GPL.

  • by fikx (704101) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:51PM (#42235143) Journal
    the point, as I understand it, of GPLv2 is to allow someone who gets a piece of software to have some freedom (not a free ride) with what they just got. There's no issue with making money off it.
    rule of thumb: if you get a piece of software, can you change it at the code level? can you pass on those changes to someone else without having to check with who you got it from? if either answer is "No" then there's a problem if you got a supposed GPLv2 piece of software.
  • by Pieroxy (222434) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:57PM (#42235181) Homepage

    It seems to me that this is the fundamental problem with GPL, and some other, open source licenses

    No, it's a fundamental problem with the current legal system. Nothing more, nothing less. The GPL, as any contract, is only enforceable by the legal system in place, which has this bias.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:07PM (#42235257)

    It seems to me that this is the fundamental problem with GPL, and some other, open source licenses; it all depends on the honor system. Sure, they are technically legally binding, but if nobody holds anybody's feet to the fire, that means nothing.

    Your problem is that you don't understand how these licenses work. The copyright holder gave people permission to make copies, as long as they followed certain rules. This doesn't mean anyone, even the copyright holder, can force anyone to follow these rules. It means that anyone making copies without following the rules, or without having any other permission, commits copyright infringement, and the copyright holder can sue them for copyright infringement.

    If you are not the copyright holder, you have no standing to sue.

  • by godrik (1287354) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:14PM (#42235303)

    Even better than "pay the $3.99 and upload the app". Pay the $3.99, get the source. Then talk to upstream to merge the changes upstream. Then redistribute the app from upstream. You do not want to have to upkeep a separate code tree for android. Merging it to upstream might just give you free updates of the engine.

  • by yacc143 (975862) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:43PM (#42235535) Homepage

    First, the question is of the interaction. The apps almost certainly consist of a launcher/helper written in Java/Android and a compiled binary. The normal analysis is that by calling a GPLed program your program does not yet become GPLed. The next detail is that the DOSBox source is probably modified, e.g. to interact with the hardware (e.g. Android is not X11), and to compile on ARM, ... => these modifications do need to be released.

  • by gerddie (173963) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:59PM (#42235685)

    Are you certain you have read the GPL?

    Your statement that it requires one to give the source to anyone who gets the binary is INCORRECT.

    WRONG: Firstly, they may distribute the source code alongside with the binary (see 3(a)), and if they choose 3(b), the offer has to be valid for any third party, but they only have to give it to the person who receives the binary. This person could then decide to post the offer on the Internet.

    And you explicitly do NOT need to pay the scumbag's $3.99 binary fee before you can get his source.

    Also wrong, they can charge all they want for the binary, because only when you receive the binary you are legally entitled to also get the source code. In other words, at least one person must pay the guys, and this person can then redistribute the binary and the source code gratis.

  • Re:Yes you are (Score:5, Insightful)

    by unixisc (2429386) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @04:44PM (#42236077)

    This is correct, and for the DOSBox Turbo, the OP got it completely wrong

    The person possessing the GPLed software can charge anything he likes for the binaries. It's only to the source code that there is a limit to whatever the distribution cost is. But DOSBox Turbo has every right to charge what it likes. The fact that the OP is bitching about $3.99 - less then the cost of a happy meal - shows exactly what's wrong w/ the 'free software' movement, and why companies are right to avoid them like the plague.

    Also, the source code only has to accompany the binaries - it doesn't have to be given for free to just about anybody or everybody. Personally, I think that clause 3b is ridiculous - nobody should have to support a third party, who only got that software due to a license, and not anything else. But the way around it is for anybody selling GPL software to go w/ option 3a - once they are paid, provide both the binaries and source in the same download, and leave the responsibility of re-distributing the source to the customer. That way, any Billy Joe Blow turns up asking for the source code, he can be told to GFY, unless he happened to buy it from him.

    That way, that'll be all there is to it.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @04:58PM (#42236199)

    gross violation of the GPL, report it to the EFF and the FSF immediately, they can and just might sue.

    They can only sue if they are the copyright holder.

  • by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @08:12PM (#42237651) Homepage

    I informed him that I make available the source code [only] to my users whom I've distributed a binary to and that the GPL specifically allows for this.

    That's only the case if you include the source code along with the binaries. Otherwise you must accompany the binaries with a written offer for the source code, of which anybody (including those who aren't your customers) is then free to take advantage.

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