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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

    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:Pay the $3.99 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by leuk_he (194174) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:42PM (#42235081) Homepage Journal

      Wrong.

      Pay the 3.99
      request the source
      make a small improvement.
      post a version for 1.35 on play

      Sell the app 3 times.

      Profit!!!!

      put a ad supported version of in the store. More profit.

      • Practical, legal, and a bit of a hack. I love it!
      • by loufoque (1400831)

        Actually, you only need to

        Pay the 3.99
        post it for 1.35 on play

        Sell the app 3 times.

        Profit!!!!

        There is no need to do a small modification or to obtain the source for this.

      • that's the whole point of the article, me thinks.

        what to do? dunno. warez their application. lobby dosbox to do an official version.

        sue them. have fsf sue them - this is actually what you should do, buy it, request the source and when denied sue them.

  • 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.
    • 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.

  • by deweyhewson (1323623) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:31PM (#42234949)

    A restriction is only as binding as its enforcement mechanism. If the developers behind DOSBox aren't going to hold other developers accountable who are trading on their name, and nobody else is willing to take them to court over it (and obviously nobody will over $3.99), then the restrictions are meaningless.

    Another incident which comes to mind is that of DD-WRT - there are several articles on this, but I'll just link to the first on Google's listings [wi-fiplanet.com] - where they derived their product from open source code (OpenWRT), then closed source key parts and refuse to release the code in workable form.

    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.

    As it pertains to you if you really care that much about it, I suppose you have three choices: (1) Swallow it, and pay the price they are demanding; (2) Go without, and refuse to give developers like this your money; (3) Buy a license of the source code, and then release it publicly out of principle. Since this stemmed from wanting to play games from your childhood, the pragmatist in me says to choose option two and move on.

    • 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.

    • A restriction is only as binding as its enforcement mechanism. If the developers behind DOSBox aren't going to hold other developers accountable who are trading on their name, and nobody else is willing to take them to court over it (and obviously nobody will over $3.99), then the restrictions are meaningless.

      Pretty much this. We can yell and scream and call them horrible people all we want. In the end of the day, no one gives a shit. The only ones with grounds to do anything about this are the DosBox devs, and they've either decided they don't care, or that the situation is ambiguous enough to let it slide. They wouldn't even need to take this joker to court: just start by reporting the infringement to google.

    • 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 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.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

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

      And then publish it, compile your own version and upload it to Play for free.

  • by pmontra (738736) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:32PM (#42234957) Homepage
    They can charge money for the apps, the GPL doesn't prevent that. But they must distribute the source code, the GPL requires that. IMHO some people will build their own app from source but many more will just pay for the convenience of instant installation and updates. Unfortunately sooner or later somebody will publish the same app for free and if s/he keeps it updated they'll be driven out of business.
    • by Danathar (267989)

      If that were true than MySQL would of never been able to make money...

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        MySQL, like every profitable product with OSS in it makes its money from proprietary extensions.

        No one actually makes money directly from OSS.

  • Do? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by faedle (114018) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:34PM (#42234991) Homepage Journal

    If you are a DOSBox developer and have code in the source tree, try sending a DMCA takedown notice to Google.

    If you aren't, it sounds like you've done the first step, which is report it to the community at large. You might contact DOSBox's developer community and see if they even care.

    • I wrote a small Drupal module and found a website that was selling it for $50, see the relevant /. article [slashdot.org] and commentary. I was upset at first but then figured, meh, if his business is illegally selling software, then his business won't last. The Drupal community became involved as well. The good news is that he changed his business model, took down the "$50 to download this module" payment button, and started selling consulting services around it. I suppose an article on slashdot publicly shaming your bus
  • its dos, it hasnt been made for over a decade, does your app work? if yes then be happy, if no then start looking, its not like it has to keep up with the bleeding edge of MS DOS development here

  • 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: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).

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        And here is why people don't develop GPL commercial apps.

        YOU ARE ONLY ENTITLED TO THE SOURCE CODE IF YOU HAVE THE BINARY

        How hard is it? The *distributor* of the binary is requires to distribute the source code as well. IF you get the binary from some HAX4FREE website, well, then you can aks them for the source code too, NOT the original developer.

        THE DISTRIBUTOR IS REQUIRES TO DISTRIBUTE THE SOURCE CODE

        So if you get the binary from an AppStore, you are entitled for the source code. IF you then get it from a

    • by indre1 (1422435)
      What if I work for your Random Fortune 500 Co and execute the modified GPL application on my workstation. Do you have to provide me the source code if I ask you to? Does GPL allow me to take the program and it's source with me when I leave the company?
    • 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.

    • by v1 (525388)

      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!

      Three things I'd like to throw in here. First, you'd think that after a few dickish maneuvers of making source hard to get, someone that got the source from him would post it up somewhere so anyone could have it (whether or not they bought the author's binary) I suppose the author may try to go

  • 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 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.
  • by jimicus (737525) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @02:59PM (#42235199)

    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.

    You are misreading the GPL [gnu.org]. There's nothing stopping the author selling the product for £1,000,000.

    Of course he's obliged to give the source code away - but only to people he distributes the application to. He's not obliged to make the source code available to anyone who wants a copy, and he's not obliged to distribute it to people who haven't got a copy of the binary.

    Thing is, he's not allowed to impose any onerous conditions on you. He could sell it for, say, £1,000,000; you could buy it and then sell it yourself for £100. If you can persuade more than ten thousand people to buy it, you'd make a profit overall. If you could persuade 10,001 people to pay £100 for every one person who pays £1,000,000 to the original author, you'd make more money than them!

    This means that it's pretty rare for commercial software to be sold under the GPL; usually it's dual-licensed. But it's not unknown, and as more hobbyist developers start looking at selling packaged apps on platforms like Google Play, I think it may even become more common.

    • by Todd Knarr (15451)

      Apparently a common misconception, but a misconception nonetheless. If you read the GPL v2 section 3 on distribution in object-code form [gnu.org], you'll find you have 3 options:

      • A: Distribute the source code along with the binaries.
      • B: Make a written offer to distribute the source code to any third party.
      • C: Pass along the written offer you received for source code. Available only for non-commercial distribution where you received the software under option B.

      If you're distributing the source along with the binarie

    • by photon317 (208409)

      Actually, no, that's not quite right. You can't resell his binary without his permission. The way it works is:

      1) He doesn't have to give the original source or his modified source to anyone by default, and he can charge whatever he wants for his binaries built from modified source.
      2) He *does* have to make either the complete modified source or patches against otherwise-available baseline GPL source available to everyone who buys his binary. He can charge a very minimal fee for access to this source (e.g

  • Did you even read the GPL text?
    I think you are referring to the to the section 3) of the GPL license [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:

    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,

    There it states that You may copy and distribute the Program ... if you follow the terms a), b) and c). That means if you are not copy and not distribute the Program you are in no obligation to offer anyone the source code (under the terms a), b) or c)).

    I think a lot of people misunderstand the GPL. The GPL is a license that is protecting the user and grands the user rights (to study the code, to modify the

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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 corychristison (951993) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @03:38PM (#42235479)

    If you want the app, pay the fee. If you are squabbling over the cost of a coffee at Starbucks, you have more financial issues than you think and if that is the case, you probably don't need that shiny Android device.

    If it ticks you off so much, fork the most recent open source version you can find and try to build a community behind it.

    I do understand this is all about GPL Violations, but if what brought you to investigating it was sticker price shock, I am just baffled by your cheapness.

  • by yacc143 (975862)

    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.

  • Because I am an adult.

  • It's my understanding that the GPL requires only that you give source code to people that that have legally acquired the binary from you. It does not require that you provide source to anyone else, even if they otherwise legally obtained your binary. The trick here is that it also requires that you may *NOT* prevent anyone who legally obtains the source code from you from further distributing it to others, even to people who have not received any binaries from you, with the exact same freedoms and limita
  • There was some good discussion on the firehose article prior to this making the front page.

    While I will absolutely agree that I misunderstood my initial reading of the GPL v2 text, I think there does seem to maybe be a gap in licensing options for FOSS developers. I do a little software development for fun (I am by no means a programmer; I know a little C# and used to actively develop a number of addons for a popular MMO using Lua), but that's it. Even then, I don't personally like the idea that someone
  • 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.

    • $3.99 is nothing. People just seem to live in some alternate reality when it comes to paying for mobile software.
    • 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).

    • 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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