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GNU is Not Unix Government The Courts News

German Court Says GPL is Valid 327

Axel Metzger writes "The Munich District Court has ruled on May 19, 2004 that the main clauses of the GNU General Public License are valid under German copyright and contract law. This seems to be the first judgment worldwide proofing the validity of the most popular free software license. The ruling is a confirmation of the preliminary injunction of April 2, 2004. The new judgment gives on 20 pages the reasons for the ruling. It states explicitly that the terms of section 2, 3 and 4 of the GPL are valid under German copyright and contract law. Here is the German text of the judgment; an English translation will be available soon. The judgment comes at the right time to fight those (SCO and others) who challenge the legal validity of the GPL in Europe and elsewhere. The lawyer of the plaintiffs, Till Jaeger from Munich should be granted the Free Software Award."
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German Court Says GPL is Valid

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  • It's nice (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 2names ( 531755 ) on Friday July 23, 2004 @01:33PM (#9781341)
    but that won't help us in the United States. Unfortunately, our government doesn't take heed from European countries anymore. Sad. We won't take counsel in our closest allies.
  • This is good news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jonbryce ( 703250 ) on Friday July 23, 2004 @01:36PM (#9781367) Homepage
    But it is not a surprise to anyone with even basic knowledge of copyright law.

    The GPL is probably one of the least controversial copyright licences out there, and I would say it is totally watertight.

    The only places where there might be problems are in countries like Iran which don't recognise copyrights from countries like the US. - if there is no copyright, there is no need to agree to the terms of the GPL to be allowed to use the software.
  • Germany says yes... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Friday July 23, 2004 @01:38PM (#9781393) Homepage

    Which means the US courts are almost certainly going to have to say "no". Could lead to an interesting case where in Europe Microsoft is a monopoly that has to change its trading rules, Linux is perfectly okay and SCO is a joke. Meanwhile in the US its Microsoft the good corporate citizen, Linux is illegal and SCO is Unix.

    Start an orderly queue at the borders please gentlemen and start boarding those boats.
  • How important? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Knights who say 'INT ( 708612 ) on Friday July 23, 2004 @01:39PM (#9781399) Journal
    I'm not sure about german law, but I think it's not a common lnaw system like the british/american system. That is, the decisions of judges don't have much impact on future judicial decisions. There is no 'quoting the xxx vs xxx trial of 19xx' in most legal systems. Since brazilian law students read a lot of german philosophy of law, I would guess they're in the same tradition we are.
  • True, however (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday July 23, 2004 @01:43PM (#9781450)
    There is really no way for the GPL to be invalid under US copyright law, and any company to still be able to use the code. If the GPL is invalid, that means the companies lack a license to distribute the code, so it's copyright infringement, pure and simple.

    That's really why it works so well. If I make a work, it is copyright to me. By default no one other than myself has any right to distribute it at all. To do so, you need a license. The GPL is that license, but has provisions. You don't have to accept it, that's fine, but then you don't have a license to distribute. In no way are your rights infringed on, or copyright cricumvented.

    Same thing applies to overall vailidity. If it's not valid, as SCO would like, that's fine, but then they, and anyone else, distributing GPL code are infringing on copyright since they have no license to do so. So if it's ruled invalid, it's a loss for them, espically since I imagine many bitter OSS people would go after them for copyright infringement as retribution.

    This ruling is just a formal legal statement on that fact. A court has formally analyzed the GPL and come to the quite obvious conclusion: It's a legit license that obeys both the letter and spirit of copyright law.

    Supposing it does go to court, I bet the ruling is the same in the US.
  • Took long enough! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eadz ( 412417 ) on Friday July 23, 2004 @01:47PM (#9781507) Homepage
    The GPL v2 has been around for 13 years and this is the first time it's been proven valid, even though it's in such widespead use.

    I guess it's a testament to the plain english and common sense language of the licence.
  • Re:True, however (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2004 @01:57PM (#9781608)
    There is really no way for the GPL to be invalid under US copyright law

    This is true. However, how copyright law defines software "derived works" has never been clarified, so there might be some edge cases (such as with dynamic libraries) where the traditional FSF interpretation doesn't hold up. If there ever is a real legal question over the (L)GPL, it would likely involve the "viral" aspects of glibc or QT,
  • by bokmann ( 323771 ) on Friday July 23, 2004 @01:58PM (#9781621) Homepage
    On a somewhat related question, how does SuSE, a German company, justify their '30 day evaluation' download under the terms of the GPL?

    I downloaded it, right? Even if it is just a '30 day eval'. Shouldn't they give me the source code?

    isn't this '30 day eval' against the premise of the PGL anyway, that I should be able to redistribute the software I use?
  • Re:True, however (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oxygene2k2 ( 615758 ) on Friday July 23, 2004 @02:01PM (#9781659)
    what parties such as SCO seem to hope is that the judge responsible for that case decides that public domain is the best equivalent of the terms of the GPL, as they were envisioned by the users of the license, that is possible.

    in germany that can't work out as PD doesn't really exist here
  • by vlad_petric ( 94134 ) on Friday July 23, 2004 @02:02PM (#9781668) Homepage
    IANAL, but: Pretty much every license has a "gray area". IMHO two such problems with GPL are: 1. What constitutes derived work off the source code 2. How much it is reasonable to charge for distribution of source code.

    It's quite conceivable that one judge would rule "against" one of the provisions of GPL for a very specific case, without invalidating the whole license. For instance: what if NVidia gets sued for not publishing their drivers under the GPL, and the judge does not consider their kernel module to be derived off the kernel ? Does that mean the GPL is invalid/unenforceable and NVidia used the linux kernel without a license? Hardly.

  • GPL Valid? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tonywestonuk ( 261622 ) on Friday July 23, 2004 @02:17PM (#9781825)
    I'm not sure if this is a GPL is legally valid president, more like a copyright infringement case, where the defendants are claiming the GPL allows them to carry on infringing, where in reality, it does not.

    Its a bit like a Credit Card company providing a licence to someone that grants them the permission take anything they like they find in a shop without paying, on the condition that they deposit monies equaling that value into an account at some point later. Now, when some thief ends up in court for common theft, after nicking a load of stock, The thief claiming the Credit card companies licencing agreements with him are invalid, and can't be held up in court!.....

    The GPL will be proven in a case of law when:

    Person A , receives some software under the GPL, makes amendments to suit their needs, releases these changes to the world, as required by the GPL.

    Person B, who makes software that competes with Person A (but this software also happens to be GPL'ed), Finds that there's this really neat piece of code done by person A, That will do wonders for his 'competing' GPL'd software, and so copies this code, line by line, into his product.... This product then becomes the market leader, no one wants to know A's product anymore!

    Person A, isn't to happy with person B, and so sues A for copyright infringement. person B, then will have to rely on the GPL, to get themselves off the hook. At this point, if A can claim the GPL is invalid, then A has a case, however, by winning that particular case, they then leave themselves open to as similar copyright case by person C, who's software they original ripped off in the first place.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2004 @02:26PM (#9781933)
    Yes, but you must agree that the GPL is one of the "least gray" licenses out there:

    1) no dependence on contract law, only federal copyright law

    2) clearly written intent and explanation (a confused judge can understand exactly what the GPL is about, if some part of it happens to be ambiguous).

    3) detailed terms

    Note that many open source (and many shareware) license are much more ambiguous than the GPL. Example: Consider the recent discussion on the PHP license.. it has GPL-like terms but states that "only PHP can change the terms of code under this license"... does that mean that PHP can come along and change the terms of *your modified PHP code* at any time? I think so. That's could be a "show stopper".

    The GPL is a great license.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser