Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
The Courts Government GNU is Not Unix News

GPLv3's Implications Hitting Home For Lawyers 477

Specter writes "The GPL version 3 is getting some attention in legal circles, especially as it relates to its interaction with proprietary software and patents. Edmund J. Walsh penned an article for Law.com discussing the GPLv3 and the risks it poses for hardware and software companies."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

GPLv3's Implications Hitting Home For Lawyers

Comments Filter:
  • by dwiget001 ( 1073738 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:04PM (#23641219)
    But he is also clueless when it comes to the GPL. What a maroon.
    • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:10PM (#23641327)

      What a maroon.

      Yes, I could see that. He's not red, because he's not a communist. And he's not yellow either, because he's no coward. He's not blue, because he's not sad. He's not green, because he seems to have experience. Yes, I think "maroon" could be a good word for describing him.
    • by Cabriel ( 803429 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:40PM (#23641733)
      I disagree. I think this "maroon" isn't really telling people that "Open Source under GPLv3 is Bad" so much as he is telling people "Open Source doesn't mean what you think it means."

      This is very evident in his opening paragraph: "Two recent events should give for-profit companies new reasons to re-evaluate the ways in which they use open source software as well as the extent to which they use it."

      This is a "heads-up" to let people know that they need to be more careful with how they use other peoples' work. The GPLv3 doesn't change the fact that they should have been more careful before, but it does make abuse more risky. I think this is what Mr. Walsh is trying to point out.
      • by marty-heyman ( 144217 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @03:52PM (#23642783) Homepage
        The cumulative number of errors of fact plus the lack of clarity in the meaning of his main points make this a highly incendiary and misleading article. As little as I may like GPL3 for other reasons, he paints a herring quite red several times over. The cases he points to are much simpler than he'd make them sound. I found this article insulting on several levels. I hope I do not to have to educate too many readers mislead by it in the future.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by KutuluWare ( 791333 )
          Which errors of fact, in particular, are you speaking about? His article is pretty short on facts -- his point is so simple and obvious he really doesn't need many. But the ones I see are pretty dead on. In fact, he seems light years ahead of many software developers with his understanding of F/OSS based on this statement:

          Open source software had its origins in the free software movement. By now, most open source users understand that free refers to freedom, not to price. The new lesson is that the freedom belongs to the software, not to users. You are not free to do whatever you want with the open source software and may find yourself in a legal fight if what you do restricts the freedom of the software.

          Beyond that, his facts seem to be basically the following:

          • Companies that are violating the GPL are being rightfully sued for it and settling.
          • The new version of the GPL explicitly restr
          • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @06:21PM (#23644745)

            The new lesson is that the freedom belongs to the software, not to users

            Of course, when he says "software" he really means "users," and when he says "users" he really means "developers," and that inaccuracy of terminology doesn't help him make his point clearly.

            Of course, half the people talking about this issue make a similar mistake; there'd be a heck of a lot less argument about this sort of thing (as well as ancillary issues, such as why it doesn't make sense to argue that either the GPL or BSD license is "more free" than the other) if English didn't make it so hard to be precise.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              Of course, when he says "software" he really means "users," and when he says "users" he really means "developers," and that inaccuracy of terminology doesn't help him make his point clearly.

              Of course, half the people talking about this issue make a similar mistake [...]

              It's not a mistake, it's a disagreement. Users vs. developers is an artificial distinction, and it is possible to do things to the software which I am not free to share with others.

      • by SlowMovingTarget ( 550823 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @04:15PM (#23643071) Homepage

        Hmm... The vibe I got from the article was that the "heads up" was regarding the need for more lawyers. "This is scary stuff man, you better watch out... You don't even know! I mean, you'll need, like, twice the number of lawyers now!"

        It reads like FUD, but not so much against open source as for pair-programming with a lawyer. The first clue was his assertion that open source == GPL v3.0.

      • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) * on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @04:35PM (#23643337) Homepage Journal
        Did you read the same TFA I did?

        The article is very FUDdy in nature. For example:

        The next legal fight could be an attempt to force release of proprietary server code due to some part of the output of the server constituting a "work" generated by open source components on the server.
        Well, clearly not. A reading of the GPL will generally show that the 'output' of a program isn't covered by the license unless, say, the output of that program reproduces part of itself or another GPLed work, for example.

        Companies are also required by the new GPL to license to others all patents they own or control related to open source software, even those not related to code they add to open source software, and even if they did not own the patents at the time they distributed the open source software. This provision applies whether that distribution is part of a conscious marketing strategy or a casual sharing with others outside the organization.
        Complete FUD. FUD, FUD, FUD. The GPL's patent provisions only pertain to patents (whether currently existing, or existing in the future) that directly affect the particular software package conveyed. IOW, if Microsoft distributes the latest version of Samba, then it cannot subsequently sue the Samba developers or any recipients of the Samba code for patent infringement related to Samba.

      • by bb5ch39t ( 786551 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @04:44PM (#23643471)
        Rather than "for profit companies", he most likely should have said "for profit software companies who want to use GPL'ed software as part of their software offering". The company that I work for is "for profit". It uses software, but does not develop it for sale or redistribution. So the fact that some of the software we use is GPL'ed is irrelevant.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by debatem1 ( 1087307 )

      Any activity that leverages software for business advantage is likely to restrict the software's freedom
      I want to hear him explain this one to Google, Amazon, and Ebay- all of whom use Apache.
  • I didn't make it past the first three or four paragraphs, but no PHB is going to read further either. Court cases over GPL violation show that you can't use open source software the way you please? If he thought that before he's a moron and probably a sociopath. And the article seems to go on in that vein.
  • It's crap (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 201 ( 578873 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:07PM (#23641269) Journal

    For example, implementing proprietary features on top of open source utilities to provide a low-cost computer-controlled product ("smart box"), and distributing a program on hardware that blocks execution of modified software, have proven to be contentious issues. Running commercial Web services using open source software without releasing source code has also caused consternation in some quarters.

    That right there should tell you what you need to know about the guy's understanding of 1) the technical issues related to GPL software, and 2) the actual legal requirements of the GPL.

    • Re:It's crap (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pavera ( 320634 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:14PM (#23641391) Homepage Journal
      As far as the commercial web services part, there are certainly issue in this area that are not clear and are being raised.

      The debacle last month with ExtJS proved this. They relicensed under GPLv3 and then began trying to demand money for a commercial license from everyone who used their javascript library in a commercial web site, stating that you cannot use their library in your website under the GPL unless you open source all of the code used to generate your website (html, css, js, and any server side code like PHP, Ruby, or Python).

      Many people contacted the FSF over this issue, and the response was pretty much "we don't know the answer to that, the courts haven't decided it, and it would have to be decided on a case by case basis".

      In my opinion it is 100% possible that a GPLv3 project will be able to get a court to rule that if you use open source software to power a web site then all of the source code that generates that web site must be open sourced. Again the FSF has NO ANSWER to this question.
      • Re:It's crap (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:35PM (#23641671)

        The debacle last month with ExtJS proved this.

        ExtJS is a case where people want the developer mindshare of open-source development without actually releasing their code as open-source. They are trying trick after trick to avoid the implications of open-source development. Right now it's a weird interpretation of the GPLv3. Before that it was "we are releasing under the terms of the LGPL, but you aren't allowed to redistribute as LGPL because we aren't offering it as LGPL, just under the terms of the LGPL". Before that it was another trick. This doesn't mean the licenses in question aren't any good, it means they aren't acting in good faith.

        Again the FSF has NO ANSWER to this question.

        Of course the FSF has no answer to this question. Courts are the final authority when it comes to licenses. The same was true of previous incarnations of the GPL as well. The same is true of every other license. Until there is case law, it's all speculation.

      • Re:It's crap (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jason Earl ( 1894 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:46PM (#23641817) Homepage Journal

        The ExtJS example is somewhat special because since it is javascript you clearly distribute their software. That's not the case for your database software, or the software you use to generate your HTML pages. However, even if using ExtJS required that you distributed your code under the GPL that's only problematic if you actually distribute the software that runs your web site.

        Basically this sort of thing is pretty old hat in the Free Software community. Lots of companies, including MySQL AB and TrollTech, have proffered interpretations of the GPL that are more stringent than what the FSF has said it believes is defensible in court. The purpose of these interpretations has generally been to encourage people doing proprietary development using the vendor's tools from using the GPL version of the tool.

        Personally, I don't have a problem with these tactics. If your project has grown to the point where you are concerned that you might get sued for copyright infringement, you probably can afford a commercial license. Alternatively, you can always use someone else's software.

        The point is that just because someone at a Free Software vendor says you need a commercial license doesn't necessarily make it true. It's in their best interest to stretch what the GPL requires. Don't expect the FSF to contradict what the commercial Free Software vendors say either. After all, the folks at the FSF would *love* to wake up and find that a court had ruled in ExtJS's favor. That would give the GPL even more power than it currently has, and it would further their goal of making Free Software ubiquitous.

      • It was - and is - a marketing tool by a privately held company [cnet.com].

        Here's the history for those who don't want to follow the link. ExtJS has developed a JavaScript framework. They originally licensed as "LGPL", but with the added proviso that it was only for non-commercial use. Since the whole point of the LGPL is to allow commercial apps to link with it, this made little sense. Now they've gone to GPL3.0, only for non-commercial use, which is a little more honest about their intent.

        Apparently some have t
    • distributing a program on hardware that blocks execution of modified software

      That, right there, is pretty much the definition of the GPLv3. To sum up: GPLv3 means that the end-user should be able to execute modified software as though it were the original software.

      That's all. The rest of the GPLv3 is just a bunch of (somewhat readable) legalese attempting to prevent loopholes around this. But the idea is the same, and I've no sympathy for a company who can't grasp at least that much.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Cabriel ( 803429 )
      I'm reading the Wikipedia article on the GPLv3 Criticism [wikipedia.org]. It has this to say:

      "Whilst the GPL does allow commercial distribution of GPL software, the market price will settle near the price of distribution--near zero--since the purchasers may redistribute the software and its source code for their cost of redistribution. This could be seen to inhibit commercial use of GPL'ed code by others wishing to use that code for proprietary purposes--if they don't wish to avail themselves of GPL'ed code, they will have
  • Fear mongering (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:07PM (#23641273) Journal
    What a load of fear mongering bull. News flash: if you don't obey a software license you could get sued. How does that make GPL software any more or less risky than the proprietary alternative?

    Look at it this way, if you violate a proprietary license, you get sued and lose a bunch of money. If you violate the GPL, you get sued, and you have the option to settle and open the code, or lose a lot of money. Seems to me the GPL is the less risky option.
    • Re:Fear mongering (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mariner28 ( 814350 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:18PM (#23641435)
      What stands out most to me is, after reading up on Ed Walsh's background, that he is extremely biased: His background, before getting his law degree, was in systems and software development. In his narrow view of the world, the only for-profit companies are those that sell proprietary software. Any other "company" is just an end-user of software. So Walmart, Sears, Barnes & Noble, General Motors, Ford - all these companies, which may or may not use Open Source software for internal business use which gives them an edge over their competition - simply aren't for-profit companies.

      And the final straw? I had NoScript enabled in Firefox, and when I first went to Law.com to read the article, I got a 404 error message because scripting was blocked. The kicker? Law.com uses Apache Tomcat server - open source software (albeit not GPL). Either Law.com knows better than Mr. Walsh, or is just too cheap to pay for a proprietary web server - can't afford their own dog food, eh?

    • by bsDaemon ( 87307 )
      of course, the least-risky options are

      a) write your own damned software if you want to be a scrudge about it, or

      b) don't violate the license in the first place.

      talks of how to escape punishment after getting caught violating the license are about as productive as talks about how to escape punishment after getting caught robbing a bank.

      Its best to just not do it in the first place.
    • What you forget is that one can license proprietary software and keep one's code closed.

      The whole point of the article, which you completely managed to miss, is that if one uses GPLv3 software, one may very well have to open up one's code and hardware, which might result in loosing a lot of money.

      The reason the GPLv3 seems less risky to you is because you are not trying to sell software and hardware that uses it.
  • by pembo13 ( 770295 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:16PM (#23641411) Homepage
    The GPL definitely has no problem with people using software to generate wealth.
    • by grumbel ( 592662 )
      While true in theory, in practice its kind of wrong, since the GPL pretty much ensures that the normal business models used for software no longer work.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The GPL definitely has no problem with people using software to generate wealth.
      No but RMS certainly does, and it shows up in GPL3.

      Many of the newer restrictions put in between GPL2 and GPL3 were due to this little factoid, namely Tivo using GPL2 software in a way that RMS didn't like, and making money off of it.

      Plenty of people use GPL2 software in ways that are distasteful, however, the only ones being protested against (via GPL3) are commercial. I wonder why!
  • by jskline ( 301574 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:20PM (#23641479) Homepage
    It's another greedy lawyer. His real interest is in covering big business and ways to make sure this "OSS"is made incompatible with current patent law. Ultimately I'm sure he's got lobbyists in Washington pushing to get legislators to want to regulate open source anything and maybe even make it illegal.

    Just another damned greedy lawyer voicing is woes at OSS.
  • FUD and more FUD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:21PM (#23641487)
    This is obviously written from the perspective of "anti-free software."

    "The new lesson is that the freedom belongs to the software, not to users." This is SO bogus and mis characterizes the whole point of the new GPL. The "freedom" is absolutely for the users, especially the end users. The restrictions quoted in the article have nothing to do with users, but everything to do with ISVs taking GPL software and screwing the users.

    "Changes in the GPL impose other limits on the ability to leverage a proprietary position when open source is involved."

    This is true, so, write it for yourselves then. Don't think you can capitalize on someone else's work and deny then the ability to capitalize on your modifications to their software, that isn't very fair.

    I don't get what the issue is. If you want to develop closed source software, then so be it, however, don't take other's GPL code and try to close that off, that's theft. How hard is it for the reptilian lawyer brain to understand this very simple concept.

    We even say what is needed to comply. But NOOO, they have to keep up with the FUD.

    Last little bit:

    "Edmund J. Walsh is a shareholder and a member of the electrical and computer technologies and the IP transactions groups at Wolf Greenfield."

    Ahh, now I understand!

  • Bad assumptions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brett Smith ( 1081153 ) <brett@fsf.org> on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:26PM (#23641565) Homepage

    This article is confused and makes all sorts of horrible assumptions. In short, the author seems to believe that the only way people make money off free software by adding "differentiating" proprietary software to it. Since the whole point of the GPL is to prevent people from making the software under its purview non-free, it shouldn't really be surprising, then, that the author finds it a huge pain in the neck. Personally, I'd say the license is a success, and I suspect a lot of the companies making money from GPLed software would agree with me.

    -- Brett Smith, License Compliance Engineer, Free Software Foundation

  • misleading (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:28PM (#23641589) Homepage

    What a lousy, misleading article. He makes it clear upfront that he's talking about two separate things, but then he goes on to mix them together indiscriminately throughout the rest of the article. (1) If you build your business on GPL 2 software, you'd better read the GPL 2. People who don't are getting sued. (2) GPL 3 is different from GPL 2, and may be incompatible with some business models that GPL 2 is compatible with.

    Re #1: Duh. Don't agree to a license without making sure you can abide by the license. Re #2: Similar duh, and it's relatively inconsequential because very little software is under GPL 3 so far. (The typical PHB reading this is probably not going to understand that GPL 2 doesn't automatically update GPL 3, but the article could easily leave you with the impression that it does.)

    With the filing of court documents, a philosophical debate about the proper place for software in society has become a business dispute with the risk of substantial consequences.
    Well, no, it's not a risk. A risk refers to something you can't predict. If you agree to a license and then violate the license, that's not a risk, that's intentionally shooting yourself in the foot.

    For-profit companies using open source software should take notice
    He talks about "for-profit" like this all through the article. That's stupid. The GPL doesn't discriminate between for-profit and not-for-profit use. Of course the people getting sued are all for-profit companies. Is this a surprise? A nonprofit probably wouldn't have any motivation to violate the GPL, and anyhow you don't usually pick people to sue who don't have money.

    The new lesson is that the freedom belongs to the software, not to users. You are not free to do whatever you want with the open source software and may find yourself in a legal fight if what you do restricts the freedom of the software.
    Huh? This is idiotic. Software doesn't have human rights. The GPL also doesn't place any restrictions on how software is used. In fact, you can use GPL'd sofwtware without even agreeing to the license. You only have to agree to the GPL if you want to modify the software and then redistribute it.

    Any activity that leverages software for business advantage is likely to restrict the software's freedom
    Hmm...say Joe's Garage uses Firefox and OpenOffice. Can anyone explain why that's likely to "restrict the software's freedom?" Or say Barnes and Noble runs Linux on their servers. Does that mean they're "likely to restrict the software's freedom?" What he really means is that if you try to violate the GPL by making OSS into proprietary software, you've got a problem. That's a lot narrower than "leveraging software for business advantage."

    and the growing use of open source software by for-profit companies has been a growing irritant for free software advocates.
    Oh, God, it just gets dumber and dumber. The OSS community wants users. Everyone I know in the OSS community is typically overjoyed that IBM got on the Linux bandwagon. They're happy that Google is generally OSS-friendly. They love it that more and more OEMs are offering machines with Linux preinstalled.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by doctorcisco ( 815096 )
      It's not nearly as biased or misleading as many of the Slashdot crowd want to say it is.

      With the filing of court documents, a philosophical debate about the proper place for software in society has become a business dispute with the risk of substantial consequences. He's right about this. If I use ExtJS, am I required to either buy a license or open source my entire website? Yes or no? If I modify but do not distribute GPL3 software, must I release my modifications? Yes or no?

      And the real kicker: If I have
    • by tsstahl ( 812393 )
      You miss the mark on a lot of points. I'm just going to pick one:

      The GPL also doesn't place any restrictions on how software is used.

      GPLv3 most assuredly DOES place restrictions on how you can use the software.

      The author is completely correct in his assertion that the GPLv3 is about the software, not the end user. RMS has shouted this very point from the rooftops for decades; only now is it more severely codified in GPLv3.

      This article is aimed and business managers, not OSS faithful, or non-pr
  • A corporate attorney states that businesses which could do certain things under GPL2 cannot do these same things under GPL3 and look at the venom spew. Why all the fuss? He is entirely correct from a legal standpoint to warn business of litigation risk under a clearly more restrictive license.

    Business adoption of OS has in the past been facilitated by working around the GPL2 restrictions. How the hell do you build a business advantage over a competitor when you are forced to divulge your developments to ev
    • by Znork ( 31774 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @03:22PM (#23642359)
      How the hell do you build a business advantage over a competitor when you are forced to divulge your developments to everybody?

      What, competition without state protection? Build a business advantage by being better, cheaper, faster, leaner? That sounds almost like a free market; cant have that, eh?

      will GPL3 ruin open source development in the business world

      No. It will create problems for free riders and make it easier for good corporate citizens to abide by the GPL because they wont have to worry about their less ethical brethren using it against them.

      One corporations proprietary advantage is everyone elses disadvantage; some companies actually realize this and figure that having an advantage for 6 months in one area while their competitors have an advantage in another area for 6 months means they get a clean slate with _both_ advantages at the beginning of the next cycle. Plus their new advantage for that cycle... Moving technology forward much faster and not subject to anyone elses whims.

      Linux would not be where it is today without business support

      Businesses who have, to a large extent, been part of formulating the GPLv3. The corporate objectors to GPLv3 tend to be more in the non-contributing camp.
  • by BigGar' ( 411008 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:39PM (#23641715) Homepage
    From the article:
    By now, most open source users understand that free refers to freedom, not to price. The new lesson is that the freedom belongs to the software, not to users. You are not free to do whatever you want with the open source software and may find yourself in a legal fight if what you do restricts the freedom of the software.

    I disagree with several statements that the author doesn't understand the GPL. While the article does tend toward "scaremongering" I think the author has a pretty fair understanding and is looking forward from a legal point of view and he's a tad nervous about what he sees as potential areas of conflict.

    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:49PM (#23641853) Homepage Journal
      I read it exactly as you did. The author understands the GPL, and its implications, quite well. Trouble is, most FOSS advocates are wilfully blind to those implications, having never run a business that's large enough to have to worry about legal threats.

      If I were a PHB, this article alone would be enough to scare me off GPL'd software -- because I would interpret this as a potential threat of unknown magnitude. Remember the average PHB isn't going to distinguish between GPL2 and GPL3, either. A lawsuit against a GPL3 violator WILL be perceived as a lawsuit against ALL companies that use GPL'd software, regardless of which license version. And in at corporate management levels, the perception is what counts.

    • The new lesson is that the freedom belongs to the software, not to users.

      I think the author has a pretty fair understanding...

      I think the author is intentionally misleading. The freedom is for the users... not the developers. That is to say, OSS benefits the users of software, not the developers. Anyone developing that GPL code is restricted in a way that continues to benefit the users.

      The problem this person has is they are characterizing the developers of software as "users" of that code and the only use for code is to extract money from people in exchange for being able to run it. I don't believe this misuse of terms is uni

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:44PM (#23641785) Homepage Journal
    Anyone else feel like the pooooor proprietary software companies are the equivalent of someone complaining about his birthday presents?

    Hey, nobody forces you to use it, you know? You can write your own if you don't like the GPL. Different from patents, the GPL doesn't prevent you from coming up with the exact same thing, on your own time and expense.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by k_187 ( 61692 )
      I believe that is the exact point the article is trying to make. Businesses may be too keen to think "hey its free! lets use it" without considering the future ramifications that their decisions may have.
  • Risk to the vendor is defined as the amount of power their customers are going to have over them.
  • by nweaver ( 113078 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:53PM (#23641909) Homepage

    This article is FUD, but it is actually well founded FUD.

    EG, the GPLv3 is specifically designed to limit the "set top box" model, as the provider can no longer treat it as a sealed appliance if GPLv3 code is involved (the anti-TiVo clause).

    The GPLv3's patent liscence clause is deliberately broad:
    A contributor's essential patent claims are all patent claims owned or controlled by the contributor, whether already acquired or hereafter acquired, that would be infringed by some manner, permitted by this License, of making, using, or selling its contributor version, but do not include claims that would be infringed only as a consequence of further modification of the contributor version. For purposes of this definition, control includes the right to grant patent sublicenses in a manner consistent with the requirements of this License.

    Each contributor grants you a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free patent license under the contributor's essential patent claims, to make, use, sell, offer for sale, import and otherwise run, modify and propagate the contents of its contributor version.

    Likewise, the recent lawsuits have made it clear that the FSF crowd has grown more willing to carry the GPL into court, and as another poster mentioned, there is the ExtJS's use of the GPL: Since the Javascript gets into the final product (the page), you can argue that by using ExtJS, your web site page, as rendered, is now GLPv3, the same problem Bison used to have before they changed it from being pure GPL, not to mention the attempt to "atheroize" the GPL because of the "googleization" problem.

  • by uffe_nordholm ( 1187961 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:57PM (#23641981)
    If a company wants to use software released under the GPL in their own products, hadn't they better understand the licence terms before they start doing anything? What would happen if Microsoft caught Adobe using Excel in parts of Photoshop?(1)

    As I see it the creators of some software relesase this software under the GPL, which grants you certain liberties you would not have if the software were released under a more classic closed source commercial licence (think Microsoft/Adobe/Apple...). I think that if you are to use the work of the original creators you should abide by their wishes/terms. If you won't/can't then dont use their work and create your own software doing the same function.

    As far as I am concerned, this is a non-issue: it doesn't matter what licence software is released with, you need to understand that licence before using the software in you own products, if at all! The difference between commercial licence and GPL is that the GPL gives you more freedom from the start, while placing certain limits on how much secrecy you can 'afford your products.

    1: not likely to ever happen, but play with the thought.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:58PM (#23641987) Homepage Journal

    ..the irreconcilable conflict between open source software and its widespread use by for-profit companies.

    I'd rephrase that as ".. the irreconcilable conflict between users and those who wish to limit the maintenance options available to those users."

  • by Secret Rabbit ( 914973 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @03:47PM (#23642721) Journal
    Given that this is /. and the number of GPL zealots that there are here, it is no surprise that there are so many responses that tell of, pretty much, functional illiteracy when it comes to reading this article. As has been mentioned above, this is NOT about a misunderstanding about the details of the [L]GPL, but rather a "heads up" about the ramifications of using someone else's work. As in, you better read the fine print on that license. This guy even said exactly that in the article.

    The only thing that this guy consistently did wrong was confuse open-source with "free" software (as in RMS's definition, not dictionary). Quite frankly, as an advocate of the BSD license (_not_ a zealot mind you) I'm rather irritated that this guy is lumping me in with the GPL people. No, I'm not like that, I don't want to shove my opinions down "your" throat.

    But, welcome to the "us v.s. them" BS that RMS wants.

    The thing that I find sad is that when a lot of companies get together to release code under an open-source license, much of the time, it's actually free-er than the GPL. Newlib and Insomniac Games Nocturnal project are two good examples. Not to mention the closed source, non-restrictive libs offered by commercial entities such as Apple and M$. It's kinda sad that I get more freedom as a developer when using closed source libs rather than much of the "open-source" libs out there.
  • You can say all day long what GPL is *supposed* to mean. But in the end, we've seen many stupid cases where what the lawyers and judges ignorant of technology redefined the entire document by putting a particular spin on a particular section. We see this with the constitution too. There is very little precedent for these documents yet so it is still flexible-- and even when there is precedent, occasionally a random lawyer will think of some new spin- get it to the supreme court in a state or country and have everything overturned.

    I generally agree with everyone on our common understanding of GPL myself. But if it is in a lawyer's financial interest to understand it differently, then they will do so.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"