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GNU is Not Unix Television The Courts Your Rights Online

Busybox Developer Responds To Andersen-SFLC Lawsuits 316

Bruce Perens writes "I'm the creator of the Busybox program. I have released a statement on the past and current Busybox lawsuits, which do not represent my interest."
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Busybox Developer Responds To Andersen-SFLC Lawsuits

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  • Does it matter? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jonbryce ( 703250 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:25PM (#30449224) Homepage

    If Messrs Andersen and Landley own copyrights to any part of the Busybox program, they can sue for infringement of the copyright on their bit of the code, even if the majority of it was written by you.

    In any case, I believe it contains a Linux kernel, or at least parts of it, written by Linus Torvalds and his friends, and presumably at least parts of the gnu tools that Busybox provides stripped down versions of. This of course is perfectly permissible, and the whole point of the GPL and other free and open source software licences is to allow and encourage this sort of thing to happen. All these developers have a copyright interest in the Busybox program, and could sue if they wanted to.

  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <bruce@perens.com> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:28PM (#30449278) Homepage Journal
    In the U.S. any of the copyright holders can sue independently. Elsewhere, that might not be true. And they each have the right to decide to look for damages, or not. Mostly, Free Software developers forgive past infringement in exchange for current compliance and do not ask for damages. However, if a company is a long-term non-responder, they will look for compensation for their time.
  • Re:Proposition (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <bruce@perens.com> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:39PM (#30449398) Homepage Journal

    The vendor has to comply with all of the license terms. Including providing the license statement, etc. We don't want to give them another decision to make by making them check if they've made any changes, and then do so again every time they distribute a new version, we just want them to provide the source as that ends up being easiest.

    If they have made no modification, we will be able to see that from the source that they provide. But they often make modifications, if only to fix a bug, to port the software, or to add a feature. If they have any sense they don't link their big proprietary feature into the Busybox executable. But even if they did, they could remove it as part of coming into compliance.

  • Re:Proposition (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <bruce@perens.com> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:42PM (#30449428) Homepage Journal

    Joe the burger-flipper buys a car with Linux embedded in the dashboard computer. He then sells it to Jim. Jim asks Joe for source-code. Joe doesn't know what source-code is.

    So, there are some cases where it doesn't make sense to ask the "distributor". The manufacturer would know what to do, and the manufacturer has created the derivative work involved. In general, the manufacturer would take care of this obligation for Joe.

  • Re:Proposition (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dewin ( 989206 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:55PM (#30449630)

    If the source for the GPL software is unmodified and freely available from other sources why should the vendor have to duplicate it's availability?

    I'm going to guess it's because it's a lot easier to require that each vendor distribute the code than to come up with an effect-but-byzantine, legally-sound method of requiring the vendor to determine if the code is "freely available from other sources" before requiring them to make it available themselves or not, as well as regularly checking to see if the same situation is true in a year, five years, a decade, etc.

    I believe the latter half of this is exactly the reason that provision is required. If you rely on other sources then locating the source code stops being feasible if those other sources cease to exist. By distributing the source yourself, you guarantee that it remains available for at least as long as you are distributing the products that use it.

  • by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:59PM (#30449678) Homepage

    Anderson is claiming complete Copyright and that is simply an impossibility. As far as I am concerned, this claim is a GPL violation in and of itself.

    This is exactly the most disturbing issue to me here. Being able to re-write GPL code and then claim sole copyright on that new code would completely invalidate the entire concept of derivative work on which the GPL and every other software license is based.

  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <bruce@perens.com> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:22PM (#30450010) Homepage Journal
    One responds to publicity with publicity. SFLC made a point of publicizing the suit.
  • by kz45 ( 175825 ) <kz45@blob.com> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:25PM (#30450048)

    "This is presently being tried in another case, Jacobsen v. Katzer. It looks as if there will be significant damages that the Open Source developer can collect. The judge seems to think so in that he granted a motion for summary judgement (after at first rejecting it)."

    I always find these discussions a little ironic for the slashdot crowd. Clearly, there is bias going on here.

    Take a look at any discussion about music, movie, or software piracy and you will see many people talking about how their "business model needs to change" and that "It doesn't hurt the original copyright holder because you are only making copies"

    It's pretty easy to see the parallels between copyright infringent (the sharing of proprietary apps against the wishes of the original IP holder) and violating the GNU (the sharing of source code against the original wishes of the IP holder).

    I could also easily make the same argument: It doesn't hurt the original owner. Even if the source has been copied, changed, and re-packaged, the original source is there for everyone to enjoy.

    It's not theft (which has been used to describe GNU infringement). Theft would imply a physical item has been taken, and it hasn't.

    This is why I can't take these discussions seriously. It's because it has nothing to do with freedom, because everyone's rights aren't supported, and everything to do with the GNU political movement.

  • Re:Proposition (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dch24 ( 904899 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:31PM (#30450154) Journal
    Joe can include the source in his single car sale by including the CD he got when he bought it - FLOSS dashboards inc included the source on the CD, right?

    Right, I know that a lot of GPL software on CDs doesn't include the source on the CD. However, let's go one step further. I know Joe probably lost the CD - it happens often enough. Now what do we do?

    Well, if Joe gets sued, he can contact FLOSS dashboards inc and get the source from them, and thus fulfill his legal obligation.

    GM sells a bunch of FLOSS dashboards. They can wait until they get sued, then try to find FLOSS dashboards. But considering the risk, they'll probably just distribute the source up front, because they're smart, right?

    Which brings us back to what Bruce is trying to accomplish: he's not out suing people. He's -- in fact -- making things easier for people who want to comply with the GPL.
  • by bzzfzz ( 1542813 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:35PM (#30450222)

    This is not governed by the GPL but rather by case law regarding what does and does not constitute a "derived work." Case law in this area is vague, contradictory, and evolving. Litigation in this area tends to be expensive and unpredictable.

    The claim of ongoing copyright "even if every line of code ... were replaced" is one of the major arguments SCO is making. I don't it's a valid argument and I certainly hope that the courts don't find it to be valid.

    Finally, copyright law does not require registrants to identify the new creative contribution when registering a work derived from a prior work (whether PD or copyrighted). By registering copyright, a necessary step prior to pursuing infringement claims, Anderson does "not claim complete Copyright."

  • by sabre86 ( 730704 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:01PM (#30450656)

    It's pretty easy to see the parallels between copyright infringent (the sharing of proprietary apps against the wishes of the original IP holder) and violating the GNU (the sharing of source code against the original wishes of the IP holder).

    Well, yes. Violating the GPL is copyright infringement. It's not just similar, it's legally identical.

    You're right, the term "theft" shouldn't be used here.

    This is why I can't take these discussions seriously. It's because it has nothing to do with freedom, because everyone's rights aren't supported, and everything to do with the GNU political movement.

    Could you give a concise definition of what you mean by "rights"?
    From a freedom standpoint, the GPL does clearly involve a tradeoff between guaranteeing user freedom and weakening developer freedom. But it seems reasonable, given that the current legal situation allows (and defaults) to the opposite, where user/consumer rights are very limited. It's an attempt to maximize the overall freedom within the current legal system.

  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:17PM (#30450890)

    GPL is about copyright. Copy RIGHT ends when there is no copy that you have rights over in the work.

    Copyright does restrict ideas, it restricts implementations. GPL and copyright both end when the code has been replaced.

    You can argue this one here on slashdot all day long and/or you are blue in the face and it won't make a bit of difference. The first time this idea goes to court against a company of any real size, copyright and GPL will lose as the idea is utterly ludicrous.

    Car Analogy:
    Ford makes a car that uses GPL software for a new power windows controller. Over time Ford expands the controller to control everything in the car. You find out and sue them for using your GPL code.

    So they replace the code for the window controller with clean code.

    At this point, no judge anywhere on the planet, in any country is going to think an acceptable solution is for Ford to redesign the entire product (in this case the window/door controller system that grew from your work) and start from scratch, JUST because part of it was your work. You guys need to get over this idea that GPL extends to touch everything anywhere near it. Much like EULA's, just because you say it, doesn't actually make it true, even if in your own little world it does. The rest of us don't live in your world, thank god.

    Your work as been removed, you no longer have any claims, regardless of shared ideas. That would be a patent area if you'd like to go argue that.

  • Re:Drama, drama. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:18PM (#30450904)

    Then step right up, the solution to our problems has finally arrived!... several years ago.

    You might find Jacobsen v. Katzer educational. Jacobsen was using the Artistic License 1.0, and this did not protect him from Katzer.

    In what way would you expect the Artistic License to protect Jacobsen that wasn't the case? There is no license you can use that will magically protect you from being sued. AFAIK the court ultimately ruled in favor of his copyright infringement claims, so what more do you want? Anyway, none of this has anything to do with the point, which is that all this GPL drama, while good for the authors who obviously and rightly want the conditions of the distribution of their software adhered to, is a waste of time and really doesn't help the free/open source movement (beyond apparently providing some small entertainment to some?).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:17PM (#30451626)

    And perhaps a warning to developers anywhere that want to someday make money off of their products:

    *Don't use the GPL* or anything remotely related.

  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:20PM (#30451678)

    It makes situations like "if you show us patented code in our application, we'll replace it" much more difficult to reconcile easily, especially if the code violating the patent was part of the original application code. Then the replacement code is 'derivative' and still subject to the original copyright claims, but not patent claims.

    Don't equate copyright and patent laws, they are completely different. A patent stops you from exploiting your own ideas, regardless of how they popped into your head, whenever someone else filed it first. A copyright stops you only from copying or modifying a existing work of someone else, but doesn't stop you from creating the exact same thing from scratch.

    If there's patented code in their app, it's ok to remove it but the replacement cannot implement the same idea or else you've done nothing. When there's a patent claim over some functionality, you have to remove that functionality, and a clean program no longer has that functionality at all. But if you rewrite parts of the app, the original authors' copyright still applies on your own code. To be sure to be copyright clean, you can study their app, but then you fire up your editor and start with a blank screen and write everything yourself.

  • by c0d3g33k ( 102699 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:41PM (#30451910)

    Ok, Sloppy on my part - I wasn't confusing patented, I was in a hurry and grabbing a quote from memory that doesn't apply. Replace the original "patented" with "copyrighted" and reread. If the codebase started out containing copyrighted code which was then removed and replaced during the course of development, or when someone realized the code violates copyright (or the original copyright holder noticed and complained), the question is does the new body of code which no longer includes the original code constitute a derivative work subject to the original copyright? If so, then there is potentially a lot of code out there that could be a target for copyright litigation, if it can be shown that it has been touched by someone else's copyrighted code at some earlier time. This makes correcting copyright violations by removing the copyrighted material rather difficult, given that the only option left seems to be a clean-room rewrite from scratch.

  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @08:38PM (#30452476)
    Personally, I think those questions are tricky and it depends a lot on what the lawyers would come up with case by case. Copyright isn't just about what's physically written, for example sometimes fictional characters are protected by copyright, so if you wanted to write a new James Bond or Harry Potter novel from scratch without authorization you would probably lose in court.

    To play it safe, I use two rules: if I'm editing a file which has a copyright claim on it, then I assume my edits are derivative. If someone offers me their code edits for one of my GPL projects, I ask them for a copyright assignment.

    This still leaves a lot of options. For example, if I really wanted to keep my code in someone else's project, I would make sure to put all my functions in a separate file with my own explicit copyright notice and their files would only contain a few simple function calls to which I would make no claim. If someone didn't want to assign their copyright to me in my project, I would create a subdirectory with a patch file that's clearly marked to belong to them.

  • by gavron ( 1300111 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @08:58PM (#30452664)
    Bruce is a pioneer in the FOSS world, and has done great things.

    Nothing he's said and done qualifies as "devolving."

    He's obviously worked HARD to avoid being a troll.

    Have respect for your betters, or get better schooling.


  • by Dausha ( 546002 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @10:28PM (#30453324) Homepage

    "This little disagreement looks like he's just wanting a share of any monetary damages awarded - or at least his name in the news. Bruce certainly doesn't have any grounds to stop the lawsuit anyway, and he approves of protecting the GPL."

    So, in the article he asserts a copyright interest in BusyBox. He asserts that subsequent BusyBox code is derived from his work. He asserts he released via GPL. He asserts that subsequent BusyBox developers have violated the GPL by removing the copyright statement of ancestor developers (including himself). So, he's claiming the plaintiffs in the lawsuit may be liable to him for copyright violation themselves. His use of "appear to have" is a legal weaseling to avoid being found wrong in court and accruing damages.

    Does he have grounds? Well, if he argues that he is the original copyright owner (which he does) and that they violate his GPL (which he does), then it certainly appears that he is claiming they cannot have grounds to sue. If I steal your car (or borrow it to go "to the store," but then drive it out-of-state for a fortnight), and somebody damages the car while I possess it, I cannot sue for damages to the car; right? You can sue for damages against me or the other party (or both?).

    You cannot derive a work without permission (license) from the copyright owner. GPL was that permission, but he claims they violated the license. Had they complied with the GPL, then they would have standing. Legally speaking, you cannot profit from your own error.

    I don't think Bruce needs his name in the news; I think he's established himself. It sounds like the lawsuit is harming his interests and he is trying to protect his interests. He's not asking for monetary damages (which can be fairly high), but is asking to work with violators (for a nominal fee) to bring them back into compliance. So, aside from the apparent claim that they are violating his right, he's also claiming they are harming his livelihood. He came to Slashdot because it's an expedient way to get the word out.

    All this to say, don't say "certainly."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @03:52AM (#30454854)

    Even if every line of code Bruce or myself wrote were replaced, it was done so on his and subsequently my license terms which are the GPL. My privileges and Anderson's privileges (if any ?) to alter and redistribute Bruce's work are based on those license terms derived from Bruce's initial publication and you can not simply 'code them away' unless you start from scratch.

    What about USL v. BSDi? The Berkeley CSRG augmented UNIX and then later replaced all of AT&T's code with BSD licensed code. Granted the case was settled out of court, but the prevailing judge expressed doubt in USL's claims.


  • by micheas ( 231635 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @06:21AM (#30455376) Homepage Journal

    As I posted to Bruce, you probably have standing to see the undisclosed settlement.

    You probably need the consent of all parties, but I expect a copyright attorney could make that happen for you. in short order, but I suspect you and Bruce need to go through the courts to see it.

    "What do you call a thousand lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?"

    "A good start."

    "I used to be offended by layers jokes, now I see them as simple truths." -- Garfield, War of the Roses

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein