Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Doubts Raised About Legal Soundness of GPL2

CmdrTaco posted about 5 years ago | from the no-you're-unsound dept.

Programming 521

svonkie writes "Two prominent IP lawyers have warned that the all-pervasive General Public License version 2 (GPLv2) is legally unsound. They claim GPLv3 and AGPLv3 are much better suited for the realities of modern open source software. 'If you go back in time to when GPLv2 was written, I don't think people were aware of just how ubiquitous this license would become and how closely scrutinized it would be,' said Mark Radcliffe, partner at the firm DLA Piper and general counsel for the Open Source Initiative (OSI). 'At that time, open source was not something as broadly used as it is now.' Radcliffe was joined by Karen Copenhaver, partner at Choate Hall & Stewart and counsel for the Linux Foundation, for a GPL web conference hosted by the license-sniffing firm Black Duck software"

cancel ×

521 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Zealots caught in Gnu/Stallmans trap (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29758869)

Now suck his GNU/Cock.

Re:Zealots caught in Gnu/Stallmans trap (5, Insightful)

V!NCENT (1105021) | about 5 years ago | (#29759263)

The license was already proven in court numerous times in different countries. It can definately hold up. I don't care that there are two big IP lawyers. Especialy when you keep in mind the fact that IP has less chance of holding up. IP laywers don't like copyleft for a reason.

Nothing got disproven with that useless article. That, together with you post, will not make an impact at how FLOSS advocates look at the license and it sure as well will not stop them slow them down or even irritate.

Resistance is futile, proprietary pussy.

Re:Zealots caught in Gnu/Stallmans trap (2, Insightful)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 5 years ago | (#29759321)

I wonder who pays these gentlemen. And, again, who pays those who pay them...

Re:Zealots caught in Gnu/Stallmans trap (5, Informative)

Disgruntled Goats (1635745) | about 5 years ago | (#29759351)

I wonder who pays these gentlemen.

If you had read the summary you'd see they work for the OSI and the Linux Foundation. Hardly organizations that are anti-GPL, anti-FOSS or anti-Linux.

Re:Zealots caught in Gnu/Stallmans trap (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | about 5 years ago | (#29759489)

So what? I HAS been proven to hold up, so the article still remains useless...

Backduck is one Microsoft anti-FOSS front (3, Informative)

SgtChaireBourne (457691) | about 5 years ago | (#29759481)

I wonder who pays these gentlemen. And, again, who pays those who pay them...

Blackduck is founded and stocked by Microsoft employees [socializedsoftware.com] . Though it would be damning enough in this context to point out that it is an active Microsoft partner [eweek.com] .

SCO was a pre-existing company re-purposed several times, turned pump-n-dump, turned sock puppet. Blackduck was founded from the beginning for the activities it is engaged in.

Re:Backduck is one Microsoft anti-FOSS front (1)

Disgruntled Goats (1635745) | about 5 years ago | (#29759643)

Except this is a story about lawyers who work for the OSI and the Linux Foundation. Not for SCO. Hardly organizations that are anti-FOSS.

Re:Zealots caught in Gnu/Stallmans trap (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759557)

The license was already proven in court numerous times in different countries. It can definately hold up.

It looks like you didn't RTFA.

What they're arguing, is that there might be corner cases (and these have not been in court) where the license isn't going to apply, or do what it is intended to do.

Copyright law (which copyright law? Well, let's say USA's...) plus all the loads of case law that have come from it, defines derivative work a certain way. Assuming you are a well-trained lawyer and have a shitload of money for research and an IQ and Judge-Psi scores of 300 each, you can look at, say, Project Beta and declare whether or not it is a derivative work of Project Alpha.

Let's say Project Alpha is GPL2 licensed.

If Project Beta is not a derivative work, then you don't need to bother to read GPL2 and worry about it's wording, so there's no problem here (for the Project Beta people -- let's get back to this in a little while).

If Project Beta is a derived work of GPL2-licensed Project Alpha, and you don't want to infringe copyright, then you need to follow the terms of GPL2. Now this is where it gets interesting: under the GPL2's definition of derived works -- not the same as copyright's -- Project Beta still might go either way. It might be a derived work under copyright law, but not a derived work under GPL2's defintions, which means that GPL2's terms that talk about derivative works, might not apply. So you might have something that is legally a derivative work, but GPL2 might not give you any distribution rights. Or it might give you distribution (GPL2 defininition) rights, but then legally you might find that you still don't have distribution (copyright definition) rights.

What has gone wrong, is that GPL2 is using copyright-related terms. The license doesn't change, but copyright changes all the time. This can make a big fucking mess and create ambiguities that no one can guess how courts will resolve.

Let's get back to the case where Project Beta is not (according to copyright law) a derived work of Project Alpha. But let's say that it is a derived work according to the definitions in the GPL, if only those definitions actually applied (which the don't). Project Alpha released their code under GPL2 because it does what they want. But now the GPL2 has let them down, because the people who built on their work, aren't having to comply. Maybe that's ok. From a public policy viewpoint, it is ok. But nevertheless, Project Alpha just got "tricked" by RMS into believing they were going to get what they want. (No, I don't really blame RMS.)

Re:Zealots caught in Gnu/Stallmans trap (1)

NoYob (1630681) | about 5 years ago | (#29759657)

IP laywers don't like copyleft for a reason.

Really? Why is that?

I don't see why they would. It's not like it prevents them from making any money and considering the legalese that the GPL is written in, it looks like a good thing for the IP lawyers - if I had a business that used the GPL in one way or another, I would have legal council. And this article is a prime example of why one would need legal council.

The law isn't like computer code where what's written down can only be interpreted one way. It's not as easy as black and white.

Re:Zealots caught in Gnu/Stallmans trap (4, Insightful)

Tetsujin (103070) | about 5 years ago | (#29759817)

These are lawyers talking about a possible flaw in a legal document.

It's like a coder talking about a bug in a C program. You can say to yourself "Oh, that coder's just causing trouble. There's no real bug" - but that doesn't change the reality that the compiled program will do just what the C instructions tell it to do - nothing more, nothing less. (Well, except that a legal document is interpreted more subjectively - if the document is not written very precisely then different readers may interpret it differently... This is why we live in a world of "legalese" - it sounds arcane and needlessly complicated to non-lawyers but that's just because non-lawyers haven't learned the terminology and practice of precisely phrasing a legal document and guarding against the various rules which may be in effect "by default"...)

We have to be realistic about this - there have been some GPL-related court cases in which the GPL was upheld, but there are also issues surrounding the license, as well as how those are likely to play out in actual court cases, which may be unresolved or unfavorable to people who value software freedom. If one hopes to fix the problem, then one has to be realistic about where and what the problem is. We have a certain set of goals when we license something under the GPL - if we want to actually achieve those goals, we have to do our best to make sure the GPL is legally sound.

The problem of what constitutes a derivative work is one that I've heard before... The problem is that what you or I might consider a GPL violation could in fact be a very small piece of GPL code pulled into a very large non-GPL project. It's difficult to call that a "derived work" of the GPL'ed project. It's using GPLed code but the project as a whole may very well not be "derived" in a real sense from that GPLed work. If the project is big and the bit of borrowed GPL code is small, courts may not take the offense seriously. I don't know if this is something that can be solved with a better license, or if the kind of protection the GPL demands is beyond the scope of copyright... Anyway, it seems like a problem. Even if we want to tell people "you can't reuse parts of this code in other projects unless those projects are GPLed, too", we may not be able to rely upon that demand being fully effective...

Finally, it's worth emphasizing that law is not a static thing. It's a set of agreements between people subject to interpretation and alteration by people. Saying "it works and it doesn't need to change" may not be realistic. If people are working to undermine the GPL, then other people must work to reinforce and improve the license, if it is to be viable in the future. Basically, if the GPL matters to you then you need to fight for it.

Not as bad as it sounds! (4, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 years ago | (#29758873)

The article essentially says that the terminology used needs more rigorous definition, and needs to match more closely with the existing legal terminology. For example, their use of "derivative work" might have legal connotations that don't completely follow from the terms of the licence. It's not like they've determined there's some fundimental legal principle which brings the whole thing crashing down, as you see in EULAs for example.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29758897)

Plus, the GPL3 has terms that not every developer is happy with. (eg see Linus' reservations)

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (1)

mbone (558574) | about 5 years ago | (#29759067)

The GPL3 has terms that I believe literally every developer I have ever talked to is not happy about. This is why we went with BSD.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about 5 years ago | (#29759175)

If you didn't like the GPL3, why wouldn't you go with GPL2? BSD has entirely different intentions. When deciding on a license, those two aren't in the same boat.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (4, Interesting)

dgatwood (11270) | about 5 years ago | (#29759251)

Because the GPLv2 is abandonware. If FSF wants to pick it up and spin a GPLv2.1 and an LGPLv2.1 off the GPLv2 branch, then maybe it would be a viable license. As it stands, as legal flaws are found in the license, your only choices are to move up to GPLv3 and accept all the baggage that comes with it, convince your developer community to all sign over copyright, or convince your developer community to all agree to a license change to a BSD or MIT license after the fact. Good luck with that.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759455)

Fork it and create your own.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (1)

Your.Master (1088569) | about 5 years ago | (#29759641)

My understanding is that you lose the legal backward-compatibility of licenses with "GPLv2 or higher" by forking the GPL unless you are the FSF and therefore have the power to make an official fork which is officially "higher".

There's a bit of irony there, where the FSF is breaking backward compatibility and nobody has a good recourse to pick up where it left off.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (5, Funny)

Sloppy (14984) | about 5 years ago | (#29759671)

Because the GPLv2 is abandonware. If FSF wants to pick it up and spin a GPLv2.1 and an LGPLv2.1 off the GPLv2 branch, then maybe it would be a viable license.

If only they had released GPLv2 under GPLv2, then you could fork it yourself. But now you're stuck with a proprietary free software license that you can't maintain, except by crawling on your hands and knees to FSF, hoping that they see sufficient market for free software licenses to stay in the license development and maintenance business.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (4, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | about 5 years ago | (#29759859)

As it stands, as legal flaws are found in the license, your only choices are...

Or live with it. The problem they bring up is that "derivative work" is not well defined. So worst case scenario, some edge cases that may or may not be ruled "derivative works" may or may not be bound by the license.

So what? Without some real examples of what might be problematic it's hard to tell how important these issues are. And chances are some of these issues have been dealt with already (see the GPL linking exception).

mbone is a BSD troll (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759257)

nothing more, nothing less.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (4, Funny)

Omnifarious (11933) | about 5 years ago | (#29759273)

Well, it doesn't have any terms in it that I'm not happy about.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (3, Interesting)

BrokenHalo (565198) | about 5 years ago | (#29759765)

In the past, I never really cared too much about the details of open-source licences, but with every decision being driven now by lawyers, I can no longer ignore them. The main problem with the GPL, as I understand it, is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand. The individual clauses are completely unambiguous, but once you have over a certain number they seem to have a habit of cross-infecting, so they become a bean-feast for litigators.

So we tend to be left with a situation where if we want to make any money out of our software, we have to write or clone a commercial agreement. Whereas if we actually want to offer a truly open piece of work, a BSD licence has the advantage of being unambiguous, easily comprehensible and short.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759807)

That's because you don't know how to code.

People still don't understand GPL vs. BSD (3, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 5 years ago | (#29759579)

You went with BSD because you were willing to make a no-strings-attached gift of your software to everyone. Had you not been willing to do that, you would have found a license that did acceptably what you had wanted from GPL2.

For many of us, sharing-with-rules is more attractive than gift. This is especially true for business, because sharing-with-rules admits the potential for dual licensing. This is one of the few ways to carry out Open Source business that actually works.

GPL vs. BSD is essentially a matter of business (or non-business) strategy. You pick the rules that work for you, and then you pick a license.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759729)

what project are you using? I'm asking because I want to use your code and not contribute back.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759843)

Feel free. If you were making any modifications that we cared about, you'd be contributing them to us anyways.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (4, Interesting)

Just Some Guy (3352) | about 5 years ago | (#29759295)

It's not like they've determined there's some fundimental legal principle which brings the whole thing crashing down, as you see in EULAs for example.

Right. Which strikes me as interesting that they'd suggest "upgrading" from a distribution license (GPLv2) to a EULA (AGPLv3). Remember, if you have an in-house branch of an AGPLv3 package, and you let a customer SSH in to run it, then you have to grant them full rights to your changes (even though you haven't distributed it). I dig RMS and I love the GPL, but I hate that derivative abomination.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (5, Insightful)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | about 5 years ago | (#29759845)

Why shouldn't they get the source code to a program they are using, even if it is over SSH? Isn't that the whole point of the Open source and the GPL. Software authors granting the same rights they enjoy to their users? When did having the program you're using running on your own computer become a prerequisite for obtaining GPL rights?

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759303)

And what fundamental legal principle brings EULAs down?

There are many lawyers and judges who would be surprised to learn of such a principle.

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 years ago | (#29759509)

Often EULAs are legally unenforcable because the restrictions they attempt to create are superceded by statute. That's not to say that it's true of all EULAs, and all bets are off in a corporate environment (where the customer-protection statute doesn't hold so much and there's more honest-to-god actual licencing involved) but they're often not worth the paper they're printed on, from a consumer's perspective. By analogy one might wonder if the GPL is rendered impotent by some existing IP law, but fortunately the article does not conclude so.

Think of it as a security patch (4, Interesting)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 5 years ago | (#29759517)

GPL2 is not about to become invalid. But consider all of the changes we have gone through since GPL2 came out. Back then, the most complicated input device that people were likely to have in their homes was a touch-tone phone. Music came from phonograph records and cassette tape. The "@" sign was a little-used oddity on the typewriter keyboard for most people. Home computers were more the exception than the rule, and their CPUs used 16-bit addresses.

With the advent of consumer digital media we got a ton of law, both legislative and case law. Garbage legislation like ECPA and then DMCA, and a great increase in software patenting. All of that law essentially blind-sided the GPL, which had to cope with it but was not written with knowledge of it.

So, a license upgrade to deal with all of this is like installing a security patch on your operating system. It's just a sensible thing to do.

Bruce

Re:Not as bad as it sounds! (0, Redundant)

bonch (38532) | about 5 years ago | (#29759631)

What confuses me is that the GPL is a copyright license, yet Slashdot is usually anti-copyright. If the GPL "assures copyright over of the software," as the FSF websites states, why isn't Slashdot opposed to it?

BSD rules (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29758875)

Should have used BSD rather than the Goatse [goatse.fr] public license.

Re:BSD rules (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | about 5 years ago | (#29759297)

What, so you can legally copy source code because your lazy ass isn't inteligent to code for itself? Luser...

Re:BSD rules (1)

Disgruntled Goats (1635745) | about 5 years ago | (#29759391)

What, so you can legally copy source code because your lazy ass isn't inteligent to code for itself?

Most people find that mindlessly reimplementing everything isn't a good idea not being lazy. Secondly, how does the GPL not let you legally copy source code?

Re:BSD rules (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | about 5 years ago | (#29759529)

I was reffering to people who work at companies that write proprietary software and their lazy ass developpers. They cannot copy GPL code because they don't want to use the GPL. People get hostile when their job is jeopardy because of a free of charge and rivaling GLP project.

Re:BSD rules (1)

Disgruntled Goats (1635745) | about 5 years ago | (#29759593)

I was reffering to people who work at companies that write proprietary software and their lazy ass developpers.

Ahh yes because it's only proprietary software companies that have lazy developers. LOL.

They cannot copy GPL code because they don't want to use the GPL. People get hostile when their job is jeopardy because of a free of charge and rivaling GLP project.

So then all the companies that do copy GPL code aren't lazy, right?

Re:BSD rules (1)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | about 5 years ago | (#29759799)

I was reffering to people who work at companies that write proprietary software and their lazy ass developpers.

Darn you, Apple! Why are you too lazy to write 100% of your operating system! Real coders write a new operating system every day, and those OSes have no need to ever be compatible in any way.

Kids these days. Next you'll be talking about "functions" and "object oriented" and other such hippy nonsense. Why, I've gotten by for years by copying and pasting all of that code where ever it goes. Now get off my lawn!

Doubts raised about the length of Rob Malda's Dick (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29758879)

Two prominent sexual therapists have warned that CmrdTaco's penis is microscopic. They claim that a real man's penis is more suited to the realities of sexually pleasuring his wife.

Re:Doubts raised about the length of Rob Malda's D (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29758939)

and 12 Microsoft employees have been assigned to post on /. using their wit and intelligence. If they can find it.

Re:Doubts raised about the length of Rob Malda's D (0, Offtopic)

V!NCENT (1105021) | about 5 years ago | (#29759327)

Two Slahdot users are dissing your cowardance is public and got viewed and laughed at by aprox. 1 million readers due to you lack of social influence.

Related (3, Funny)

schmidt349 (690948) | about 5 years ago | (#29758887)

In other news, Darl McBride was seen dancing a little jig at the corner of 42nd and Broadway in New York City.

A source close to the situation informed Slashdot that he was in fact accepting small change to offset his legal fees for the next phase of his litigation against Linux users.

Re:Related (1)

Epsillon (608775) | about 5 years ago | (#29759867)

OK, funny, but that isn't the issue here. Whatever the license says, the code is still legal, distribution within the terms is still legal and Darl and company are still toerags. What could happen is that a piece of legalese in the license may suddenly turn out to translate into layman as "you may print this code out, roll it up and beat baby seals to death with it," and the copyright holder may not have wanted that many baby seals on his or her conscience.

The GPL (v2) has been around long enough that I would have imagined those kinks had been spotted but, as with other licenses, the law behind them may change. What "derivative work" means today may not be the same thing it means tomorrow. Quite why they're singling out the GPLv2 for this when all licenses are subject to the same foundations of sand I'm not really sure. Maybe they think it will promote discussion - the fools!

Conspiracy? (5, Interesting)

dijjnn (227302) | about 5 years ago | (#29758915)

So, I actually count myself among the few that like Richard Stallman. I've met him, and he's a nice guy. But does anyone recall the furor over GPLv3 when it first came out, & some of the new provisions? This caused a lot of projects to stick with v2.

I'm wondering if this isn't just FUD to try to get people to switch to v3. Which is icky, but it did occur to me.

Re:Conspiracy? (4, Insightful)

Disgruntled Goats (1635745) | about 5 years ago | (#29758931)

I'm wondering if this isn't just FUD to try to get people to switch to v3. Which is icky, but it did occur to me.

What would either the OSI or the Linux Foundation gain from such a thing?

Re:Conspiracy? (1)

clintp (5169) | about 5 years ago | (#29759383)

The same thing that any vendor gets when everyone runs the "latest and greatest" product: uniformity, complicity, and control.

Re:Conspiracy? (1)

Disgruntled Goats (1635745) | about 5 years ago | (#29759503)

The OSI and the Linux Foundation aren't vendors.

Re:Conspiracy? (0, Troll)

V!NCENT (1105021) | about 5 years ago | (#29759399)

Microsoft can, because the software that is licensed by the GPLv3 can be upgraded to newer license version by everyone that whishes and so if Microsoft got hold of the FSF then it could render GPL software useless. The power over GPL software, starting with version number 3, just got decentralised.

Re:Conspiracy? (1)

Disgruntled Goats (1635745) | about 5 years ago | (#29759485)

What does Microsoft have to do with a story about lawyers from the OSI and the Linux Foundation saying the GPLv2 may have legal issues?

Re:Conspiracy? (0, Troll)

V!NCENT (1105021) | about 5 years ago | (#29759565)

I was just pointing out a problem with the GPLv3, because people are pointing out problems with the GPLv2 and the entire solution here seems to be upgrading, for which I am warning. I do that because I think Microsoft is indirectly responsible for trolling by submitting these articles to /. and other sites.

Re:Conspiracy? (1)

Disgruntled Goats (1635745) | about 5 years ago | (#29759605)

Except you seem to fail to realize that I or anyone can upgrade any project that has the "GPLv2 or any later version" in it's license clause all they want as well. This isn't something unique to the v3.

Re:Conspiracy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759575)

Nothing at all. If you look at the worthless posts this "VINCENT" character has been making, you'll see he's just a fanboy/zealot/shill.

Re:Conspiracy? (1)

nomadic (141991) | about 5 years ago | (#29759543)

What would either the OSI

Wow, those guys are still around? Are they still pretending they invented open source?

Re:Conspiracy? (4, Informative)

Timothy Brownawell (627747) | about 5 years ago | (#29759059)

I'm wondering if this isn't just FUD to try to get people to switch to v3. Which is icky, but it did occur to me.

I doubt it, the crappy language choice in v2 was one of the reasons for writing v3 in the first place (other reasons being that they wanted explicit anti-patent language, that Tivo had pissed off all the extremist nuts, and maybe a few others I don't recall offhand).

Re:Conspiracy? (4, Insightful)

bieber (998013) | about 5 years ago | (#29759177)

So your definition of "extremist nut," then, is someone who thinks they should actually be allowed to exercise the rights that the license is expressly designed to give them. I fail to see how there's anything extremist about requiring that you not distribute software under the license if the hardware directly prevents the users from using the software in a manner that the license explicitly says they can...

Re:Conspiracy? (1)

dgatwood (11270) | about 5 years ago | (#29759301)

That's silly. The hardware can't prevent the user from using the software. The user merely has to provide hardware without those restrictions. Nothing in TiVo prevents you from taking their GPLed kernel changes and applying them to a custom board that you design with similar chips or even a standard off-the-shelf PC with PCI cards that contain the relevant bits. The software is still every bit as useful even if you can't use it on a particular device. Boo hoo, my $30 router won't let me upgrade it with unsigned firmware. Buy a real router.

It definitely CAN prevent you using the software (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759715)

without the device to run the software, how do you "use" software?

You're just bitter because you can't take someone else's code and use it without paying.

Re:Conspiracy? (4, Interesting)

causality (777677) | about 5 years ago | (#29759525)

So your definition of "extremist nut," then, is someone who thinks they should actually be allowed to exercise the rights that the license is expressly designed to give them. I fail to see how there's anything extremist about requiring that you not distribute software under the license if the hardware directly prevents the users from using the software in a manner that the license explicitly says they can...

It wouldn't be the first time I have seen that definition of "extremist" or "nut" that means "a person who takes a reasonable, legally and morally justifiable action that you happen not to like." It seems to come from a line of thinking which states, "reasonable people cannot possibly disagree on something or take different positions on it; therefore, if you disagree with me, it can only be because something is wrong with you and it is now my job to label what that something is."

Now if someone said that punching random strangers in the face for no reason should be legal and acceptable behavior, I'd say that yes, there probably IS something wrong with them. But to draw such conclusions based on the choice of software license? For code that the author didn't have to write and had no obligation to share with us in the first place? Yeah, that's a bit much.

Besides, if you want to see an "extreme" license, read the average commercial EULA sometime. Wade through all of the legalese and look at the long list of prohibitions and restrictions. Consider whether this really benefits you as a customer and whether it was intended to. Then note that you generally don't get to review it until after you have purchased the commercial software. The freedoms that the GPL guarantees are a breath of fresh air by comparison. Maybe this is just my personal tastes, but I have always found "enjoy this, just don't restrict someone else's ability to enjoy it as you have" to be far more reasonable than "what you bought isn't really yours, and you will use it only in ways that we have decided to allow, which by the way are subject to change."

Re:Conspiracy? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759157)

If Richard Stallman wanted to help open source, he would resign from the FSF.

Re:Conspiracy? (5, Insightful)

Just Some Guy (3352) | about 5 years ago | (#29759373)

If Richard Stallman wanted to help open source, he would resign from the FSF.

RMS doesn't give a crap about open source. He advocates Free Software.

Re:Conspiracy? (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | about 5 years ago | (#29759421)

And why would that be?

Re:Conspiracy? (0, Troll)

DAldredge (2353) | about 5 years ago | (#29759245)

Nice people don't want to punish those they disagree with. "If programmers deserve to be rewarded for creating innovative programs, by the same token they deserve to be punished if they restrict the use of these programs." Richard Stallman

Re:Conspiracy? (1)

dgatwood (11270) | about 5 years ago | (#29759333)

You mean like the Affero GPL does? Ironic, no?

Re:Conspiracy? (4, Insightful)

CarpetShark (865376) | about 5 years ago | (#29759783)

So, I actually count myself among the few that like Richard Stallman.

I think/hope you mean among the non-vocal majority who actually like him :) Stallman has done a HELL OF A LOT for the IT industry, and ethical/free software in general. Lately there seems to be a vocal group out to generate hate towards him, but I like to think his record still more than negates their pitiful smear campaign.

That said...

I've met him, and he's a nice guy.

lol. We must have met different people. I like what Stallman's done, but trying to have a conversation with him was like trying to swap stories with the loudspeakers at a rock concert --- I mostly just felt like my ears were bleeding and I had to get away ;)

Cause and Effect (5, Insightful)

iamhigh (1252742) | about 5 years ago | (#29758925)

They claim GPLv3 and AGPLv3 are much better suited for the realities of modern open source software.

...

"At that time, open source was not something as broadly used as it is now."

Maybe the way it was written is why FOSS is where it's at? Might not be such a bad idea to keep it around?

Re:Cause and Effect (1)

sg_oneill (159032) | about 5 years ago | (#29759085)

Nah thats not the point. The GPL is the right licence, but it might have a few vunerabilities that could do with some patches. Thats where GPL3 comes in. I sorta reckon that it might be cool if the FSF put out a "definitions"document or whatever that could be included with the GPL2 to clarify the ambiguities that are worrying the law boffins however.

Re:Cause and Effect (5, Insightful)

Teckla (630646) | about 5 years ago | (#29759161)

Maybe the way it was written is why FOSS is where it's at? Might not be such a bad idea to keep it around?

Then again, maybe the GPL is [freebsd.org] not [python.org] responsible [apache.org] for great free software and open source software being written.

Don't get me wrong, I think developers should be allowed to pick their license of choice, including GPL. But there are plenty of examples of free software and open source software being highly successful and widely used that are not GPL'd.

The assumption that the GPL is responsible for the success of FOSS reminds me of a Simpsons episode where Homer is carrying a rock around that supposedly repels lions (or something). Lisa says, "That's ridiculous! What makes you think that repels lions?" and Homer replies, "You don't see any lions around, do you?"

Re:Cause and Effect (3, Insightful)

Crispy Critters (226798) | about 5 years ago | (#29759541)

And which of those is developed without gcc?

It is very hard to avoid relying on FSF software unless you stick with vanilla MS Windows or old-school proprietary UNIX.

Re:Cause and Effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759779)

one more very successful non-gcc project [latex-project.org] .

Of course it isn't responsible for open source (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759789)

It's responsible for FOSS.

And note:

BSD is lame: compared to GPL it's a backwater. Great OS comes from it, but it is an also-ran. Because the license is "give it away!". What company would do that?

Perl is released under GPL too at v5. And the AL 2 is GPL3 compatible, so no difference: you can merge code between them and the rights and responsibilities are equal, so not very different from GPL3.

Poor examples.

Re:Cause and Effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759185)

That's an interesting thought. I remember that Larry Wall once mentioned that he liked the intentionally vague license terms "under the same terms as Perl itself" that can be found on many CPAN modules, because it allows evolution.

Now Perl 5 is dual licensed under GPL and Artistic License version 1, and Perl 6 is AL 2.0.
Once Perl 6 is the generally accepted version of Perl, a whole bunch of CPAN modules implicitly change their licensing terms.

It sounds risky, but I don't think it's a bad thing: the authors explicitly decided to follow the communities' consensus on the current license.

Every license is ambiguous (1)

iamacat (583406) | about 5 years ago | (#29758953)

If you just take a GPL project, add a new UI skin and sell it in binary form, judge will make you release the source notwithstanding the license ambiguities. If what you are doing is not clearly a derivative work (like code inspired by reading a textbook) or you have a reasonable fair use case (like using the client part of client/server stack which is complex and not documented except for existence of the code itself), it's a good thing that the license will not be enforced.

Re:Every license is ambiguous (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 5 years ago | (#29759121)

If you just take a GPL project, add a new UI skin and sell it in binary form, judge will make you release the source notwithstanding the license ambiguities.

No, a judge will never do that. It might be part or whole of a settlement before or during trial, particularly since it's all the FSF ask for though they're not the copyright holder of all things GPL. The judge can only rule on copyright law, that means liabilities in cash and injunctions against further infringement. Companies just don't ever end up there because it's much better for them to settle.

Re:Every license is ambiguous (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | about 5 years ago | (#29759355)

"The judge can only rule on copyright law"

No.

Re:Every license is ambiguous (1)

iamacat (583406) | about 5 years ago | (#29759457)

Wouldn't any lawsuit be between a customer who bought software and the seller rather than between the seller and author? GPL only requires you to release the source to someone to whom the binary was distributed, not to the original author.

And in other news.... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29758961)

Hindsight is 20/20.

This argument can be made for most of what's written into law. Where's the news here??

Naturally this would be said by the OSI. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759011)

The plan was to create a proprietary-destroying license that spreads by itself and becomes more powerful the more it's used, but you couldn't do it all at once, because it would be too shocking a change to introduce. Hence, the GPL v2 was created as an interim step to soften people up, although RMS's goal was always v3. AGPLv3 was just plugging the gap he forgot. The plan hasn't been proceeding as fast as they hoped, so they seek to speed it up by spreading fear about v2.

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." - chiseled over the bearded guy's bed.

Re:Naturally this would be said by the OSI. (2, Insightful)

just_another_sean (919159) | about 5 years ago | (#29759133)

The plan hasn't been proceeding as fast as they hoped, so they seek to speed it up by spreading fear about v2.

Yes because I'm sure the OSI and the Linux Foundation are only concerned with what's best for the FSF.

Re:Naturally this would be said by the OSI. (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | about 5 years ago | (#29759375)

No, RMS just didn't anticipate the TIVO scenario.

Ideology? (3, Insightful)

DesScorp (410532) | about 5 years ago | (#29759071)

How much of this is about nudging Linus... pushing him, really... into applying GPL 3 to the Linux kernel?

Re:Ideology? (3, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | about 5 years ago | (#29759205)

That is a lost cause, even though I've heard some fancy legal theories on how they could relicense Linux without getting either approval or ripping out that code from those not actively approving. Even though they might possibly work in a few jurisdictions I doubt they work in all or even most countries of the world, it'd make Linux a copyright minefield.

Re:Ideology? (4, Insightful)

Epsillon (608775) | about 5 years ago | (#29759209)

Linus is probably one of the most pragmatic members of the open source movement, along with being a self-proclaimed bastard (you say that like it's a bad thing). Linus will only think about moving from GPLv2 if Linus thinks it's necessary or beneficial, not because some pen-pusher, pundit or journo tells him to.

To express GPLv2 ideology in GPLv3 framework (3, Informative)

tepples (727027) | about 5 years ago | (#29759239)

How much of this is about nudging Linus... pushing him, really... into applying GPL 3 to the Linux kernel?

That can't happen without a rewrite. Too much of Linux is composed of patches written by unreachable authors and whose copyrights haven't been assigned to Mr. Torvalds or the Linux Foundation.

And even then, Mr. Torvalds has stated that he prefers the spirit of GPLv2 [lkml.org] to that of GPLv3. I'm pretty sure that the spirit of GPLv2 can be expressed in the GPLv3 framework by adding a set of exceptions, much like the Classpath license and the LGPLv3 are sets of exceptions to GPLv3.

Re:Ideology? (1)

RichardJenkins (1362463) | about 5 years ago | (#29759365)

He doesn't have the legal right to do that, well not for the parts he didn't write anyway.

This is propaganda (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759079)

These lawyers have some kind of agenda and should be kept out of the press. The GPL has been applied in court (successfully) many times.

I assume the agenda is to promote the truly awful GPLv3 and spread FUD about the not-so-awful GPLv2 so people will feel forced to 'upgrade.'

"Derivative work" (2, Insightful)

l2718 (514756) | about 5 years ago | (#29759123)

TFA claims that the term "derivative work" as used in GPLv2 requires further definition in the GPL itself because courts haven't clarified it, but this is wrong. The authors of the GPLv2 (i.e. RMS) clearly intended it to cover as much as possible: any and all works following under the statutory definition. It's true that software copyright cases are rare so the lgegal system hasn't developed the idea completely -- but that's not the GPL's duty.

Re:"Derivative work" (3, Insightful)

ClosedSource (238333) | about 5 years ago | (#29759475)

The GPLv2 author's "intent" is irrelevant in court.

To the extent that a word has not been specifically defined within the license, its common legal meaning will prevail.

The reason is that the license is intended to inform the potential licensee of his rights and restrictions before he agrees to it. If the "intent" was not clearly stated in the license and courts allowed it to apply anyway, the licensee's rights would be violated since he did not know what he was agreeing to.

Re:"Derivative work" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759763)

its common legal meaning will prevail.

Why exactly is it that words have "legal" definitions? Aren't the dictionary definitions relevant enough here? We aren't speaking "legalese", it's English (in this instance), it already has standard definitions that are generally understood by most English speakers.

Re:"Derivative work" (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about 5 years ago | (#29759773)

The GPLv2 author's "intent" is irrelevant in court.

Since the OP you are responding to appeared to be saying that the GPLv2 author's intent was to have it cover everything the common legal meaning allowed, in essence you said "You're wrong, what you said is the way it works."

If language in GPLv3 is better (1)

Darth Sdlavrot (1614139) | about 5 years ago | (#29759141)

But you don't like the patent provision, why not strike the patent language and call it GPLv2.1

More Lawyerese. (1)

sir lox elroy (735636) | about 5 years ago | (#29759163)

Why can't people take responsibilities for themselves, do what is right in terms of copyright, and maybe then we wouldn't have lawyers nit picking us to death. Or as the old joke goes: "What is a thousand lawyers at the bottom of the sea?" Answer: "A good start."

Re:More Lawyerese. (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 5 years ago | (#29759573)

A good start? Sounds like environmental pollution.

real issue, but is GPLv3 the solution? (4, Interesting)

bcrowell (177657) | about 5 years ago | (#29759285)

This is a real issue. For instance, I wrote a physics textbook, which is open-source, and I wrote a bunch of ruby and latex code that helps to produce the pdf from the latex sources, automatically handling some things relating to placement of figures on the page that are awkward to do with plain latex. My book, including the ruby and latex code, is under CC-BY-SA. I got an email from a guy at MSU who was writing a textbook, and had already started using my code to handle the illustrations. He wanted to check whether it was okay under the license, since he didn't intend to release his own book under a CC license. Well, my answer ended up being that I really didn't know whether it was okay or not. It wasn't clear to me whether his work counted as a derived work. On the one hand, you could say that what he was using was simply some software I wrote, so his book isn't a derived work based on my software any more than a book written in MS Word is a derived work based on Word. On the other hand, there's really no perfect separation between the software and our books. When you write a book in latex, the latex code *is* a piece of software. My code generates various boilerplate in its output, some of which is text that is visible to the reader, so it's under my copyright and license. Of course I could have just told him that it wasn't an issue, and I wouldn't sue him, but I had intentionally chosen the strong copyleft because that's what I wanted. I suspect that a lawyer would tell him his work was actually not a derived work, but I also suspect that he (and his eventual publisher) wouldn't even want to get into that issue.

Although the issue is real, it seems goofy to me to suggest GPLv3 as the fix for the problem. First off, there are huge philosophical differences between v2 and v3. Also, there is so much GPL v2 code out there that you can't necessarily just relicense under GPL v3 without causing yourself hassles with license incompatibilities. I also don't quite understand how they think they can bypass the fact that various countries have various inconsistent and ambiguous definitions of a derived work. The only thing that forces anyone to accept the GPL license attached to a work is that copyright law doesn't allow them to do certain things without a license from the author. Those things include (1) copying and redistributing the work, and (2) creating and distributing derived works from it.

Re:real issue, but is GPLv3 the solution? (3, Informative)

nacturation (646836) | about 5 years ago | (#29759493)

As the copyright holder, you're free to release the code to this one individual under whatever terms you want. Just because you released it once under one set of conditions doesn't mean that you're bound to release it to the MSU guy under the same conditions. Being the creator, you're free to re-license anything you want. Assuming your code isn't mixed up with someone else's, just license the Ruby code as a separate work.

Re:real issue, but is GPLv3 the solution? (3, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 5 years ago | (#29759629)

For instance, I wrote a physics textbook, which is open-source

No you didn't. I didn't compose an open source song, and that guy over there didn't make open source blueberry jam.

Re:real issue, but is GPLv3 the solution? (3, Interesting)

Crispy Critters (226798) | about 5 years ago | (#29759889)

A different license is not the answer. Neither of you knew whether his book was a derivative work under copyright law. Your license can't redefine the terms of copyright law, so no change in the wording of the CC would reduce the confusion. This is the same problem with TFA. Like the GPL, the CC licenses are grants of rights to be added to those rights we already receive under copyright law. If they redefined terms, they would also potentially (attempt to) take away rights, which would make them very different beasts legally. It would completely change the legal landscape.

Missing the Point (4, Insightful)

vga_init (589198) | about 5 years ago | (#29759347)

The point of the GPL was that it was very simple and broad-sweeping. Naturally this does make it vulnerable to attack in the sense that the legal system might feel threatened by the massive impact of such a game-changing license; copyleft practically redefines IP law in a way that those in the legal institution (eg lawyers, judges, lawmakers, and the business interests that pay for them) don't acknowledge, understand, or otherwise feel comfortable with because they don't feel in control. All it takes is a mere technicality to disqualify the GPL from functioning at all, and the Free Software community is justifiably anxious about that, but the GPL has been successfully upheld in court time and time again, so I wouldn't worry.

At this point there should be no doubt of the legal soundness of any version of the GPL, but it all boils down to a matter of principle. If a society believes in Free Software, then the GPL's legal application is perfectly simple and valid. To those hostile to freedom in the society, then the application of the GPL becomes something artificially difficult/problematic.

USA is not the whole world! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759393)

Attention yankee blockheads!

Re:USA is not the whole world! (5, Insightful)

Epsillon (608775) | about 5 years ago | (#29759591)

Yet the US courts are where the majority of this issue will be argued. Even I, as a Rightpondian, can see the sense in that. Chill. Not everything is a calculated insult to your national sovereignty.

Distribute seems fine; derivative work, maybe not (1)

Wannabe Code Monkey (638617) | about 5 years ago | (#29759477)

From the article:

Some of the biggest concerns over using GPLv2 relate to the definitions of "derivative work" and "distribution," which Radcliffe says are used in GPLv2 "in a less than precise fashion."

And...

More recently penned licensing terms like GPLv3 and AGPLv3 avoid this kind of terminology, including interfering turns of phrase such as "to 'propagate' a work" or "to 'convey' a work."

I don't understand how 'propagate' and 'convey' are any better than 'distribute'. It would seem to me that 'distribute' is the better term.

"I think the critical thing to recognize in the differentiation between GPLv2, GPLv3, and AGPLv3 is that there was a very strong effort to purposefully distance ourselves from copyright laws," said Radcliffe. Copyright law is "not stable," he says, and it changes over time. Equally important is that copyright law varies from country to country.

Now this, I understand. If you borrow the phrase 'derivative work', which is defined by copyright laws, and then the definition of 'derivative work' is changed in the copyright laws, does that mean the definition in the GPLv2 has also changed? Or is the definition of the GPLv2's 'derivative work' the same as that defined by copyright laws at the time the GPLv2 was drafted? Or is it some third definition not in any way tied to the copyright law definition? If it's the second or third meaning, then you're probably better off using a different phrase altogether.

I could also see a slight advantage to tying the GPL's definition of 'derivative work' and other phrases to whatever the current copyright law says they are: As copyright laws get more restrictive, the force of the GPL gets stronger. If copyright laws ever relax, then so too does the GPL. As I see it, as long as copyright laws are sane, the need for the GPL lessens.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?