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The Biggest Legal Danger For Open Source?

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the peta's-penguin-division dept.

Open Source 161

itwbennett writes "Brian Proffitt is blogging about the undercurrent of legal issues troubling the open source world these days and offers up this question: Are patents or copyright a bigger threat to the open source community? Patents are the obvious choice, with inflicting fear being the 'obvious intention of those who have instigated the various legal troubles on open source practitioners.' But the issue of copyright and copyright assignments is no less troublesome, argues Proffitt. And copyright assignment can be confusingly Machievllian, even in open source land."

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Patents (5, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715748)

Because copyright can only cover a specific implementation but patents can now cover an idea in such a way that there is no alternative way to implement it. Not only that but all copyleft open source licenses actually rely on copyrights in order to make the mandates of the license enforceable.

Re:Patents (2)

SilverHatHacker (1381259) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715758)

That's it, end of discussion. No more comments are needed.

Re:Patents (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716162)

But Hitler demands further comment!

Re:Patents (3, Funny)

cmburns69 (169686) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717062)

I read that as:

But Hitler demands furher comment!

(it would have been a delightfully painful pun)

Re:Patents (4, Insightful)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716182)

end of discussion. No more comments are needed.

Not quite.

Malevolent organisations which don't respect community commons are the threat. Patents are just one of their tools.

Until those organisations are reigned in, they will continue inventing ways to diminish the value of projects which threaten their income.

Re:Patents (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35717126)

All I'm getting from this is that the biggest threat to Open Source projects is the Free Market.

Re:Patents (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35717176)

Naturally.

You're a Microsoft shill. You're paid to denigrate open source.

Re:Patents (2)

gerddie (173963) | more than 3 years ago | (#35718006)

Care to explain how patents make a "Free Market"? Oh you're an AC, nevermind ...

Re:Patents (1)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | more than 3 years ago | (#35718126)

I guess you don't live in one of the many countries that don't recognize software patents in the first place. Then again, I like having copyrights on software. It means that big companies can't steal a smaller company (or invididual)'s work and profit from it. Copyrights are also VERY different in that if you can show that you developed your software with no prior knowledge of someone else's software implementation, then you are in no way infringing on their copyright. Patents on the other hand can get you sued even if you had no idea that patent even existed.

Re:Patents (3, Insightful)

Firehed (942385) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715832)

Exactly - copyleft is simply a (rather oddly named) type of license for copyrighted material. If you want to go all the way with open source by relinquishing copyright and releasing it to the public domain, you're giving up all rights on setting terms on how your code should be used.

Copyrights are not bad things. Companies lobbying for infinite copyright length *cough*disney*cough* so that they can sit around and profit from decades-old content and not innovate or even produce new material are bad things. Never mind the whole cultural contribution aspect of copyright expiration.

At least patents expire - although in software years they might as well go on forever. That's my biggest beef with (non-obvious) software patents in particular - the length of a patent term does not correspond with the useful lifetime of the product or its industry.

Re:Patents (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715854)

Well, the LZW patent did expire just before GIF's became fairly outmoded so it IS possible for a patent to expire while the idea is still useful, it's just rare =)

Re:Patents (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715886)

Patents that are actually developed into something useful in their enforcement lifetime.. sure.. but there's plenty of patents that are simply uneconomical to implement so long as you have to include legal costs into the budget. When the patent expires the cheap operators are free to investigate how to make actual products from it.

Of course, for many industries the cheap operators are in China, and they don't tend to take much notice of patents either way. (god bless em).

Re:Patents (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715926)

GIF's are still relevant for animation.

Re:Patents (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716258)

GIFs are still overused for animation.

FTFY.

Re:Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716912)

Javascript and png's are much better.

Re:Patents (1)

Pentium100 (1240090) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717432)

So, which forum allows me to embed Javascript in my posts and then run it?

Re:Patents (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716034)

To be fair to Disney, although they do push for longer copyrights, they certainly haven't stopped creating new content, nor have they stopped contributing to culture. While, yes, they are profitting from decades old creations, by reselling the same movie in a new format ever 10 years, they probably are one of the more creative companies out there today.

Re:Patents (3, Interesting)

Master Moose (1243274) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716242)

nor have they stopped contributing to culture.

Me thinks you have never seen an episode of Hannah Montana.

Re:Patents (5, Funny)

nitehawk214 (222219) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716402)

nor have they stopped contributing to culture.

Me thinks you have never seen an episode of Hannah Montana.

Contributing to the demise, is still contributing.

Re:Patents (1)

Jaxoreth (208176) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717620)

To be fair to Disney, although they do push for longer copyrights, they certainly haven't stopped creating new content, nor have they stopped contributing to culture. While, yes, they are profitting from decades old creations, by reselling the same movie in a new format ever 10 years, they probably are one of the more creative companies out there today.

Case in point: The story following this one [slashdot.org] is about Tron: Legacy, a Disney film.

Re:Patents (1)

squizzar (1031726) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717656)

Many of their biggest successes as films (or at least the underlying ideas for them) are based on fairy tales and folk stories that are out of copyright. The hypocrisy of them fighting so that no work they 'create' can ever be used in the same way is astonishing.

Re:Patents (1, Interesting)

westlake (615356) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716406)

Companies lobbying for infinite copyright length *cough*disney*cough* so that they can sit around and profit from decades-old content and not innovate or even produce new material are bad things.

I wonder.

The Disney archives are essentially intact -

down to the fragile matte paintings on glass used in films like Bambi.

Amazon.com lists over 3,600 live action and animated titles distributed by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. Most are quite reasonably priced.

Print quality is uniformly excellent and restoration is not dependent on scratching and clawing out funds from a dozen foundation grants.

Preservation does not happen unless there is there is the will and the money to make it happen.

Re:Patents (1)

dryeo (100693) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717348)

Can't they just get a new copyright on the restored print? With a short copyright term this would motivate them to restore and rerelease. And their archives are theirs whether they are copyrighted or not as they are physical possessions.

Re:Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716818)

Sorry, but copyrights are bad things.

Can you give a coherent justification for copyright law, other than as a concession to the publishing industry to get your laws affecting them passed? (Because that's how it all got started...)

Re:Patents (1)

darkwing_bmf (178021) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717128)

Honestly, copyleft is just as bad as any other kind of copyright. You're basically ensuring other software writers can't make a profit on improving the program itself.

Here's how it should be done... and this can work without any kind of copyright protection whatsoever. You write a program and sell as many copies as people will buy. Keep the source code a trade secret. When sales drop and you no longer feel like supporting it you release the code base to the public domain. Someone else comes along and improves that and makes a better program, sells it without releasing source right away, makes money and then, once they feel they've gotten what they can out of it, releases *that* source to the public domain so the next person or group can take over. Right now, most commercial software firms and even individuals won't touch copyleft because there's no way to make money from the software itself if you give away the source that can be distributed freely (exceptions are support contracts, specialized hardware and single customer... but those are very narrow niche cases).

Re:Patents (1)

dryeo (100693) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717372)

Be OK if the source was actually released to the public domain but I'd guess that peoples pack-rat habits would kick in and they'd keep the source secret just in-case a use materializes.

Who the hell is Brian Proffitt? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35715876)

Who the fuck is Brian Proffitt? What are his credentials? Has he done anything of note?

Re:Who the hell is Brian Proffitt? (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715902)

Yes! His resume is here [slashdot.org] . Major career highlights include getting mentioned in Slashdot summaries, and getting mentioned in Slashdot summaries.

Re:Patents (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715934)

Patents do not cover "an idea". They cover a specific solution, which for software is a specific algorithm. Find a different algorithm to produce the same (or similar enough) results, and the patent isn't an issue. Yes, that's a problem when you want to exactly duplicate some function (like with a compression codec), but for the vast majority of applications, the algorithms used are well-known and not patented. Once in a great while, some brilliant algorithm will be discovered for doing something that isn't specialized, but in the vast majority of such cases, those algorithms come after years of research work and refinement. Why shouldn't the thinker have some control over their thoughts?

Copyright is indeed what protects open-source software, but the other details are where trouble lies. Contributors to open-source projects must declare that the copyright on their work belongs to the project. That means it can't be itself copied from somewhere else without license (including tutorials, sample code, etc.). If that assignment isn't made, then any change in the project's licensing requires the approval of all the submitters!

Re:Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716042)

Yes, that's how it should work. But it doesn't. And how come "for the vast majority of applications, the algorithms used are well-known and not patented"? That is surely going to change soon.

Re:Patents (1)

airfoobar (1853132) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716084)

Patents do not cover "an idea". They cover a specific solution, which for software is a specific algorithm.

Alas, only in theory. Broad or trivial patents are a real problem and a real danger. Software patents can cover anything from a GUI (see: Microsoft vs everyone using Android) to an "algorithm" to blink a cursor (see: Amiga).

Re:Patents (2)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717134)

Nah, the biggest threat to open source has always be FUD 'fear, uncertainty, doubt', also known as scary bullshit, spread by closed source proprietary software companies who have achieved data lock in, all looking to protect their inflated profit margins.

Open source sofftware has been around for a long time now, been tested under fire from M$ 'it's a cancer', 'terrorists use it', 'software hackers prefer it' (that was a big fail ie it was more secure), 'it is communist', 'it is like a virus infecting everything it touches','it is too hard to use','it costs to much'(TCO B$) and, of course patent and copyright B$ up the wazoo.

In fact this kind of FUD has been pretty rare with regard to open source for quite some time, some big software supply contracts must be up for renewal and they are hoping mass media will run with the latest ohh scary open source software caimpagn.

Re:Patents (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716154)

Contributors to open-source projects must declare that the copyright on their work belongs to the project. That means it can't be itself copied from somewhere else without license (including tutorials, sample code, etc.). If that assignment isn't made, then any change in the project's licensing requires the approval of all the submitters!

Must? Why? The alternative of "or the change in project's licensing must require the approval of all accepted submitters" seems fine with me. See, as a hypothetical submitter, I might dislike not being consulted would the licensing be changed. On the other side, being required to assign the copyright to the project just from the start is just a fair request: given that I know the condition from the start, I can decide whether or not I want to contribute.

In this regard, my point is: this is a non-story - I don't see how the land-scape of open-source is threatened by Canonical's request for copyright attribution: it is playing by a fair set of rules and Canonical will live-or-die by this rule - if too many contributors wouldn't like it, Shuttleworth would be facing sustaining the effort all by himself (by hiring developers).
In other words, since the "copyright assignment" doesn't make the Open Source less open than it is right now (the contributor still has the freedom to accept or reject it), just where is the threat?

Re:Patents (1)

angloquebecer (1821728) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716196)

Patents do not cover "an idea". They cover a specific solution, which for software is a specific algorithm.

Except we see increasingly generic software patents being approved all the time.

Find a different algorithm to produce the same (or similar enough) results, and the patent isn't an issue.

Except this isn't true in the real world. Patent lawsuits can be filed before any source code is subpoenaed. As long as the end product (read running binary) appears to infringe upon a patent, then the actual underlying algorithms don't mean anything.

Once in a great while, some brilliant algorithm will be discovered for doing something that isn't specialized, but in the vast majority of such cases, those algorithms come after years of research work and refinement. Why shouldn't the thinker have some control over their thoughts?

Because algorithms themselves are nothing more than math. Trade secrets and copyright on the original source code should be the only protection warranted on original algorithms.

Re:Patents (4, Informative)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716322)

Patents do not cover "an idea". They cover a specific solution, which for software is a specific algorithm

Reality doesn't mesh with your statement.

One-click, anyone?

Re:Patents (2)

eh2o (471262) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716392)

Find a different algorithm to produce the same (or similar enough) results, and the patent isn't an issue.

This is only true if the output product of an algorithm is itself not patentable (e.g. it is obvious, not novel, etc), in which case someone is just wasting time and money on the patent process anyways.

Otherwise, according to the doctrine of equivalence an alternative algorithm will still be infringing if it produces identical results. For example its not possible to patent "a compression algorithm" but if someone had a patent on an algorithm for producing a specific kind of compressed data structure (e.g. MP3), it would be infringing to use an alternative algorithm that produced identical (or substantially similar) output. That alternative algorithm might actually be useful and is in fact patentable, for example if it was faster, more reliable, etc., but the patent holder would still have to license the original algorithm first to practice the invention (as it is deemed an improvement over a prior art so it is dependent on that). A patent does not necessarily grant the right to practice the invention.

Note there may be significant differences in the interpretation of the doctrine of equivalents depending on jurisdiction (see Wikipedia).

Re:Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716478)

Why shouldn't the thinker have some control over their thoughts?

Why shouldn't the thinker have some control over your thoughts?

FTFY

Re:Patents (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717090)

"Contributors to open-source projects must declare that the copyright on their work belongs to the project. That means it can't be itself copied from somewhere else without license (including tutorials, sample code, etc.). If that assignment isn't made, then any change in the project's licensing requires the approval of all the submitters!"

Wait, you see this as a bug?

I see it as a feature. If I contribute to a project then I don't want some arbitrary group of people on a committee at a later point in time to be able to decide that it's in the project's best interests to close the source, or (for instance) switch GPL to MIT license, or whatever else, without my say so or removing my code.

Re:Patents (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35718074)

How I see it depends entirely on what hat I'm wearing at the time.

As a submitter myself, I see it as a boon. As a manager of a project, I see it as a headache. As an advocate of open-source software, I see it as yet more FUD I have to waste my time explaining to some company who's concerned about wasting resources without profit.

Re:Patents (1)

silanea (1241518) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717652)

Copyright is indeed what protects open-source software, but the other details are where trouble lies. Contributors to open-source projects must declare that the copyright on their work belongs to the project. That means it can't be itself copied from somewhere else without license (including tutorials, sample code, etc.). If that assignment isn't made, then any change in the project's licensing requires the approval of all the submitters!

You do realise that this is not a "problem" or a bug in the way copyleft is handled but an intended feature? People who contribute to a FOSS project do so under agreed-upon terms. If the terms change, the agreement has to be renewed.

Besides, many projects successfully went from GPLv2 to v3, OpenStreetMap is in the middle of a license change, Wikipedia is phasing out GFDL in favour of a CC license. It is doable, though it certainly adds complexity for large projects. But again: That is not a bug, it is a feature.

Re:Patents (1)

burnin1965 (535071) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716652)

In TFA he doesn't actually state what the risk is with copyrights but I assume the risk is that developers who contribute code to a project may be angered by the choice of licensing used by the project and will no longer contribute to the project. The only example provided in the article mentions some vagueness in the Ubuntu project licensing terms that suggest Canonical may license contributed resources under a license of their choice.

It doesn't seem like much of a risk, it's not as if Ubuntu is the only game in town for open source contributors.

The other issue, software patents, are a risk for all businesses whether they develop or just use closed source or open source software.

This article has FUD written over all of it (1)

hweimer (709734) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716972)

This article is so lopsided that given the long time free software licenses have been around, one must assert malicious intent instead of plain incompetence. Yeah, Canonical and even the FSF require copyright assignments that allow them to release the code under non-free licenses. And yes, even the FSF may turn rogue one day and work against the interests of the community (some claim the invariant sections of the GFDL are already a step in this direction). But why should I really care about this? I can always take the last release that was published under an acceptable license and fork it. The ability to fork is the only thing that really protects software freedom. Anything else is just secondary.

Patents. (1)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715772)

Copyrights are a big threat, but, ultimately unless the open source project is funded by some pretty well off corporate backers, patents represent a far greater threat. Copyright issues can be avoided with the proper licensing agreements. Whether it be the LGPL, GPLv2, v3, BSD, etc.

Patents on the other hand can stop a project cold.

I only have 2 things to say to Brian Proffitt (0)

syousef (465911) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715776)

Proffitt? Dude, SAY it don't SPRAY it.

And anyway you forgot. 1. and 2. Only when you get to 3. can you Proffitt!

Re:I only have 2 things to say to Brian Proffitt (4, Funny)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715804)

Here's a better joke using the same material.

Threats to open source:

1. Patents
2. Copyrights
3. ???
4. Proffitt!
5. Other bloggers.

Re:I only have 2 things to say to Brian Proffitt (1)

AstrumPreliator (708436) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715904)

I think I've been hanging around /. for far too long. The first thing I thought about doing after reading that guys last name was making a list like you did...

Re:I only have 2 things to say to Brian Proffitt (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716164)

I wasn't aiming for high brow humour. I don't think that was any funnier than what I said. And you completely missed out "say it don't spray it' (which was my original joke...the 1. 2. 3. thing was just tacked on). Frankly. I think your post got the rating more due to reverse sexism than anything else...*shrug*

Re:I only have 2 things to say to Brian Proffitt (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716248)

Who knows! Personally I'd like to think it was the base appeal to memes, and perhaps my half-hearted attempt at acting like I had some kind of textbook answer.

Re:I only have 2 things to say to Brian Proffitt (1, Funny)

Aldenissin (976329) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716346)

Mod her, I mean *cough* "parent" up! Oh, and by the way, will you marry me?

Re:I only have 2 things to say to Brian Proffitt (1)

CrashandDie (1114135) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717582)

So first you call her mommy, then ask her to marry you?

Kinky. I like it.

Brain Profit (1)

LongearedBat (1665481) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716500)

A clever pseodonym given the topic.

Its all about money (1)

Wolfling1 (1808594) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715780)

Open Source generally doesn't have a bankroll funding it. It has a community. Communities of like-minded individuals don't usually have the finances or the will to defend (or instigate) legal battles.

As they say, "You will never know who was really right. But you will know who had more money."

Re:Its all about money (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716190)

Open Source generally doesn't have a bankroll funding it. It has a community. Communities of like-minded individuals don't usually have the finances or the will to defend (or instigate) legal battles.
As they say, "You will never know who was really right. But you will know who had more money."

Don't bet on it: communities of like-minded individuals may have enough money to sustain a "legal arm" to protect them - e.g. EFF [eff.org]

EFF is a donor-funded nonprofit and depends on your support to continue successfully defending your digital rights. Litigation is particularly expensive; because two-thirds of our budget comes from individual donors, every contribution is critical to helping EFF fight — and win — more cases

Re:Its all about money (1)

M. Baranczak (726671) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716798)

If this was true, Open Source would have been dead years ago.

1: There are, in fact, large companies bankrolling it. Ever heard of IBM? RedHat? Novell? Canonical? Sun... OK, forget that last one.

2: See the other response, regarding the EFF. There are now a lot of individuals and businesses that depend on Open Source to make a living. If someone threatens that, there's a good chance they'll fight back.

Proffitt's oppinnionns...... (2)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715812)

......maayy suufferr frromm aa sttuuckk kkeyyboaardd annd//orr mminddssett.

Backwards. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35715814)

I would argue that open source is a danger to patents and copyright, not the other way around.

What about THE BSA who may count by system (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715826)

What about THE BSA who may count by system even when windows is not on them.

Re:What about THE BSA who may count by system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35715870)

lolwut?

Re:What about THE BSA who may count by system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716432)

lolidiot

Step 3 (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35715850)

1 - Make blog with ads
2 - Get slashdotted
3 - Proffitt

I just got off the toilet (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35715866)

I shit out an Obama.

Plop!

logo: prior art exists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35715916)

you can't trademark that green sorta-circle, because that is the pattern made by "magic eye" tubes from the 1930s with no grid voltage.

Renegging on the GPL (1, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#35715918)

Ok, patents are the biggest threat, but here's another.

Suppose Larry decides he's not happy with just changing the license on one of the dozens of open source products he's acquired and decides to actually start demanding payment for use of earlier versions of the software.. Does a copyright owner have the legal right to retract an issued license? Does that right apply to the GPL? This is a massive blindspot in copyright law.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35715970)

No. No. No it isn't.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (2)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716054)

A) Unless they are the sole copyright holders (not feasible for any decent scale project unless you ask for assignment of copyright like the FSF does) then they can't change the license.

B) It's generally understood that the GPL is non-revocable for that existing codebase and any forks but AFAIK that assumption has never been tested in court because sole rights holders are so rare for anything that matters.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716806)

It was also never tested in court that you are not a fuckheaded moron.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716064)

The answer is "no". The GPL was written to prevent this.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716080)

No it isn't a problem. See forks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fork_(software_development)

Re:Renegging on the GPL (2)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716318)

Suppose Larry decides

Larry who?

Suppose Larry decides he's not happy with just changing the license on one of the dozens of open source products he's acquired and decides to actually start demanding payment for use of earlier versions of the software.

Since me, as a licensee, acquired the rights under certain conditions (a set of mutual obligations between parts, obligations protected by the copyright laws [1]), the other part of the contract cannot unilaterally modify the contract in her/his benefit. Which, if happens, would creates another agreement between us.

[1] GPLv2 point 5: You are not required to accept this License, since you have not signed it. However, nothing else grants you permission to modify or distribute the Program or its derivative works. These actions are prohibited by law if you do not accept this License.

Does a copyright owner have the legal right to retract an issued license?

No, unless the original license specifies this is possible and the two parts (licensor/licensee) agree with it before engaging in the contract. E.g. a "variable mortgage rate" - yes, the rate can change in the future, but this is specifically stated in the loan contract before signing it.

Does that right apply to the GPL?

No, it doesn't, because this right does not exist!

Don't make a confusion with releasing a software under two or more different licenses though. If-and-only-if you have the full ownership of the copyrighted work, you are allowed to release the work under a non-GPL license as well. Potentially, you can stop releasing future versions under GPL, but you cannot change the licensing conditions of whatever release that was distributed under GPL.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716376)

RE: "Larry who?"

Larry Wall?

Re:Renegging on the GPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716396)

Larry Page.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (2)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716560)

Larry who?

Get off my lawn.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (2)

jbolden (176878) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716788)

Does a copyright owner have the legal right to retract an issued license?

First off you are going to get a lot of "no" below. That's not true, the actual answer is sort of. For example there is a notion of "fundamental breach" which would allow them to get rid of the license. For example if you were issued a license under the GPL and you proceded to not honor it by distributing a binary without source they could declare you in fundamental breach and revoke the entire license.

Alternately you could get software under the GPL and the author could declare "anticipatory repudiation" which requires you to take mitigating actions. For example if they came to believe their software was covered under a valid patent and they notify you of that, arguably you can't blindly redistribute under the GPL.

This is a massive blindspot in copyright law.

How so?

Re:Renegging on the GPL (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717564)

Well, seeing as you're the only serious reply, I guess we should have a conversation.

For normal (proprietary) licenses it's already been established that a copyright owner can revoke the license at any time simply by giving notice to the licensee. (Wood v Leadbitter).

They can legally do a bait and switch, handing out permissive licenses, waiting a few years, then revoking all the licenses and demanding payment from anyone who continues to copy or modify the software. This is established law in Australia (Computermate Products v Ozi-Soft), and the only law prohibiting it in the US is UCITA, which thankfully never much made it (as it has much worse effects, namely clickwrap licensing).

Ultimately it would take someone with deep pockets to do this.. and they'd have to be outright malicious towards Free Software (thus, Larry). They'd preferably want a product that was dual licensed in the first place, never really had much of a development community, and had a strict copyright assignment policy for contributors (the two tend to go hand in hand).. that way they can simply declare "the only license available for this software is now [the proprietary license]", and because there was no doubt that they are the sole copyright owner it would be sufficiently ambiguous whether or not they were referring to all versions of the software or just the future versions.

Their sales team would be instructed to inform customers that no, there is no GPL version of the software anymore, and yes, you do have to buy a license to install the software. At that point they're a proprietary software company and they will start treating their customers like proprietary software customers - that is, they'll start showing up at the doorstep to do software audits. That's when they start putting the hard word on customers to "upgrade" to the proprietary licensed software.. if the customers resist *on the grounds that they don't need to pay for old versions*, then the legal fangs come out and we find out if this whole GPL thing has been built on a foundation of sand.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717754)

For normal (proprietary) licenses it's already been established that a copyright owner can revoke the license at any time simply by giving notice to the licensee. (Wood v Leadbitter).

Your quotes are wildly misleading. A proprietary licence is a permission to enter land and may be express, implied or contractual. Like say, I can invite you into my home and if I ask you to leave you must leave. Implied permission is much the same, it ends the moment you end it.

Contractual obligations are different, they're binding agreements to both sides. You have no right to terminate a land lease just by saying it, that's breach of contract. I can take you to court, and one of the things I can do is demand fulfillment - that I'm can continue to use the land as per the contract. The GPL is a form of contract, you can't terminate my right to use the software. Since that fundamental assumption is wrong, the rest of your post makes no sense.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717968)

There's no consideration for a free software license.. therefore it isn't a contract.. in any court. Please, you really should talk to a lawyer sometime as getting your legal advice from the Free Software Foundation is a great way to be steered down the garden path (trust me, I've been misled for about a decade).

As for licenses that do have consideration, the copyright owner is still permitted to terminate them. If you suffer damages you can sue the copyright owner for those damages. That's how civil law works.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35717568)

For example if you were issued a license under the GPL and you proceded to not honor it by distributing a binary without source they could declare you in fundamental breach and revoke the entire license.

Considering that the GPL says so, that's not really retracting the license. That's using the part of the license that specifies that action.

Re:Renegging on the GPL (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717004)

I think it's one of those ispo-fatso things.. after the fact?

for-or-non (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716040)

OK, in light of this. If a company were to use Open-source software, would that make them a for-Proffitt or a non-Proffitt organization.... Now I'm really confused...

Re:for-or-non (1)

petteyg359 (1847514) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716146)

Four Anon Organizations For Non-Profit Organizations 'Fore Proffitt?

If you don't know the dude's name... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716056)

Perhaps you shouldn't reference Machiavelli [wikipedia.org] if you don't even know how to spell his name.

Re:If you don't know the dude's name... (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716256)

How to spell the guy's name isn't the important bit of information...

Re:If you don't know the dude's name... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35718088)

Right.....

By that logic getting the function/method name "almost right" in an API call is OK too?

If you're going to quote someone - getting their name right seems a small enough courtesy

... can be confusingly Machievllian... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716082)

Nice try, but I know who you really are... it's no use trying to disguise your name like that.

Thought you could fool us, huh? Well, tough luck!

Oh, Machiavelli... you're so... machiavellian!

The real biggest threat is (1)

Master Moose (1243274) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716180)

Lawyers and companies who compete by legislation over innovation

community elite involved in failing stock market (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716362)

not scary? just who owns/owes what will likely never be in with stuff that really matters, as most of the #s were made up in accordance with previously successful (& not so) fantasy subscription pyramid billionerror FUDgePacking 'business' (sell stock) 'plans'. threat? more like a continuing undefining of 'value'?

so fuddles could be wearing the fedora, tomorrow? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716654)

just #s. no good deed, unbridled greed.... never looked good on the penguin anyway?

kindergarten analogy (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35716466)

Imagine a bunch of small kids making sand castles on a beach.

Copyright abuse would be analogous for one kid to say, "I own this castle and I don't care if you guys helped build it. Get out of here and go make your own." That would be harsh, but the beach is pretty big, right? Besides, who wants to play with such an obnoxious kid anyway. Let him play with himself, and be more careful with whom you work with in the future.

Patent abuse would be like if one kid said, "You can't build a sand castle anywhere on the beach because I thought of doing that first." If he could enforce that, that would be bad news. Because another kid would have thought of bodysurfing first, another lying on a towel reading a book, another running parallel to the shore with a dog, etc. Pretty soon it would be hard to figure out what you're allowed to do, legally. Patent abuse is much more intrusive and restrictive.

*DRM* and patents, not copyright and patents (5, Insightful)

ciaran_o_riordan (662132) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716608)

DRM and signed hardware is the biggest legal threat beside patents.

If we liberate the PC, only to find that people are doing their computing on handheld computers (such as phones) and games consoles which won't boot if the software's not approved, then we'll be shafted.

The answer is (as it always was) that we have to educate people about what sovereignty/liberty/independence means for computing, and that having freedom is valuable. That takes years (ask RMS), but it's the only way to win successive battles. There's no point in defeating some current problem if the same attack will succeed later under a different guise.

After DRM and patents, the big problem is centralised social networking, where people do their computing on remote servers which they have no control over.

Re:*DRM* and patents, not copyright and patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35717170)

People use Facebook because their friends use Facebook. There's an enormous amount of peer pressure to use it - if RMS denounced it as evil, people would just say "oh the fat hairy man is just jealous nobody friended him" and put it out of their minds. People don't understand what a website IS, let alone how they can be harmful.

Copyrights are not as big a deal as patents. (3, Insightful)

bmo (77928) | more than 3 years ago | (#35716650)

With copyrights, you can write around the infringing part et voila, you no longer infringe. You can do this a lot easier than writing around a patented algorithm which may lay at the core of your software.

SCO brought up many busted hypotheses why Linux infringed on SCO IP, up to and including "negative knowledge" - i.e., "don't do it that way". None of it stuck. "Similarity" is not enough. Header files are not enough. Some evidence of word-for-word copying in the source code must be there for the accusation of copyright infringement to stick at all. And even then, it's proportional to the amount of infringement. And *even then* courts want you to hammer it out privately before ever going to trial. Courts frown upon plaintiffs going to court without letting the defendant try to mitigate what might be wrong.

And to this day, they have still not shown any copied code from Unix in Linux, on their path to their "utter destruction" as Darl McBride so succinctly put it. And Linux has come out only stronger because of the ordeal while SCO's entire market cap is 2.1 million on the pink sheets.

http://www.smallcapdirectory.com/Listing.aspx?CompanyId=21987&Mode=Profile [smallcapdirectory.com]

Apple sued Microsoft over UI for "copyright" and lost - just because it looks similar doesn't mean it's the *same*.

Patents are more difficult to defend against. Because these days, patents cover ideas and general mock-ups (design patents) with no regard for prior art or obviousness in the eyes of someone skilled in the art. That last bit has especially been removed from the "obviousness" test. It seems like patent examiners lowered the bar to "Dumb and Dumberer" for obviousness.

--
BMO

Value of SCO (1)

Michael Woodhams (112247) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717104)

Someone/some people believe SCO is worth $2.1M? Wow. It might have been, when they declared bankruptcy, but they've spent rather more than that on the bankruptcy since then*, and if I recall correctly are trying to sell off everything they have left which might be of value for $0.6M, but are in legal difficulties because Novell says the sale (of licenses from Novell) can't go through without their approval.

* No, this doesn't make any sense to me either.

(Note: everything I know about SCO I got by reading Groklaw.)

Re:Value of SCO (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717336)

2 million for a market cap is a pittance.

The market cap is the share price times the number of outstanding shares. The share price is just over 3 cents.

And if you buy anything on the pink sheets, your official name is "Bag Holder."

As for knowing all there is to know about SCO from Groklaw, there are other places on the net to get information. One of them is the SCOX.PQ group on Investor Village (formerly of the Yahoo board), who PJ always steers people away from because she's paranoid. She has a particular dislike for one of our members, because he bought some shares (Al Petrofsky) just so he could participate in the quarterly conference calls, and raise hell about the expense reports, 10Ks and 8Ks. He bought 100 shares when it dropped below 3 bux, I believe. For shits and giggles and to have a printed and framed stock certificate.

Half of the group are lawyers and retired lawyers, and the other half are computer professionals and random geeks like me. Some of us post informative stuff on Groklaw as anonymous. I'm anonymous there but I always sign as the same I do here. For instance someone (I forget who it was) exposed the Skyline Cowboy as Darl himself.

More like Skyline Hat if you ask me, all hat and no cattle.

Darl used to make appearances on IV, and his wife (alias=Snowshoes) would show up to defend him, and Jeff Merkey of "lol, my kids smashed this hard disk, not me" fame.

I hope PJ writes her book. It should be interesting.

--
BMO

None of the above (1)

Aighearach (97333) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717002)

There is no significant threat to open source, legal or otherwise.

Know that we are.

Know that we are well.

Fear not, for as we are we will be.

biggest problem? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35717088)

The biggest legal problem open source has is fear mongering from the likes of "old industry" rags like IT World and corporate executives. This puts a financial burden on everyone that shouldn't have to be there.

Failing that, there's always copyright being all but null and void in its applicability to the common man. I suspect corporations would like that; they're pushing for it as it stands today.

test case (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717218)

Make something that violates a software patent, then file a declaratory judgment action seeking to determine the invalidity of the patent--after you've built up a big war chest. Come at the opponent (MS, IBM, Oracle, etc.) Straight On.

Why not? The corporations always avoid the showdown out of self-interest.

Eh? (1)

naich (781425) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717566)

What a strange article. Lots of words, but no clear meaning comes through to me. He seems to be taking one sentence from a Canonical license and saying that it proves there's lots of problems for open source because copyrights fwibble a gwabbit. Well, if he's making up stuff I might as well start making up stuff too. Copyrights are what keep open source open - i.e. you can't ignore the license and stop other people using the open source code you distribute without breaking copyright law yourself.

I really don't see the problem. Contributed code where copyright is assigned to the company can be distributed under a license specified by the company it was contributed to. How is this different from any other company that takes in code? Code that is already under the GPL stays under the GPL - you can't hijack it for your own license, thanks to the copyright laws. If Canonical start being bastards and distributing copyright-assigned contributed code under a non-free license then people will stop contributing. The stuff they have already distributed under a free license remains free forever and they can't revoke it.

Copyright (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 3 years ago | (#35717638)

Because software patents are not legal where I live (you insensitive clod!) and because the last time I read the French legislation, I got this strange feeling that a source code is not a copyrightable entity in France.

We don't need IP (1)

jprupp (697660) | more than 3 years ago | (#35718038)

IP is hampering innovation by promoting laziness among IP owners. It creates a government-enforced monopoly on certain ideas, so companies do some R&D, find one idea, and stop doing R&D to profit from the only single idea that they came up with.

Maximization of profit stem from innovation rate, not government enforcement of ideas and information scarcity. It's the fucking dark ages elitism. Old stuff is new again.

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