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GPL'd Code Finds New Home

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the whodunnit dept.

News 202

A few days ago, we were contacted by one of the developers of Everybuddy, a "universal" instant messenger client for Linux. It seems that they were scoping out the competition, and found a Windows-only program offered by a company called DSF Internet. Many users of Everybuddy had asked for a Windows version of the software, but none of the Everybuddy developers were very familiar with the Windows platform, and so a port had never been completed. This program, MessengerA2Z, seemed to offer all the functionality of Everybuddy for Windows machines. Probably because it was based on Everybuddy's GPL'd code.

The proof was in the pudding, so to speak. Or at least, the proof was in downloading and installing the Windows version, then running the strings command against their compiled binary. Lo and behold, some of the strings of text included such gems as "Visit the Everybuddy website at". Now how did that get in there?

(You could go a step further and dissassemble the Windows executable, examining the flow of their code and comparing it to the Everybuddy code. But it seems to me that the reference to Everybuddy is sufficiently damning already.)

Someone at DSF Internet took a shortcut to developing their own interoperable instant messenger client, and ported the Everybuddy code instead of starting from scratch. This isn't a bad thing - it's the whole purpose of open source, duh - but since the code was licensed under the GPL, a price was demanded in return: the Windows source code should be made available. It wasn't, of course.

Both Slashdot and the developer contacted this company, which is based in New Delhi, India. They initially denied that there was any GPL'd code in their product, but when presented with the evidence, the story changed, and it now seems that they're going to take some action. The final outcome isn't known - perhaps they'll publish the Windows code, perhaps they'll rewrite the whole thing from scratch, perhaps they'll just edit out the Everybuddy references and recompile. <shrug>

This situation seemed to be one tailor-made for the GPL. Code existed for one platform, there was the desire but not the ability to port it to another, and someone else saw the same opportunity and the usefulness of the code base, and had the ability to port the code. In theory, this should have been a win-win: the company in India gets a fast-track to development, and the open source project gets a Windows port of their code. But there isn't much of an enforcement mechanism to make everyone play fair.

Are the developers of Everybuddy likely to file a suit in India for violations of their license agreement? My guess is, no. Protest march outside their offices? Brick through the window? Hire some guys named Guido, errr, Rajanav, to go and break some kneecaps? No, and no, and no. The only real enforcement mechanism is a sort of peer pressure or the threat of public exposure, and this may or may not be sufficiently persuasive.

Incidents like this are only going to increase. There's at least a few possible responses:

  • Just ignore it. The objective is to get the code out there, that's working, and generally enough people will obey the rules that the GPL will be effective in its goals.
  • Spaz out over it. Scour the web looking for possible GPL-infringers and mailbomb them into submission.
  • Send email to slashdot. Preferably misspelled email with unique grammatical qualities.
  • Send email to Richard Stallman. Don't use pine to send it.
  • CowboyNeal.

Seriously, this is an open question which needs to have some thought put into it. I can imagine some possibilities - perhaps a sort of "GPL Insurance", where GPL'd projects can pay into a pot of money to be used for sending legal nasty-grams and other enforcement. But I'm not sure that that's really the right course of action. Fundamentally, enforcing the GPL would be an extraordinarily difficult task - it's very difficult to detect abuses in the first place, and then you face national borders and other obstacles. Perhaps it is better to not worry about it too much, to save the collective energy of the community for more important purposes, and to simply realize that there will be abuses.

Update: 01/02 01:02 PM by michael : About five minutes before this story went live, I heard back from Ben Rigas of Everybuddy that DSF Internet is going to do the Right Thing and post the source code to their messenger program. This is excellent news, and hopefully will result in a robust cross-platform instant messenger program. However, I think the point I made above still stands: there will be cases where persuasion doesn't work, and the community should have a plan for dealing with those (even if the plan is "do nothing").

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We need to... (1)

bluelip (123578) | more than 13 years ago | (#536924)

run 'strings' on Microsoft's latest products.

The GPL isnt' perfect (1)

11thangel (103409) | more than 13 years ago | (#536925)

My friends intro to law class had the project of finding "exploits" in the GPL. It's hard to prove that there was a violation unless you get one of the developers to sqeal =)

More news (3)

Syberghost (10557) | more than 13 years ago | (#536926)

Since then, they've taken the download down, and put up a message about "enhancements".

I wonder what kind of enhancements; the inclusion of source code, or the removal of distinguishing marks...


Jabber- (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#536927)

doesn't Jabber do the same thing as Everybuddy on Windows?


Russ Nelson (33911) | more than 13 years ago | (#536928)

You have almost no recourse if you have not registered the copyright on your software. It only costs a few bucks, and you have to disclose the first fifteen and last fifteen pages of your source code like that's any big deal. Once you have a registered copyright, you can sue the bastards for treble actual damages PLUS statutory damages.
p.s. been there, done that.

Oh how noble (4)

graniteMonkey (87619) | more than 13 years ago | (#536929)

Caught red-handed, and now they're ready to cooperate. The ultimate noble gesture, sorta. The fact remains that these people(or someone in the company) tried to rip-off open source. What kind of punishment is it to let them get off with doing what they should have done in the first place?

I mean, really. Suppose the punishment for stealing was being forced to return the stolen goods, end of story, no ostricizing, no apology. Where's the accountability? Where's the programmer or manager who did this crawling around on his hands and knees with "Traitor" written all over his forehead? Where's the remorse? I don't want to see blood, but I do want the name of the responsible party made known to the community, maybe even for blacklisting at open-source shops.

party? (2)

Lord Omlette (124579) | more than 13 years ago | (#536930)

"About five minutes before this story went live, I heard back from Ben Rigas of Everybuddy that DSF Internet is going to do the Right Thing and post the source code to their messenger program. This is excellent news, and hopefully will result in a robust cross-platform instant messenger program."

Absolutely fabulous! Do we get to party? Is there some sort of theme music that could convey the happiness? No offense, but Jabber is several years from being usable (will check out Jabber for BeOS when I go on vacation next week)... TiK r0xx0rz, but whoever designed the UI needs a spanking. A high quality non-AOL messaging client can only be a Good Thing.
Lord Omlette
ICQ# 77863057

I propose a simple alternative solution: (1)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 13 years ago | (#536931)

Email the developers of the GPL'd app, and the developers of the closed source app that is ripping off the GPL'd code, about the violation.

If you're the GPL code developer whose stuff was ripped off in a closed source app: sue the infringer. (If financially possible).

I have just 1 question:
What is the penalty for violating the GPL?
63,000 bugs in the code, 63,000 bugs,
ya get 1 whacked with a service pack,

There's at least a few possible responses: (5)

Mtgman (195502) | more than 13 years ago | (#536932)

Slashdotters: CowboyNeal! CowboyNeal! CowboyNeal!

DSF Internet: No, please! No more!

Slashdotters: We will say CowboyNeal to you again if you do not appease us.

DSF Internet: You are most gracious oh Slashdotters. What must we do?

Slashdotters: You must release the source for your instant messager or re-write your own without any GPLed code.

DSF Internet: Oh yes, gracious Slashdotters. It shall be done.

Slashdotters: And then you must take down the largest corporation in the world. With.....A HERRING!!!!


enforcement disadvantage (2)

q000921 (235076) | more than 13 years ago | (#536933)

Open source really is at a terrible disadvantage compared to proprietary code when it comes to copyright and patents.

If companies take open source software and incorporate it into their products in violation of the license, that's quite difficult to detect. Even if it is detected, it takes a lot of legal muscle to actually prove (which involves getting the company to let someone look at their source code).

On the other hand, any claim of copyright or patent infringement can be easily supported by examining the source code of open source systems. In fact, since open source code is often indexed by search engines, just searching the web for a good combination of keywords can give companies quick hits on potentially infringing systems.

Of course, in theory, open source code should not be able to violate the copyright of proprietary source code: if it isn't published, it shouldn't be copyrightable, and if it's protected by trade secrets, it's the companny's problem to protect it. But I doubt that's going to work in practice. And it still leaves open source open to patent infringement claims.

Maybe it's time for the law to recognize and encourage free, open source software and create specific protections for it.

Actually, no (2)

Russ Nelson (33911) | more than 13 years ago | (#536934)

Actually, it was quite easy to prove a violation. The CEO basically admitted that they'd stolen the code (although he was just *full* of justifications). Could have gotten thousands of dollars if I'd known what I know now. Also helps to know a copyright lawyer, hehe.

Not just 'Everybuddy'... authors of all libs used. (4)

nneul (8033) | more than 13 years ago | (#536935)

Not just the authors of EveryBuddy should be ticked off, but the authors and contributors to every GPL/LGPL library USED by EveryBuddy. i.e. libyahoo, libfaim, etc.

Bricks through the window may not be the way... (2)

tommyk (31639) | more than 13 years ago | (#536936)

...but organized protests might. I know email-campaigns can be less than effective, but in the crush of modern software design, companies large and small spend a lot of time defending themselves against potential "problems" which might affect both their customers and investors.

Just the potential stink of a lawsuit will make many of these shops, large and small, come crawling back to the table. Like the public humiliation sentences of the eighteenth century, we have our modern versions of the pillory. Put up a web site with blatant violators of standards, code rip-off artists and...

Oh, right. /.

Regardless, isn't it fair play to rip them off in return? Put up their port, for free, under your name. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Put up the reason you did it too. That will bring them to your door, for good or ill. At least next time they'll be careful about ripping off code.

Seriously, if all you do is try to ignore them, you will be as successful as King Arthur was against the French in the Holy Grail movie. It just doesn't work. Call them out, it's the only way to deal with sneaks and bullies, believe me. Next time, win or lose, chances are you will not be bothered by them again. Probably the worst that will happen is a lot of shoving and a bloody nose.

Re:Jabber- (2)

garcia (6573) | more than 13 years ago | (#536937)

exactly the problem. the developers should collaberate and work together and not try to make a competeing project. Why make two programs that do exactly the same thing?


Black Parrot (19622) | more than 13 years ago | (#536938)

> Once you have a registered copyright, you can sue the bastards for treble actual damages PLUS statutory damages.

One wonders how the courts would calculate triple damages for the bootlegging of something you're already giving away for free.


GPL vs. BSD (1)

Single GNU Theory (8597) | more than 13 years ago | (#536939)

The company should only have stolen BSD licensed code if they were't planning on making the source available. Sheesh.

How many other companies are doing the same thing?


deXela (226837) | more than 13 years ago | (#536940)

Just a question, how do you register your copyright in India? Russia?

The FSF often deals with GPL violations (1)

kzin (3595) | more than 13 years ago | (#536941)

The FSF have much experience dealing with GPL
violations. I don't know if they can assist if they
dont have the copyright on the software, but if
you transfer them the copyright even after the violation
has occured they are still legally able to file a suit, provided that the code was under the GPL at the time of the violation.

DISCLAIMER: IANAL. In fact, I'm probably wrong.


perlyking (198166) | more than 13 years ago | (#536942)

Sorry I know jack about this but I always though you automatically own the copyright to anything you author, or does this vary from country to country.
Of course India is not a country that greatly respects copyright.

Re:enforcement disadvantage (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 13 years ago | (#536943)

> If companies take open source software and incorporate it into their products in violation of the license, that's quite difficult to detect. ... On the other hand, any claim of copyright or patent infringement can be easily supported by examining the source code of open source systems.

Worse, suppose they steal your GPL'd code, leave it in their application for a year or two, and then send you a Cease & Desist letter about the code you "stole".


Re:Oh how noble (2)

MikeFM (12491) | more than 13 years ago | (#536944)

Who cares about revenge or remorse as long as you get the desired outcome? We don't want to scare companies away from using GPL'd code, we only want to make them return their changes. Now if they do it again we bust their kneecaps and take crowbars to their car windows.. :)

Be firm and litigate. (1)

maddboyy (32850) | more than 13 years ago | (#536945)

I know that everyone hates lawyers; however, commercial entities will not respect the GPL unless there are consequences. Just look at how hard it was to get companies to respect "closed" patents and "closed" copyrights. Yes, we want everyone to use GPL code, but some companies will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into compliance with everything using GPL'd code means.


elvum (9344) | more than 13 years ago | (#536946)

but only if you live in the USA - the UK (at least) has no such concept...

why? (2)

kaisyain (15013) | more than 13 years ago | (#536947)

What would registering get you except to possibly make it slightly easier to prove your case in court?

Do you submit a separate copyright application for every version? Every CVS nightly build?

Even if you haven't registered the copyright you still have a copyright and can sue just fine; I've known people who have done it.

Put a binary key in your code??? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#536948)

You could put a key in your code. For example, in a critical piece, put some integer constants that would be unique to what you are trying to do. Then write a program to search for that. If you were copied, you could find those keys and have a smoking gun (or smoking NSA_KEY).


magic (19621) | more than 13 years ago | (#536949)

Since 1976, anything created in the United States is automatically copyrighted to the author, regardless of registration. -m

not quite (2)

VValdo (10446) | more than 13 years ago | (#536950)

I believe everybuddy supports multiple IM systems at the client level (ie, it connects to multiple services) whereas Jabber works at the server level. That is, you connect ONCE to the jabber server, and the Jabber service in turn connects to the different IM services (via "transports")

A subtle difference, but the idea is that by keeping everything at the server end, you don't have to update the clients every time an IM service changes its protocol.

There are other differences, of course (jabber uses XML to encode messages, etc) but just wanted to note there were some design differences.

Law or geography? (2)

marnanel (98063) | more than 13 years ago | (#536951)

Are the developers of Everybuddy likely
to file a suit in India for violations of
their license agreement?

Would it have been hard to go after them just because this company's based outside the West? The same problem's happened before [] , except it was a Chinese company that time; Bruce Perens commented at the time:

Not that I am holding forth any hope about suing in China, but suing a Chinese company that does business in other nations is certainly possible.
(comment #77-- I can't link to it :( )

On quite a separate point, the idea of a "GPL insurance" reminds me of RMS's idea [] for a "software tax", which would fund the development of free software... perhaps, in the end, it would need to be used both for attack and for defence.

Independant (2)

SubtleNuance (184325) | more than 13 years ago | (#536952)

ending legal nasty-grams

Dont we all rage against Big Co. everytime they pull something like that - micheal; what are you thinking? Im not sure what should be done - but thats not it.

Berne convention (2)

kaisyain (15013) | more than 13 years ago | (#536953)

AFAIK, if you have a copyright in any signatory of the Berne convention on intellectual property then you have a copyright in all other signatories. I don't know who exactly is and isn't a signatory, but I get the impression it's most countries. Whether the copyright is actually enforced is another story....

Re:Oh how noble (2)

the Man in Black (102634) | more than 13 years ago | (#536954)

You have to give them some credit...they were caught red-handed, sure. But they could have just as easily told Everybuddy and the Slashdot community-at-large to go fuck our collective selves.

Let's just look at this as a 'close call', then sit down and figure out how to deal with this in the future. If the GPL isn't legally enforceable, there really isn't any point to it.

--Just Another Pimp A$$ Perl Hacker

I like this method... (1)

supabeast! (84658) | more than 13 years ago | (#536955)

Nothing like bringing stuff to light on /.. People fear the dreaded /. effect enough, but they fear us all calling, emailing, etc. even more.

No one will ever be sued for violating the GPL (2)

Webmonger (24302) | more than 13 years ago | (#536956)

IANAL, but I doubt anyone will ever be sued for "violating the GPL". Instead, people who violate the GPL will be sued for copyright infringement. The defendant will then have to argue
1) that the GPL is valid but flawed ("yes, I'm bound by the GPL, but I found this loophole")
2) code released under GPL is actually public domain, despite prominent copyright notices.


Tim C (15259) | more than 13 years ago | (#536957)

In the UK, anything that you create that is capable of being copyrighted, is automatically copyrighted. There is no need to register it.

On the other hand, my brother (who writes a little), was once advised to mail himself a copy of anything he writes, by recorded delivery, and leave it sealed in the envelope. That way, he has at least some proof that the document existed at a given point in time (the day it was posted). Maybe something similar could be done for disks/printouts of source...



And the rest? (2)

deXela (226837) | more than 13 years ago | (#536958)

Can someone run the strings command on the other software provided by these nice folks? They have a lot of modules to their portal system, if we know they are using gpl'ed code in one module, what about the others?

Violation? (1)

Jetifi (188285) | more than 13 years ago | (#536959)

Disclaimer: IANAL etc. In fact, IAALocal User

In Windows98, the bog-standard CD Player which comes in "Multimedia Accessories" allows you to choose your CDROM drive: The drop-down list contains "\Device\CdRom0", "\Device\CdRom1" etc.

Or (more likely) I'm An Idiot.

"Why make two programs that do exactly the same?" (2)

marnanel (98063) | more than 13 years ago | (#536960)

  1. Competition is often a Good Thing. Look at the KDE/Gnome [] split.
  2. One of them is free software [] , the other isn't (or, at least, wasn't). Note that this was originally a cause of the KDE/Gnome split.
  3. They might do the same thing in different ways. Consider:
    • ease of use for novices vs. speed of use for experts
    • looking or working more like like this, that or the other existing client
    • eye candy [] vs. uncluttered
    • more features vs. more speed and less disk space
  4. And if they were both GPL [] d, they could borrow code from one another anyway-- theoretically, at least.

Re:I propose a simple alternative solution: (1) (87560) | more than 13 years ago | (#536961)

The penalty for violating the terms of the GPL are specified in the GPL. Specifically you are prohibited from ever distributing any GPL'd software in the future.

Historically that has been sufficiently motivating to get companies to comply with the terms of the GPL without the need for a court order.

This is the first example.. what could be next? (1)

LordOfYourPants (145342) | more than 13 years ago | (#536962)

First this program.. what next? PySol stolen? Someone should look into Lemmings.. maybe they stole the source from Pingus! Pingus3D is out now.. we'll just wait and see if Lemmings3D comes out, then we'll nab them using a combinations of strings, strace, and my Sega Genesis' Blast Processing unit.

bravenet messenger (1)

doug13 (25087) | more than 13 years ago | (#536963)

A one stop shop for (1) AOL IM (2) Yahoo IM and (3) ICQ exists for windows called <a href=" hp">Bravenet Messenger</a>.

It's still in windoze beta. One of the kooler features shows Bravenet Messenger users who are browsing the same web page as you are. (current bravenet community for /. is ~ 5-10 users; lets see if this number improves as a result of this post).

The Process Comes Full Circle. (2)

istartedi (132515) | more than 13 years ago | (#536964)

Remember when warez was cool? The FSF has always been an apologist for warezing. They come oh so close to advocating piracy on their website, without actually crossing over that fine line of advocating breaking the law.

When IP is a burden to the left, they are willing to circumvent it via warez. When anti-IP is a burden to the right, they ware willing to circumvent it via GPL violation.

These types of incidents may or may not accelerate if the economy heads into a recession. On one hand, socialism is one of the answers people grope for when the economy heads south. Socialism tends to level the playing field. Thus, the more people below the economic mean, the greater mass appeal of socialism. In a bad economy, you might imagine that the GPL would fare better.

On the other hand, software is not rice or heating oil. The only people that really need software are people in the IT industry. Socialism's tendency to regress all players to the mean is actually bad news for these guys, because they were on top before. They were willing to bear the cost of socialism when they were flying high, but when times are tight they are going to look for ways to cut costs, and releasing code is a cost.

IANAEconomist, but this is all very interesting. I guess I'm somewhat of an "armchair economist". Another way to view the GPL is as a price ceiling of zero (the bit about selling free software trumpted by Free Software adovocates is utter bollix to an economist). Now, what would happen if the government set a price ceiling of zero on wheat? You can bet your sweet bippy there would be plenty of guys with trucks on the corner going psst--, hey buddy, wanna buy some? Same thing goes here. If the legitimate channel won't put out, the black market will.

Re:This is the first example.. what could be next? (1)

MrP- (45616) | more than 13 years ago | (#536965)

Umm, I had Lemming3D back in like 1994

Well and good, but... (5)

Christopher B. Brown (1267) | more than 13 years ago | (#536966)

Registering the software with the appropriate office will lead to being able to demand triple "damages;" the problem is that of determining precisely what that amount should be.

On the one hand, the original software is being offered "free of charge," which means that one could assume that "damages" are $0.

On the other hand, the GPL is an interesting license in that it does not necessarily prevent the authors of software from simultaneously licensing under some other arrangement.

How about this for an entertaining scenario:

  • Software is licensed under the GPL;
  • If you want to use some other licensing arrangement, you can contact the authors to make an arrangement;
  • There is a default offer that if you do not offer the software explicitly under the GPL, and do not wish to contact the authors, you are free to deploy the software, At A Price.

    That price (heh, heh!) being $50,000 USD payable to each author for the source license, plus $5,000 USD payable to each author for deployment of each binary copy of the software.

Thus, if the gentle folk in New Delhi (having been there recently, it is really just the "newer" part of Delhi :-)), in not making arrangements, they would start by oweing $50,000, trebled to $150K, plus a not inconsiderable sum based on the number of copies of the software sold :-).

The "each author" part would need to be more clearly nailed down; it would mean that the company making the mistake of "pirating" the Linux kernel would owe payments to (at recent count of /usr/src/linux/CREDITS) 293 people, thus making the penalties owing not too distant from $1B, and giving those 293 people a tidy sum of money :-).

Re:Actually, no (1)

Peter Dyck (201979) | more than 13 years ago | (#536967)

Why do you think GPL would be laughed out of court?


Enry (630) | more than 13 years ago | (#536968)

That's correct, but registering your copyright gives you a better legal advantage, since a third party (the US govt) has proof that you created it.

clarification (1)

maddogsparky (202296) | more than 13 years ago | (#536969)

So you're saying that if company X uses GPL'ed code without releasing the source, they won't be able to legally stop people from freely copying that company X sofware.

If that's the case, if someone can prove M$ uses GPL code in their products, anyone can legally copy it for free (regardless of what the EULA says). Of course if this is the case, the GPL will have a thorough test in the legal system.

The Perfect Solution (1)

pythorlh (236755) | more than 13 years ago | (#536970)

Don't sue 'em....Slashdot 'em!

What about market pressures? (3)

mjh (57755) | more than 13 years ago | (#536971)

I am entirely for enforcement of the GPL. And I think that what this company did (if true) is reprehensible.

But what about the possibility that another course be taken which simply puts market pressure against the company instead of legal pressure? What I'm thinking is that the reason that this company had an oppurtunity is that the market was ready for everybuddy to run under winders but no one was doing it.

I've seen ports of a few GTK+ based programs, most notably nessus. Someone has ported GTK+ to winders, and that with cygwin apparently made the winders port of nessus quite easy. I would think it would also make a winders port of everybuddy equally easy because all of the basic stuff is there.

If that happened, then everybuddy running natively on winders would always be one step ahead of this theiving company's product. All the enhancements of an entire league of open source programs would be able to make everybuddy better and contain more features, and this company's product would always be trying to catch up with those features. Wouldn't it be better punishment to let the market ignore all their efforts? Or at the very least to make it so that whatever work they did is better spent by giving the work back to the open source project?

I don't have a clue about how easy it would be to port everybuddy to winders. But, doesn't this event necessitate it's being done? And if so, then would that fix the problem? And if so, is this a general course of action that could be taken to alleviate problems with GPL enforcement?

(Please remember before flaming and moderating me into oblivion that these are questions. If I knew the answers, I wouldn't have asked.)

Re:Berne convention (4)

marnanel (98063) | more than 13 years ago | (#536972)

There's a lot of information on the subject in the Copyright FAQ [] that's floating around. What you said seems to tally with this: in most countries, including the UK and the US, you have copyright in programs simply by creating them. BUT there are legal advantages in the US in registering your copyright.


You can read the full text of the Berne Convention [] , if you like.

Contact the FSF (2)

Chops (168851) | more than 13 years ago | (#536973)

This is one of the things the FSF [] is good for. They have lawyers and such, and they have a history of contacting companies infringing on GPLed code and fixing the problem without making it into a public brouhaha.

It may be, for example, that the company (particularly if its Indian developers' grasp of English doesn't extend to legalese) doesn't properly understand the difference between GPLed code and public domain code. In the case that the company doesn't want to cooperate, the subsequent wrangling will go better if the FSF still has the "We'll go public with this" bargaining chip on their side.


tchuladdiass (174342) | more than 13 years ago | (#536974)

Simple. You give your code away under the terms of the GPL. It is also possible to give a seperate (independent) license to specific parties if they don't want do be bound by the GPL (assuming you own the copyright to all the code in your GPL program). Usually, this involves money transfer. (i.e., if you wanted to use a part of my GPL'd code in your proprietary project, and not make your whole project GPL'd, you can pay me money for a seperate non-GPL'd license).

So, triple damages would be three times what you would have charged for that alternative license.

Having read my choices in the matter... (1)

m0nkeyb0y (80581) | more than 13 years ago | (#536975)

...I'm going with "CowboyNeal" on this one.

In the source? (1)

SnapShot (171582) | more than 13 years ago | (#536976)

By definition the original GPL code is available in source. As was obvious from the inital post, one of the possible responses from the company (other than posting their own source or simply ignoring the complaint) was to simply remove any strings and, presumably, any magic numbers or integer "fingerprints".

I'm not saying this is the right or honorable way of using GPL code (I believe the exact opposite), but "hiding" an identifier in openly viewable source is not exactly a fool-proof method of protecting your source code.

I can see it now (2)

MalaclypseJr (134881) | more than 13 years ago | (#536977)

I can see now what would happen if we took the "CowboyNeal" route:

Slashdot_user: *crackle* Unit leader, we are surveying the suspect app.
Unit_leader: Roger that, keep me informed.
Slashdot_user (a few minutes later): Uh oh. We have confirmation; GPL violation at 9:00. Repeat, we have confirmed GPL access violation.
Unit_leader: Shit. I had hoped it wouldn't come to this. All right. Switch to plan Taco, that's tango alpha charlie omega.
Slashdot_user: Switching to plan Taco. Now deploying the trolls. God rest the souls of those poor bastards for ever thinking they could defy the GPL.


tchuladdiass (174342) | more than 13 years ago | (#536978)

This is known as a "Post Office Patent", but it won't stand up in court. The reason is, you could mail yourself an un-sealed empty envelope, then at some later date, put someone elses work in it, seal it, then clame that as proof you initiated the work first.

As to the original topic of why to register your copyrights... when it comes to court, if you don't have a registered copyright, the burden of proof is in you, whereas a registerd copyright puts the burden of proof on the other party.

Re:There's at least a few possible responses: (2)

Cycon (11899) | more than 13 years ago | (#536979)

Slashdotters: And then you must take down the largest corporation in the world. With.....A HERRING!!!!

But WAIT! Isn't that what penguins eat? Herring? And isn't taking down the largest corporation in the world at least one of the goals of many Linux developers out there?

It's all so clear to me now...


Re:Oh how noble (1)

tchuladdiass (174342) | more than 13 years ago | (#536980)

This may even have been a situation where management wasn't aware of any violation, it could have been one of the programmers taking a "short-cut" by "borrowing" some code from the GPL'd program without informing his boss. I'm sure this happens all the time, seeing how many programmers I've run accross who are less than competent, they may resort to this in order to make their boss think they are being productive.


gorilla (36491) | more than 13 years ago | (#536981)

Sorry, this method is useless, as it has no proof at all that the document existed at time of posting. You see, there is nothing which proves the envelope was sealed when it was posted.

ZDNet India (1)

_marshall (71584) | more than 13 years ago | (#536983)

ZDNet India also has a story regarding all-in-one IMers.. and MessengerA2Z is listed.

The download for the file is listed near the middle of the page (for the lazy people: click here [] :)


[Stolen?] Other Services & Products.... (1)

metacosm (45796) | more than 13 years ago | (#536984)

I have a very serious concern that would explain why this company is being so helpful now. Is it possible that the reason the company is rushing to get us off their back is so that we do not look at there dozens of OTHER products? Look at their product list @ and you notice that all the products they sell, parallel pieces of open-source software available under the GPL writen by other people. I am willing to bet that if they steal one product, they have stolen others. Lets start checking out their services and making sure they are not 'a little too' much like our open source products. Also, this company should not be given a slap on the wrist, they should be made an example of.

Possibly an individual to blame (2)

rf600r (236081) | more than 13 years ago | (#536985)

Maybe it went something like this, and the company really was ignorant.

Company: Write us a messenging program, oh wise coder, and we shall grant thee a bag of cash.

Coder: Tis a daunting task, requiring many brain cells and a case of Penguin Mints. Fret not, Company, for thy will be done.

[Coder steals GPL code, changes some stuff, and waits. 1 week later, Coder returns looking bloodied and beat.]

Coder: Dear Company, twas a fearsome and gruelling campaign. I toiled night and day. Bedsores nave grown on by buttocks. But, fear not! For I present to thee....the Program! While your bag of cash is not nearly enough to cover my pain and suffering, I am a most generous and loyal Programmer and will accept it, nonetheless.

Company: Oh programmer, you are wise and god-like! You have invented glorious and unique code! We adore and fear you! Have two bags of money.

Or, maybe not...

Releasing code could be punishment (1)

eth1 (94901) | more than 13 years ago | (#536986)

If you consider that the normal practice for a software company is to make money by selling what they write, GPLing their code could put a large dent in their revenues. Even if they rewrite it from scratch, they have to pay their developers for the time it takes to do it. The main thing is not letting them get away with something like "ok, we'll fix it, but we'll keep selling this until we do"

Yet another call for responsible journalism (5)

Mr. McGibby (41471) | more than 13 years ago | (#536987)

It would be nice if the update on this article was displayed along with the headline instead of buried at the bottom of the article. Sounds to me like this company wasn't being slimy, just incompetent and/or unaware. Here's how I see what happened:

1. DSF is contacted by Zealous Open Source Rep.
2. DSF manager does initial ass-covering by stating, "Of course we don't use other peoples code!" He says this because that's probably what he believes and has been told.
3. Zealous Open Source Rep. sees plot to overthrow the Open Source movement and provides DSF Manager with evidence of his company's wrongdoing.
4. DSF Manager actually goes to the basement and asks DSF developper if this is true.
5. DSF Developper hems and haws and finally admits that he was lazy and used GPLed code for something that was supposed to be developped internally.
6. DSF Manager fires DSF Developper.
7. DSF Manager admits to world that the code was copied and takes down the code.
8. DSF Manager gets ass chewed out by DSF CEO for nearly getting the company into a legal mess.

Folks, 99% of these kind of violations are not due to intentional slimyness, just incompetence and lack of knowledge. No right minded company would even run the risk of getting sued over this kind of thing. Even one in India.

Re:Oh how noble (2)

HappyHead (11389) | more than 13 years ago | (#536988)

I mean, really. Suppose the punishment for stealing was being forced to return the stolen goods, end of story, no ostricizing, no apology.

Not quite. Since they'd be posting the source to the windows version of it, they've just become contributors to the project, and their work is included with it. It's more like someone stealing a car, fixing and/or replacing a few broken/non functional/missing parts, and THEN being forced to give it back, upgrades and all.

Personally, I'd rather see the added source material being made available than someone being punished for what may have been simple ignorance or incompetance.

They legally have no choice in the matter. (4)

dangermouse (2242) | more than 13 years ago | (#536989)

The GPL is quite clear on this. They released binaries, and thus are legally bound to release the source to anyone who asks for it, up to (I believe) two years later. Simply pulling the binaries was never a legal option.

Just a clarification, as the Slashdot story indicated that would be an option.

A very interesting argument (2)

donutello (88309) | more than 13 years ago | (#536990)

I don't agree with everything you said but I wish I had moderator points to mod you up.

The obvious rebuttal, of course, is that the FSF is forced to play under laws which they don't believe should exist. They believe in all code being free, including theirs. The IP-enforcement part of the GPL exists only because they live in a world where the laws don't agree with their beliefs in software being fundamentally free.

That being said, I think it would be very interesting to see the GPL actually going to court. Is the GPL a legally enforcable agreement? If so, what kinds of damages can you claim on a product that you don't make any money off giving away? Is the GPL just an agreement which people honor "on their honor" to not look bad and because of their principles or is it more than that?

GPL (1)

AlgUSF (238240) | more than 13 years ago | (#536991)

We should really test out the GPL in court. There is this new show where famous lawyers argue cases for people in front of a judge, it is called Power Of Attorney. I saw Geoffrey Fieger (Jack Kevorkian's attorney, Jenny Jones Murder Trial attorney) argue a case over $1000 dispute. I'm sure he would love to defend the GPL... :-)

Re:Oh how noble (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#536992)

If the GPL isn't legally enforceable, there really isn't any point to it.

More like the will to enforce it.

As this post points out: / t=58&Idle=0&Sort=0&Order=Descend&Page=5&Session= []

I recently got a virign webplayer ( It runs Linux as it's operating system.
2.2 Webplayer Software License. Subject to the provisions of this Agreement, we grant to you a limited, non-exclusive, personal, non-transferable license to use and display the Webplayer Software in object code form only, solely as part of and as necessary to use the Webplayer and the Virginconnect Services. Except for the license granted to you above, we (or our licensors) retain all right, title and interest, including all intellectual property rights, in and to the Webplayer Software. You may not attempt(or authorize any attempt) to defeat, obstruct or block any or all of the Webplayer Software functionality, or to decompile, reverse engineer or disassemble the Webplayer or the Webplayer Software.

I guess when you have big lawyers (Virgin) and no will to enforce the GPL (unless it's someone you feel you can bully) GPL violations will go unanswered. Oh, and be sure to only report the 'victories', while patting yourselfs on the back about how wonderful the GPL is. I'm sure this story will be filled with hype about how great the GPL is, and how powerful the 'rights' of the GPL are. Yet, a clear violation - the Virgin Webplayer - and no action.

Breaking GPL.. (1)

KlausBYTE (267616) | more than 13 years ago | (#536993)

And this kind of thing may be happenning all around the world, including USA, but the companies were more cautelous and ran a sed "s/GPLPROGRAM/NEWNAME/g" on the source code and usings other methods of obscuring the code. Just check the LinuxMagic VPN Firewall [] that is released but without any source code (and even binaries to download), you just have one option to get the (bin) files: buying it. What's the possibility of a organization that had access to all source code (the company that gives patent, maybe?) and compare with others software to check for any copyright infrigiments? I think that Microsoft is using GPL NTFS and SMB code! :)

Re:A very interesting argument (2)

istartedi (132515) | more than 13 years ago | (#536994)

And the obvious rebuttal-rebuttal is that the FSF is attempting to subvert the capitalist system. Upon explanation of the GPL to certain individuals on the right, their moral mandate to violate it is just as strong as the FSF's moral mandate to promote it!

For the time being, wheneve I mention GPL to certain Republicans I know, their reaction is mostly one of incomprehension (like most people, you first have to explain what "source code" is, and by the time you finish with that, the conversation has turned elsewhere). Because it is shrounded in the mystique of technology, the GPL has evaded much scrutiny from mainstream politicians. When the veil is lifted, we find nothing more than the same old left vs. right debates.

Even easier.... (1)

bkocik (17609) | more than 13 years ago | (#536995)

In the literary world, there's what's known as a "poor man's copyright", where you take a copy of your manuscript and mail it to yourself through certified/registered mail (so it gets a date and lots of cool official-looking USPS stamps on it) and then DON'T open it. That way if it comes up in court, you can present your unopened, dated manuscript and prove that you had it at such-and-such date.

Maybe you could do this with a printout of your source code, or a floppy disk or CD-ROM for the same effect.


but... let the punishment fit the crime. (1)

Zinho (17895) | more than 13 years ago | (#536996)

Somehow I can't imagine a judge dropping a $1B fine on someone over this. Wouldn't you have to convince him (the judge) that this would be an equitable and just punishment? In any case, the last thing I'd want would be a fine imposed for GPL violation; I can just imagine some large software producer or another deciding that it's more cost effective to rip off GPL code and pay the fine than to code it themselves. Then where would we be?

It seems to me that the GPL imposes its own punishment on the offender: release the code to the entire project. An ambitious judge might require that the offending company also release unrelated code under the GPL as part of the punishment. Let the punishment fit the crime...


jnik (1733) | more than 13 years ago | (#536997)

Better way, which is a little more expensive: Go to a notary public and have them stamp, sign, and date the document and a statement saying that you presented said document to them on that date. It's usually about $20 and can save a lot of trouble. All you're doing is verifying that the document existed in your hands at that time, not proving authorship or originality, but it's better than nothing.

If you hadn't said it I would have. (1)

Kalabajoui (232671) | more than 13 years ago | (#536998)

Yeah, what are they going to do if you give their software away for free? Say "Hey, we stole that code fair and square, now quit pirating us". Trying to use GPL'ed code for a proprietary application is just begging to have your app distributed for free. All other lawsuits and infringements aside it is the most effective punishment you can level on a company for abusing free code.

Re:More news (2)

Fishstick (150821) | more than 13 years ago | (#536999)

Well, you can be put on a list to be notified when the "enhanced version" is available by sending mail to [mailto]

Bet they just GPL it, though.

Re:Well and good, but... (2)

Christopher B. Brown (1267) | more than 13 years ago | (#537000)

Ah, but if you haven't disclosed the source, then you obviously didn't use the code under the terms of the GPL.

You were free to choose the GPL, but, since the software was not documented to be available under those terms, evidently you didn't.

As a result, the GPL terms don't apply, and since you didn't negotiate a contract for other terms, you must have felt amenable to the Big Bill License.

Ignorance is no excuse; Pay up! :-)

Re:a link to the binary distribution (2)

xyzzy (10685) | more than 13 years ago | (#537001)

Don't bother downloading that, unless you want to set your system clock back to November, 2000 -- it's a time-limited install image.

Re:The Process Comes Full Circle. (2)

istartedi (132515) | more than 13 years ago | (#537002)

At the request (via e-mail) of an upset (but very cordial) FSF volunteer, here are some citations where FSF apologizes for warez: l# Piracy

The website links to:

Like I said, they walk a fine line, stopping short of actually advocating
warez. Their intent seems pretty clear to me though.

Here's another one grepped from:

"And above all society needs to encourage the spirit of voluntary
cooperation in its citizens. When software owners tell us that helping our
neighbors in a natural way is ``piracy'', they pollute our society's civic


Re:Actually, no (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#537003)

Let's say that happens - namely, the GPL is found to be full of swiss cheese and companies start absorbing as much of their code as possible. This basically levels the field, for the GPL and BSD licenses (sans advertising clause) would be equivalent. Not the end of the world.

It would just give RMS and company a good reason to get moving on the upcoming GPLv3, which would hopefully patch the hypothetical hole raised in our little thought experiment.

Besides, companies with honorable people inside them (it's still possible, just not all that common) will contribute back even if they don't _have_ to. Look at the projects based on BSD. Yes, there are those who take and take, but not all of them are this way.

For what it's worth, I prefer the GPL for my own work, but figured I'd point this part out anyway.

If you do sign up for the list.. (2)

citizenc (60589) | more than 13 years ago | (#537004)

If you do, be sure to use a SneakEmail address [] to prevent spamming. *Jumps for Joy*



Tin Weasil (246885) | more than 13 years ago | (#537005)

Although the company has removed the 'messengerA2Z' client from thier web site, you can still get a copy here at ZDNet India, [] if anyone wants to check it out and see how it works (or download it now in case it goes away forever.)

Re:Oh how noble (1)

iso (87585) | more than 13 years ago | (#537006)

i would imagine that this is the case here: i mean hell, the coders weren't even smart enough to get rid of the "visit the EveryBuddy website" string for Christ's sake! that's pretty pathetic.

- j

Re:Oh how noble (2)

scrutty (24640) | more than 13 years ago | (#537007)

Well , talking of nobility how do you know that this wasn't just a case of misunderstanding ?

Open source licensing probably hasn't got that great a mindshare in the Windows development world and maybe they thought the licence was a spoof, or simply couldn't be bothered to read it or take the time to consider the issues completley I'm not condoning their actions, my point is, you just don't know. A little benefit of the doubt can be quite helpful

They should be supported for their stance in ultimately doing the right thing, hopefully acting as an example to others to follow in their footsteps on similar issues.

Here's hoping that their product and company does well out of this decision , and pray that they aren't snowed under with hate mail and pestered by outraged small minded slashdot-reading script kiddie zealots (you know who you are)

Purposely installing backdoors/easter eggs? (5)

Masem (1171) | more than 13 years ago | (#537008)

This reminds me of a similar story that was up at the rinkworks computer stupidities section: a professor had developed a set of programs (in the 80s, so archaic language), and released freely to academia. A few years later, at a convention, he saw a company demoing their product that looked suspciously like his, save that his name wasn't there. In the middle of the public demo, he asked the demostrator to hit a certain key combo; the demostrated blurbed that it wouldn't do anything, the professor demanded it, and the demostrated did so, bringing up a nice little easter egg screen that basically had the professors name all over it. Ooops.

Maybe GPL'd code needs something similar: not necessarily a backdoor but some easter egg that isn't easy to strip from the code but is sufficient enough that if someone did what this story talked about, it should be relatively easy to find a fingerprint of the source. "strings" works, but only if the GPL abuser forgets to check this, though I can think of several ways to hide snippets of strings in #define's throughout the code that look meaningly alone but can be incriminating when put together.

Mind you, it's not perfect, but this is where the GPL has a weakness -- without court order it's nearly impossible to prove that GPL code was used incorrectly. For all we know, Win2000 may be a wrapper around a linux kernel ( doubtful, of course), but the possibility is there.

Re:Oh how noble (2)

Fnkmaster (89084) | more than 13 years ago | (#537009)

First of all, they aren't distributing it any more (go to and check out the message). So that makes it hard for me to figure out whether there was a GPL violation or not (no more info on the damned thing at all).
Second of all, it's not clear that the webplayer software was anything but an application running on top of GNU/Linux/XFree86. They may or may not have ever touched kernel code. They don't have to distribute application code under the GPL. It would be nice of them if they did, but we have no right to demand that.
If they made modifications or linked to GPLed software directly from their code (and we all know that "linking" is a touchy issue even within the Free Software/Open Source community, since we often don't even agree on what linking means), then their code must be released. If they wrote application code that runs on an Open Source operating system (The Webplayer Software described above in the license), they can license it however they want.
If they are using a stock Linux kernel, I see no realistic need for them to rerelease it, but I suppose they should at least put it up on their FTP site and say "this is the kernel source tree we are using in our device".
Assuming the worst is a bad tactic, a bit of pleasantry and explaining what can and can't be kept secret, and they will usually comply.

Re:but... let the punishment fit the crime. (2)

Christopher B. Brown (1267) | more than 13 years ago | (#537010)

What this does is to impose significant danger to those that would be cavalier about pretending to ignore the license.

Note that the Linux kernel is a somewhat pathological case in that it has a quite entirely huge number of independent contributors. Which has the implication that if someone takes the cavalier action of ignoring its license, they're not offending one person, but hundreds.

A more logical scenario is for a software package with somewhat fewer contributors.

Let's say GnuCash, [] where the major contributors amount to maybe a dozen people, some in a role of agent of the "Gnumatic" company. If someone grabbed the sources, and started selling a thinly veiled version, the license arrangement that I outlined might result in the "grabber" being assessed direct damages of maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars, trebled to something under $1M. Plus something for the number of copies of the software sold :-).

That seems to me to be a not unreasonable sort of "damage" to have associated with misuse. It seems reasonable to me to have an "economic stick" associated with this in addition to the "legal stick."

A company may not wish to release their modified version under the GPL; it seems not unreasonable to me for them to be able to, for a significant price, do so.

If Intuit grabbed GnuCash code (not a likely thing to have happen, mind you), I don't think a judge would have any problem with imposing a judgement of a few million dollars.

It may appear to you that a $1B judgement for "ripping off" the Linux kernel seems high; I would suggest the rather contrary position that with the amount of money NASDAQ investors saw fit to drop into Linux-related enterprises in the last couple years that $1B is not necessarily the slightest bit outrageous.

Supposing Microsoft ripped off OS software from, oh, say, Digital Equipment Corporation, would you find it "outrageous" for there to be a settlement amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars of value? There are some entertaining theories out there surrounding just that sort of scenario that happen not to involve any legal judgements but rather some interesting "negotiated settlements."

In short, most projects wouldn't result in $Billion judgements, and for those that would, such large sums do not seem desparately ludicrous...

Re:enforcement disadvantage (2)

iso (87585) | more than 13 years ago | (#537011)

now that would be funny (in a sick sort of way). it's entirely possible too: incompetant coder A steals GPL code to write a program, then is later fired or resigns. after many moons, coder B is put in charge of the project and discoveres that a GPL program has the same code. this person could very easily decide that coder A (or anybody else really) leaked this code to the GPL program and gets lawyers A through ZZ to take care of the problem.

in a situation like this, who will win? the GPL programmers or the big software company with the cash and the lawyers?

at any rate, i'm very interested to see what the future will bring with regards to the GPL.

- j


Fnkmaster (89084) | more than 13 years ago | (#537012)

And since the buggers never asked, you get to make up your own number and convince the judge that that's a reasonable one. Probably based on how much work you say it was to implement and how much extra cost that would have incurred on the project to do it themselves. Easily you could convince them that a few hundred grand is fair. Then treble that and add in punitive. Hehehe....

treble damage? (1)

enrico_suave (179651) | more than 13 years ago | (#537013)

If I can sue those bastards for treble damage, imagine how much I can get for those kids next door with the lowrider and the boomer mcloud car stereo system of death!!!!


E. / acmemail (1)

Armin Herbert (226693) | more than 13 years ago | (#537014)

I think German web mail provider GMX [] (.de|.ch|.net|.li) had the GPL'd application acmemail [] running .. I can't prove it, but nearly the whole html code looked the same, and they didn't even translate the submission buttons e.g.
Of course their source code isn't free or even open.
It's a pity that proving this is difficult. The community could get a really cool web mailer ;)

Re:Violation? (2)

VAXGeek (3443) | more than 13 years ago | (#537015)

most likely you're an idiot. what are you talking about? is it possible to copyright filenames? has microsoft copyritten the string "cdrom"? who knows.
a funny comment: 1 karma
an insightful comment: 1 karma
a good old-fashioned flame: priceless


Xofer D (29055) | more than 13 years ago | (#537016)

You can always use the PGP Timestamping Service [] , which *does* prove you sent it at a particular time and that the contents existed in the original form.

Re:A very interesting argument (2)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | more than 13 years ago | (#537017)

And the obvious rebuttal-rebuttal is that the FSF is attempting to subvert the capitalist system.

Ummm...well, attempting to subvert the "intellectual property" system maybe - which *isn't* the same thing as the capitalist system.

Whereas "real" capitalism is based on the exchange of real-life goods & services, "intellectual property" laws have created artificial "goods & services".

I find it highly amusing (and annoying at the same time) at how many so-called conservatives scream about wanting to reduce government intervention, but when you point out that means you should get rid of intellectual property laws, they immediately label you as a commie.

Re:I can see it now (1)

jtdubs (61885) | more than 13 years ago | (#537018)

Because i'm incredibly bored:

taco = tango alpha charlie oscar

That is, if you are using the phonetic alphabet. Omega happens to be a greek letter that starts with the same letter, but alas, it is incorrect. Sorry again... REALLY bored...

Justin Dubs


jasonc (135311) | more than 13 years ago | (#537019)

This is not really my area but wouldn't it be 3* the amount of licences that they had sold * the cost of the product. Jason

Re:curious.. (2)

sgifford (9982) | more than 13 years ago | (#537020)

It's making the product available that requires the source to be released.

The idea of the GPL is that nobody should run code that they don't have source code to. So if the NSA wants to rewrite Linux and only use it internally, they have the source code to their modifications, and it's find both legally and in the spirit of the GPL. But if they try to give it to the general public without source, then the public is being asked to run code for which they don't have the source, and that IS a GPL violation.

If you're genuinely curious about this, you might want to check out the various documents that the FSF has on their Web page [] , in particular the GNU Manifesto and the GPL itself. / acmemail (1)

sgifford (9982) | more than 13 years ago | (#537021)

Assuming that they are running a GPL program they have modified, there is absolutely no violation. They are free to modify GPL programs and use them, just not to distribute them.

What if they'd used copy protected disks (1)

akc (207721) | more than 13 years ago | (#537022)

Following a thread of a few days ago about the new ATA spec which allows people with copywriteable content to prevent it being copied, shouldn't the open source community lobby for the manufacturers of these disks to add to the spec a facility to allow data to be GPL'd (ie locked so that someone else can't subsequently lock it).
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