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Ask Slashdot: When and How To Deal With GPL Violations?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the stop-or-i'll-say-stop-again dept.

Open Source 151

jd writes "There are many pieces of software out there, such as seL4 (kindly brought to my attention by another reader), where the vendor has indeed engineered something that they're entitled to Close Source, but where their closed-source license includes the modifications to GPLed software such as the Linux kernel. Then there's a second type of behavior. Code Sourcery produced two versions of their VSIPL++ image processing library — one closed-source, one GPLed. It was extremely decent of them. When Mentor Graphics bought Code Sourcery, they continued developing the closed-course one and discontinued, then deleted, the GPL variant. It's unclear to me if that's kosher, as the closed variant must contain code that had been GPLed at one point. Here's the problem: complaining too much will mean we get code now that maybe four or five people, tops, will actually care about. It will also make corporations leery of any other such work in future, where that work will be of greater value to a greater number of people. So, the question I want to ask is this: When is it a good time to complain? By what rule-of-thumb might you decide that one violation is worth cracking down on, and another should be let go to help encourage work we're never going to do ourselves?"

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151 comments

Their code, their rules (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37952668)

Code Sourcery produced two versions of their VSIPL++ image processing library — one closed-source, one GPLed. It was extremely decent of them. When Mentor Graphics bought Code Sourcery, they continued developing the closed-course one and discontinued, then deleted, the GPL variant. It's unclear to me if that's kosher, as the closed variant must contain code that had been GPLed at one point.

It's their code so they are free to decide. It doesn't matter if they once also GPL'd it - the owner still retains copyright. Bitching about that will just mean no company ever will provide both closed and open source versions. You are not magically entitled to them.

Re:Their code, their rules (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37952708)

Exactly this. If the owner decides to no longer publish a GPL'ed version of the code, they are entitled to do just that. When GPL'ing code, the creator (or owner, in this case) does not relinquish one's rights to said code, but stipulates the use of the code and its availability for others.

IAALBIANYL.

Re:Their code, their rules (1)

Kagetsuki (1620613) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954822)

Precisely, and it is my view that the GPL being both aggressively open source (forcing open source on those who use the code base) while protecting the rights and enabling options of the copyright holders that make the GPL a superior OSS license.

Re:Their code, their rules (4, Insightful)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952742)

the hook on this is

THEY CAN NOT PREVENT THE GPL VERSION FROM BEING USED AND UPDATED

so if somebody else with a copy of the code decides to continue the work then they can not say anything.
if a company decides to make a GPL project closed source then they have to have permission from Every Single Contributor (assuming that they are all still available) this is one of the reasons that the Linux Kernel is still GPL 2 since chunks of the code are set with GPL 2 (no later version) licenses.

Re:Their code, their rules (3, Informative)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952832)

Yes, this is true, but it's beside the point. The FA is talking about a product that was GPLed, but its owner deleted the GPL version (though this doesn't mean others can't keep copies of it, or even fork it), and continued developing it under a proprietary license. It's their code, so they're completely allowed to do this.

You're only disallowed from making GPL code proprietary (or using GPL code in a proprietary product) if you don't own the copyright to the code in the first place. If it's yours, you can do whatever you want with it.

Re:Their code, their rules (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953300)

GPL code made from scratch, however, is pretty rare in my experience. People lift routines, interfaces, file system calls, all sort of stuff, routinely. To go closed source mandates not using that code, as it was released under the crux of a different, OSS license that in the GPL2 & 3 sense, don't allow that.

I'm not saying it couldn't be done, but it wouldn't be easy. Where does the poster contest this? Good question. My guess is to explore functionality in areas where code is more likely to be stolen/lifted/pasted from. Not many people are motivated to do that; it's potentially a mind-boggling amount of work with no real "payoff" except for the altrustic motive.

Re:Their code, their rules (2)

Sique (173459) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953514)

Why referring only to GPL code?

Code made from scratch, however, is pretty rare in my experience. People lift routines, interfaces, file system calls, all sort of stuff, routinely.

It's true for all sorts of code. It's called in the words of the immortal Bertrand of Chartres "standing on the shoulders of giants". It's what makes us humans so successful: Being able to learn from examples, being able to mimic what worked for others.

Re:Their code, their rules (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953544)

Me, too.

I think the presumption of the question in TFA confined the discussion to GPL. But we would agree otherwise.

Re:Their code, their rules (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953682)

GPL code made from scratch, however, is pretty rare in my experience. People lift routines, interfaces, file system calls, all sort of stuff, routinely. To go closed source mandates not using that code, as it was released under the crux of a different, OSS license that in the GPL2 & 3 sense,

You do realize that interface and system calls are not copyrightable right? And if by routines you mean the algorithms, they aren't either. They might be patented, but copyright on algorithms just doesn't exist. If you get a function and change variable names, that's copyright violation, but if you get someone to tell you what the algorithm should do and how it goes about it and you re-implement it from that, there is nothing as far as copyright law is concerned. Even learning it from the original code is okay in most interpretations. If this wasn't the case all GNU code would be illegal.

Moreover, in the GPL case, one of the allowed behaviors(though I'm sure it has no legal meaning whatsoever) is the right to learn about the code, so it would be hard to argue you were denying reverse engineering rights to licensees.

Re:Their code, their rules (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953824)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but there are lots of systems calls that can't be copyrighted. But you can copyright original code, then release it under the tenets of the GPL. One relinquishes certain rights by doing so. But the copyright remains, and must remain in use under the tenets of the terms of the release, e.g. the license to use it. BSD code if memory serves (as an example), is essentially public domain, have at it in anyway you can imagine. GPL code, depending on version, doesn't allow that. Mixing certain kinds of code isn't permitted. And the copyrights remain, and hold value depending again, on the license granted for use of the code. This distinguishes varying license strictures for use of code. The copyright remains. IANAL, but have enough business law experience to believe that these are the strictures. I'm willing to be corrected by those in the know.

Re:Their code, their rules (3, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953430)

It's a little more complex. I'll clarify. There were two code bases - one optimized and closed-source, one regular and GPLed. There was quite a lot of code shared between them, but there was code that solely existed in the GPLed version (all the non-optimized functions, for example). I believe the GPLed version took code contributions* and any that applied to the shared code would then exist in both versions. I do NOT know if the GPLed version included code from pre-existing VSIPL code bases for which Code Sourcery had rights under open source licenses but did not own that software - it seems entirely possible but it's not certain.

*The USAF paid for several years for Code Sourcery to have the GPLed version and paid them to have developers maintain it. It's a safe bet that the USAF wouldn't have paid extra specifically for that license if having it closed would have been just as effective. At the very least, it can be assumed the US Government contributed patches to the GPLed code.

Mentor buys Code Sourcery and continues the closed-source version. That's their right. That's fine. Provided, of course, that the closed-source version Mentor currently deploys has no software that Code Sourcery had no right to close. (I'll assume Code Sourcery played nice and didn't break any licenses themselves.) I'd consider it a possibility, but it would be extremely hard to test. Since the USAF now uses the closed source version, whatever it was that was contributed CAN be assumed to be in the closed version.

The open source version is another matter, in that it depends on whether Mentor is the true owner of it or if they are merely the owner of a fork. Since the GPLed code was produced under contract to the DoD and since any bits pulled from other projects would still be nominally owned by their original authors, it's impossible to assume Mentor bought the full rights. They're more likely to have bought only Code Sourcery's fraction of the rights.

Again, though, even if we assume it's all fully legal - which it may well be, it does not seem in the ethos of open source (hence the usage of kosher) to prohibit access to that part of the code which was shared and has not been changed since. What they do with the bits that are theirs that replaced the open source stuff, that's their business, along with the code that was never shared and always closed. The remainder --- uhhhhhh. It feels very icky that anyone, owner included, can retroactively alter the rights to something.

Re:Their code, their rules (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953496)

it does not seem in the ethos of open source (hence the usage of kosher) to prohibit access to that part of the code which was shared and has not been changed since.

Unless I'm not understanding you correctly, there's no way they can prohibit access to code that's been released under the GPL. They're under no obligation to continue hosting that code for others to download, but they can't prevent someone else from forking it and doing what they want with it. That's the whole reason the GPL was invented, after all, to prevent users from being screwed if a vendor goes belly-up, discontinues support, etc.

The remainder --- uhhhhhh. It feels very icky that anyone, owner included, can retroactively alter the rights to something.

It sucks, but it is their right. They also have the right to never release something under GPL in the first place, or to never use any open-source license, so at least having an older GPL version is better than nothing at all. Hopefully someone bothered to make a copy of the source tree before it got taken down.

Well, except for Sencha (ExtJS) (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954124)

Yes, in theory -- anyone else who has the GPL'd source can fork it.

Unfortunately, I can think of another case where this wasn't quite true -- ExtJS 3. For those who don't know the story, basically, they released ExtJS as LGPL, but then switched to GPLv3 ... and started making claims that no one else had ever heard (that you'd have to release all source code to your backend services for using their javascript toolkit, and there were questions of if users downloaded the javascript files, was that 'distribution') Due the the Sencha "interpretation" of LGPL, they then claimed the fork wasn't legal.

For more background:

... and after all of that badmouthing, it seems like they might've wised up, as they now list an 'Open Source License Exemption', so those of us using BSD, artistic, or GPL2 can use it. I guess I'll have to look to see if they're still claiming you have to release your server code:

Re:Well, except for Sencha (ExtJS) (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954344)

It sounds like their license was some weird LGPL with their own imposed conditions, so it was never truly LGPL to begin with.

Re:Their code, their rules (2)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953582)

So if I may summarize; the question is (as it always is with GPL going closed) "Do all the copyrights on the code belong to the entity that closed the code?".

Re:Their code, their rules (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953752)

Issue one: Any hypothetical code written by the USAF, as a government entity, is public domain.
Issue two: You don't have a dog in this fight ("penis in the vagina", as we say in my country) unless Mentor is using GPL source code that you have a copyright on.
Issue three: If you wanted the GPL source code, you should have saved a copy. If nobody, anywhere has a copy of the GPL-licensed source code, maybe it's not that important.
Issue four: I'm going to have fun quoting you in the next GPL/BSD flame fest.

Re:Their code, their rules (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954070)

Quote away. I use BSD code, I use GPL code. I actually prefer the LGPL to the GPL, precisely because there's a much clearer delineation of what is being licensed. I far prefer Public Domain to any license, but some areas of the US have ruled that Public Domain doesn't exist and that someone has to own the code -- a ruling a vehemently disagree with. If you think that anything I've said makes one license better than another, that's fine and you may well be right. I think it shows that BSD and GPL are about equal, if anything, because both seem to have no problem with things going closed.

You are correct that I have no standing, so can do nothing - at least nothing that has any direct benefit. Sometimes, stirring up trouble when no direct benefit is possible is a good thing. It can get people to ask questions, or in this case perhaps make backup copies of dual-licensed software in case a company goes rogue. Other times, it can produce a backlash that is far worse than the original problem, which is why the Occupy Wall Street protests are more likely to worsen Wall Street's depravity than fix it. The intent may be good, the points are valid, but the consequences are likely to swamp all that.

Only have to provide source for 3 years ? (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954096)

Again, though, even if we assume it's all fully legal - which it may well be, it does not seem in the ethos of open source (hence the usage of kosher) to prohibit access to that part of the code which was shared and has not been changed since. What they do with the bits that are theirs that replaced the open source stuff, that's their business, along with the code that was never shared and always closed. The remainder --- uhhhhhh. It feels very icky that anyone, owner included, can retroactively alter the rights to something.

My understanding is that a developer only has to provide source code to users within some time frame. They don't have to distribute to the public in general. Once they stop providing and supporting the software (binaries) and that time frame (3 years ?) elapses they may no longer be obligated to provide the source code at all.

Re:Their code, their rules (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953524)

The only right a non-copyright owner has is to request the code for the old, GPL'ed version, as required by the GPL and continue developing it himself.
The copyright owner cannot undo the GPL license of code released under GPL.
Any changes after closing the code are not GPL and thus no longer bound by GPL rules.

Re:Their code, their rules (1)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954538)

And only if you actually have the binary, or the product with the binary with it, according to my understanding.

If no one uses the GPL version binary, updating to the more recent alternate version because it has better features, it becomes irrelevant. And they have no obligation to continue hosting either the binary or the source code. You don't have to offer a download, just provide it on request.

Re:Their code, their rules (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954638)

You don't have to offer a download, just provide it on request.

And only if you received a binary directly from them, and even then there's a three-year statute of limitations.

With (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37952710)

a sword

and a bow

and an axe.

GPL is essentially infinite... (1, Insightful)

larien (5608) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952714)

If they've released the code under GPL and you still have a copy of it, you're entitled to do what you want with it, up to and including rebranding it and maintaining it as a GPL product for the future. The GPL granted you permissions to do certain things (copy, change, distribute the code) under certain conditions (you had to provide source code if requested). As far as I'm aware, they can't revoke those rights unless you break the other conditions; see Open Office/Libre Office for a similar situation.

Re:GPL is essentially infinite... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37952970)

This is one of those slashdot articles that is so completely wrong, that we all feel the need to jump in and correct it, generating lots of pageviews, posts, and ad revenue.

Nicely done Soulskill

Please Mod This UP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953092)

It's the straight truth. Slashdot is a business that thrives on page views. This was a business decision. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with pointing it out.

I modded it up but can only put one point into it, of course. It's something readers should be aware of. Please mod it up.

Re:GPL is essentially infinite... (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953448)

If it was so completely wrong, why DIDN'T you jump in and correct it when it was in the firehose? Why wait until after publication to complain when you could have addressed the problem earlier?

Seems to me, you're not as upset as all that about generating page views and ad revenue on articles you disagree with, or you'd be using what Slashdot already provides to ensure that the articles were all of high calibre.

Re:GPL is essentially infinite... (1)

causality (777677) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954404)

If it was so completely wrong, why DIDN'T you jump in and correct it when it was in the firehose? Why wait until after publication to complain when you could have addressed the problem earlier?

Seems to me, you're not as upset as all that about generating page views and ad revenue on articles you disagree with, or you'd be using what Slashdot already provides to ensure that the articles were all of high calibre.

Why must he be upset in order to point out a business maneuver? Or that people react in a fairly predictable way to a particular summary and that this was likely to have been intentional? If you really believe this cannot be mentioned calmly, that only an angry person could possibly do it, perhaps you can explain why.

He may even admire the technique and regard it as skillfully done. This interpretation is consistent with the tone of the post in question.

The truth is, we don't know how he (or she) feels about it. The personal emotional state the author experienced at the moment the post was written remains unspecified (and seems like irrelevant trivia to me). The fact it was not specified tells me something: it was not the point of the post.

I believe the purpose of the post was to bring conscious awareness to this aspect of how and why some stories make the front page and why they are worded the way that we see them. It is not necessary to condemn or pass judgment in order to do this -- in fact, that could interfere with the expository nature of the task. It is necessary only to put into proper context the fact that Slashdot is not a charity and must make money to remain in business.

You sometimes see similar posts when Slashdot does a book review, pointing out possible financial ties between the publisher and Slashot. I consider it a service as the more naive types tend not to consider these influences on their own. Is there anything wrong with Slashdot making some money for providing a site many people find interesting, entertaining, and useful? I don't think so. I just think transparency is a virtue, that's all. Perhaps this AC feels the same way?

And I don't know ... maybe a single individual can change the course of a posted story by interacting with the Firehose, but I doubt it. I also consider it rather, shall we say "selective" to blame someone for not correcting this but then hold faultless the submitter and the editors who made it that way in the first place. I would say the submitter and especially the editors are much more responsible for and have much more control over a front-page story than a random AC.

Re:GPL is essentially infinite... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37954554)

Why must he be upset in order to point out a business maneuver?

Thanks for that.. You're completely right.. I wasn't upset, mad, or anything. I even said 'nicely done soulskill', because I thought it was clever (in a way). If anyone read any sarcasm in my post, they were mistaken.

I've been reading /. since like '98 (just started coming back after like 5 years away.. so haven't signed up for a new account yet).. I don't come here expecting posts that are worthy of a Pulitzer.

Re:GPL is essentially infinite... (1)

causality (777677) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954916)

Why must he be upset in order to point out a business maneuver?

Thanks for that.. You're completely right.. I wasn't upset, mad, or anything. I even said 'nicely done soulskill', because I thought it was clever (in a way). If anyone read any sarcasm in my post, they were mistaken.

I've been reading /. since like '98 (just started coming back after like 5 years away.. so haven't signed up for a new account yet).. I don't come here expecting posts that are worthy of a Pulitzer.

To me your intent was easy to discern. I have one big advantage there that shouldn't be rare but definitely seems to be. I am not easily offended and I neatly separate my personal feelings about a thing from the objective truth or falsehood of it. I might very strongly dislike something you say, but if it is a fact I will acknowledge it. If I truly have a problem with a fact, maybe I'll work towards a constructive way to change it while accepting that some things are beyond my power to change. That's the only real option I have because anything else would make me as psychotic and full of self-conflict as most other people.

Generally I witness a different pattern. It's hard sometimes to call it out because the people I'd be addressing have no real objectivity and thus no frame of reference in which to correctly interpret what I would tell them. The pattern works like this: the person gets offended, upset, or otherwise decides they don't like what somebody said or how they said it; therefore, that person and what they said must be wrong. If it is difficult to demonstrate why they are wrong (i.e. because they're not), they will resort to rhetorical tricks, mischaracerization (i.e. "upset"), ad-hominem, and other forms of demagoguery.

They want to make the facts match their emotionally-driven conclusion and not the other way around. The difficult part is they don't see themselves doing this or understand that this is how they operate. They actually think it's valid, or that they couldn't possibly do such a thing merely because they didn't intend to do it. In that sense it is their unexamined autopilot. Hell, most of them think I'm just hassling them when I say something is wrong with it.

I consider it a type of narcisissm to expect that your personal likes and dislikes are going to determine truth and falsehood. It's something I am fortunate not to suffer. Yet this is by no means an unusual thing to see; in fact I encounter it more often than I don't. Most people maintain this sometimes-convincing appearance that they are reasonable but it's phony. Unwittingly, they are type-cast personalities playing a role. It breaks down the moment they get stressed, offended, or otherwise emotional. Then they need to be "right" no matter how wrong they are. Their commitment to truth is weaker than their egos.

It is quite literally the root of what is wrong with the entire world. As above, so below.

Re:GPL is essentially infinite... (1)

3dr (169908) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954950)

Yeah, I don't see what the issue is in the summary. Company B bought company A which includes A's assets, then discontinues development of a GPL-covered variant. Well, B still owns the non-GPL version, so where's the confusion. Code can be dual licensed, and is, often. See QT for a project that has gotten lots of mentions lately for an example of this.

As soon as GPL'd code is out there, it's always "out there" at that point.

Dual license (2)

Arlet (29997) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952724)

If code was produced with a dual license, one GPL, and one closed, then it's perfectly legal to abandon the GPL version, and keep working on the closed version.

Re:Dual license (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952858)

Perhaps they meant the primary developers had accepted contributions from outsiders under GPL and rolled them into the proprietary-only product. That's the only way I could see a violation.

Re:Dual license (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952888)

Unless the project had copyright assignment in place, in which the contributors wouldn't have a leg to stand on; the entire codebase would belong to the primary developers.

In which case, "Mmmm fork fork fork" would be the Swedish I mean only way forward.

Re:Dual license (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953070)

Unless the project had copyright assignment in place, in which the contributors wouldn't have a leg to stand on; the entire codebase would belong to the primary developers.

In which case, "Mmmm fork fork fork" would be the Swedish I mean only way forward.

How about if the contributions were borrowed from other sortware released under the GPL? Huh, think of that? Huh? Huh?

Yeah, we could go on second guessing, third guessing and forth guessing, but I suppose the fork is the only possiblity left - just make it rock 8)

Re:Dual license (2)

Crispy Critters (226798) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953090)

It is unclear...if...perhaps...unless...

"When is it a good time to complain?" Sometime after you understand the facts and the laws relevant to the matter at hand.

Re:Dual license (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953484)

Ah, yes, and what facts specifically am I to find out?

What laws would you recommend understanding?

I think it safe to say that I wouldn't have asked the question if these were simple matters, and I think it's also safe to say that you would have been specific if you'd known any more than I do.

And even then, you've not answered the questions. Sure, I could do a lot of digging, but that involves bothering those involved and will make both them and others less inclined to do ANYTHING for the Open Source community in future.

Sure, I could dig, but WHEN? WHEN is it worth harassing people on these issues?

Re:Dual license (1)

Crispy Critters (226798) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954208)

JD, your question as posted by the editors is contradictory and either uninformed or uninformative.

You seem to say first that one company has something they are entitled to offer a closed-source license for that includes part of the Linux kernel. This makes no sense. Second, you seem to claim that a company that offers version 1 of its code under the GPL must also make version 2 GPLed even if it owns the code, and that is simply wrong.

If you can't make a clearer case for a GPL violation, you shouldn't "harass" anyone. Let the copyright owners of the GPLed code know what is happening--they are the only ones who can do anything out it.

Re:Dual license (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952904)

Because you think someone wouldn't have said anything by now if they had?

Re:Dual license (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953540)

Perhaps they have. It's not like Mentor Graphics is exactly OSS-friendly and tells us these things. They're worse than the old-style IBM and Microsoft combined.

Perhaps they haven't noticed. Engineers who use a product like VSIPL are very unlikely to have the months it would require to carry out a complete digital forensic analysis of Mentor's binaries to see if any code contributions they weren't entitled to were included.

Perhaps they don't have a bazillion dollars and are heavily reliant on the kinds of organizations that HATE fusses. If you were a consultant in one of the areas currently suffering high unemployment with most of those employed hired by the DoD (who paid for the open source version) and were currently under a contract from them, would YOU be kicking up a fuss? Probably not. It's easier to put bread on the table when you've bread in the bank. Stirring up trouble would be a great way to fry the contract and be out of work - long-term, possibly permanently. Absolutely not worth it.

Ok, what about any military contributions to the GPLed version? Even if GOTS was present in the codebase, I somehow think the military chain of command wouldn't give a damn if one of their lowly developers filed a complaint. They've bigger problems, for a start, and limited vendors they can buy from for another.

I'm not saying people have complained, merely that there's countless reasons why you specifically might not have heard if they had.

Re:Dual license (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953172)

That's what I'm meaning. Further, any contribution submitted into the shared codebase after the last GPLed release and before the code went closed-source only would exist only in the closed-source version. The first case, it may be argued that the code was known to be under both licenses so submissions would be understood to be in both trees and thus discontinuing one tree is still not a problem. Submissions made after the last GPLed version drop but before Code Sourcery were bought - errr, that's not so clear-cut because such submissions were not used for the purpose for which they were developed.

However, the picture isn't as clear-cut as Arlet suggested. Yes, it's legal to abandon the GPLed version but nobody has answered (so far) the fact that a certain percentage of the code WAS distributed under the GPL and whilst the GPL has a provision for allowing code to be reused in closed-source software, it only permits that specific piece of re-use to not be GPLed when it is substantially different from the GPLed version. In other words, those bits of the library that are completely identical to the GPLed version are surely covered by the provision stating that that code remains covered by the GPL even when the rest of the code is not.

It gets a bit more complex, since I'm reasonably sure you can still buy the binaries from the dual-licensed form and I see nothing in the GPL that says you can retroactively change the license of a GPLed product.

Further, it depends on whether you consider Mentor Graphics to now own the software that had been GPLed or be merely a licensee. In other words, when a company that has GPLed code is bought, is the new "owner" maintaining the "original" or a fork? If it's a fork. then they are only entitled to use the code at all under the license of the GPL and certainly can't re-license the GPLed portions as they don't own the GPLed portion. They only own the right to modify and distribute it. If it's the original, then that wouldn't apply.

In the case of, say, MySQL, Oracle are entitled to produce completely new functionality and close-source that functionality but aren't entitled to close MySQL simply because new functionality exists. Which is why we have the multiple versions from Oracle. They can stop developing MySQL, they can replace chunks of MySQL with proprietary code, but they can't re-license the chunks that were under the old license.

Re:Dual license (2)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953408)

Yes, it's legal to abandon the GPLed version but nobody has answered (so far) the fact that a certain percentage of the code WAS distributed under the GPL and whilst the GPL has a provision for allowing code to be reused in closed-source software, it only permits that specific piece of re-use to not be GPLed when it is substantially different from the GPLed version.

That's not true at all. If you wrote the code, or have the copyright assigned to you, you can change licenses to and from GPL at will. You can GPL a utility you wrote, and then close it and refuse to give the source code to anyone, without changing a single bit of code. The only limit GPL puts on you is that you can't limit somebody else from redistributing the source that was out there during the time the code was GPL'd.

Re:Dual license (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953426)

It depends on the specifics of the case. If somebody owns the code, or has been granted a special license that allows closed source development, the GPL doesn't apply to their fork, so they can keep developing it, without any obligation to put their changes also in the GPL version.

If they take patches from the GPL tree, and apply it to their own (closed source) tree, it depends on the agreements. If contributors to the project agree to transfer the copyright to them, or they allow patches to be copied into the closed tree, I don't see a problem.

If a contributor doesn't transfer the copyright, and doesn't grant the owner of the closed fork a license to copy, it would not be legal to put those patches in the closed tree. However, as a copyright holder of GPL patches you would have to show this actually happened before you can make any claim.

Re:Dual license (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953964)

For VSIPL++:

Ok, I'll agree with that, only we don't know what patches they took (accreditation is worse than it was in the Linux kernel prior to SCO) or what other source trees they obtained code from (it's likely they did, but it's not certain they did). As a result, we've no means of knowing what agreements were made.

In the case of Mentor buying Code Sourcery, again we've no information on what it was that Mentor actually bought. They bought the company, sure, but VSIPL++'s open source variant was under a DoD contract and I've no idea what the terms of that contract said in regards to the GPLed tree or whether the DoD actively conferred any special rights to Mentor after for any portions considered GOTS that may be in the software.

Pestering Mentor to obtain that information is unlikely to produce a good response and may well result in a distinct chilling of government and commercial involvement in open source software. So no matter what Mentor was or was not entitled to do, I can see absolutely no path to a satisfactory result.

It Simple Doesn't Matter If It Was Lawful. We can't know what they were entitled to, we will never have that information and any attempt to obtain it can only make things worse.

Therefore, it is obvious that the line is NOT drawn according to what is legal. But if it's not drawn there, then where?

Re:Dual license (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953308)

True. But even then legally, a GPL violation is just a copyright violation. My point here being that even if they included, say, the entirety of an GPL'ed application, then the only people who'd have any standing to make any demands o release the source would be the copyright holders of that GPLed application.

The author(s) can license any way they want (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37952738)

If they never took GPL-licensed patches from anyone else, then they can decide for themselves which way they want to license their product. Just because I gave you a gift yesterday doesn't mean I have to give you gift today.

Re:The author(s) can license any way they want (4, Informative)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952846)

This is a good point that seems to have been overlooked: if anyone else (outside the organization) made any significant contributions to the GPL version of the code, then they absolutely can demand the proprietary version be released under the GPL, or else their contribution be removed, unless they agreed to assign the copyright back to the the original writers.

It's all about copyright (1)

zarlino (985890) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952744)

If they bought the company they are now the copyright holders and can do whatever they like with their software, including dropping the GPL version.

You can use as many licenses as you like (1)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952748)

It's unclear to me if that's kosher, as the closed variant must contain code that had been GPLed at one point.

My interpretation of copyright law and licensing is that you can distribute source code you wrote under any license you choose. Where it becomes in issue is when other people have contributed to the project, muddying the ownership of parts of the software.

It's the same as having different licensing terms for different customers -- even if the licenses conflict, the restrictions apply to that copy of the software and don't affect other copies that are distributed, even if the code is the same.

Re:You can use as many licenses as you like (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952818)

It's unclear to me if that's kosher, as the closed variant must contain code that had been GPLed at one point.

My interpretation of copyright law and licensing is that you can distribute source code you wrote under any license you choose. Where it becomes in issue is when other people have contributed to the project, muddying the ownership of parts of the software.

It's the same as having different licensing terms for different customers -- even if the licenses conflict, the restrictions apply to that copy of the software and don't affect other copies that are distributed, even if the code is the same.

The trick, of course, is determining if the closed source does include andy GPLed contributions. Compile the last GPL copy and compare binaries, I suppose that would work. I believe it's been done before.

The GPL is a cancer (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37952754)

There's never a correct time to deal with GPL violations because there's never a correct time to use GPLed code.

Free (as in free to deal with software in the exactly one way defined by a fat old racist at MIT).

Re:The GPL is a cancer (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953212)

Now, now - he wasn't old at the time - he was within spitting distance of graduate school-age, IIRC. The GPL was created in 1989, at the time RMS was about 36 years old then. [stallman.org]

The copyright holder doesn't have to keep GPL'ing (2)

jeff4747 (256583) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952756)

When Mentor Graphics bought Code Sourcery, they continued developing the closed-course one and discontinued, then deleted, the GPL variant. It's unclear to me if that's kosher, as the closed variant must contain code that had been GPLed at one point

Doesn't matter. They created the software. They do not have to keep distributing new versions under the GPL. The 'must remain open' part of the GPL does not apply to the people who hold the copyright. They can change licensing of any future versions at any time.

Re:The copyright holder doesn't have to keep GPL'i (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953278)

Mentor certainly didn't create it. It's not even clear to me if Code Sourcery created it, since VSIPL software already existed and it's entirely reasonable to think that they used code that already existed under Open Source licenses.

Even if Code Sourcery created every bit of the version Mentor bought, it's not clear Mentor owns the GPL version. They own the proprietary version, sure, as they bought the company that had the rights. Mentor never produced or distributed the GPL version. Since the code bases included shared code but were NOT identical (the closed version had heavily optimized versions of many of the functions), I'm not seeing anything that says Mentor is the sole copyright holder of the GPL edition. I'm reading that as meaning the shared code and the GPLed code were forked and that Mentor is merely the owner of their fork.

Sure they do not have to keep distributing new versions under the GPL, but that doesn't indicate to me that they're entitled to not distribute the old versions that were under the GPL. Provided the old versions are distributed in binary form (and I think they are), then I don't see anything in the GPL about retroactive un-GPLing it. That would be doubly so if indeed Mentor only owns their fork. I couldn't fork Linux and then close-source it, claiming I was the owner of that fork. (Although that IS what was claimed by the SE4L group.)

Let's say, for argument's sake, that Mentor do own the code and do have all the rights. Is it still kosher to un-GPL code? It may be legal as per copyright, but the word "kosher" is less about the strict governmental laws and more about the belief system and philosophies. In this case, that means copyleft. Forgetting whether you'd win in court, is it kosher to take software that had once been GPL and close it to the world?

Re:The copyright holder doesn't have to keep GPL'i (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953324)

GPLing a piece of code doesn't mean you're required to keep distributing it forever.

It means that if someone else has a copy of the old GPL version, they can freely distribuite it, fork it, make improvements to it and distribute those, etc. But if the original author(s) aren't interested in distributing new GPL copies, they are free to stop doing so. GPLing your code doesn't mean you've taken on an obligation to always host a copy of it forever.

Re:The copyright holder doesn't have to keep GPL'i (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953436)

If you think they might have taken GPL'd source closed for which they don't possess the copyright, then you complain, then sue. But you aren't going to get anywhere if you're going on a hunch. For one thing, you don't have standing. You need to find somebody who has donated code to the project, back when it was GPL'd, and who hadn't assigned away their copyright. If you can find that, it's a slam-dunk case; otherwise, it's just speculation.

Re:The copyright holder doesn't have to keep GPL'i (2)

jeff4747 (256583) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953950)

Even if Code Sourcery created every bit of the version Mentor bought, it's not clear Mentor owns the GPL version.

The only way something is distributed under the GPL is if the copyright holder does so. If Code Sourcery/Mentor didn't own it, it could not have been released under the GPL. The copyright holder is the only entity that can license the software.

Mentor never produced or distributed the GPL version

Irrelevant. They bought the copyright when they bought the company that owns the copyright.

Since the code bases included shared code but were NOT identical (the closed version had heavily optimized versions of many of the functions), I'm not seeing anything that says Mentor is the sole copyright holder of the GPL edition.

Code differences between the closed-source and GPL'ed version are not relevant, assuming they have the copyright to both. The only way they would not have the copyright is if they accepted patches from others and did not have the patch author transfer copyright to them. It is standard practice to only accept patches when the patch author transfers copyright.

Sure they do not have to keep distributing new versions under the GPL, but that doesn't indicate to me that they're entitled to not distribute the old versions that were under the GPL.

Doesn't matter if it was once GPL'ed. They do not have to comply with the GPL because they own it. The only protection you have is they can't revoke the GPL on the previously-released version.

I couldn't fork Linux and then close-source it, claiming I was the owner of that fork

That is only true because you do not own the copyright to all of the code. If you own the copyright, you can distribute it any way you please and you are under no obligation to continue distributing it the way you used to.

Let's say, for argument's sake, that Mentor do own the code and do have all the rights. Is it still kosher to un-GPL code?

Yes. As the owners of the code, they are not using/distributing it under the GPL. They are using using/distributing it under their copyright.

Forgetting whether you'd win in court, is it kosher to take software that had once been GPL and close it to the world?

They are perfectly within their rights to do so. And what makes open-source a nice counter to this problem is the open-source version remains open. If people don't like the close-sourcing of the product, they can continue development on the open-source fork. And since they own the copyright on their patches, Mentor can not use those patches in their closed-source version.

Essentially, it doesn't matter if it's "kosher". If people don't like it, they can continue the open-source fork.

License Changes (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952758)

When Mentor Graphics bought Code Sourcery, they continued developing the closed-course one and discontinued, then deleted, the GPL variant. It's unclear to me if that's kosher, as the closed variant must contain code that had been GPLed at one point.

Whether its kosher or not depends entirely on copyright. If they accepted patches from the community, incorporated them, and the community did not assign them the copyright, then no they can't change the license without removing any code they don't have copyright to.

However, if they have copyright on the code, and copyright of any submitted patches was assigned to them (which is pretty normal); even the FSF has you assign them copyright. (Otherwise they wouldn't have been able to chagne the license from GPLv2 to GPLv3 without contacting each person who submitted a patch and getting permission...)

Now, if a company that owns the copyright decides to discontinue a GPL'd product or close source it or whatever, that is entirely within their right.

However, that doesn't revoke the license on the GPL'd version, so anyone that has a copy of the GPL'd version is still free to make copies, redistribute it, and fork a new project from it if there is any interest in doing so.

The status of the code in the closed source fork is not inviolation. The owners of that fork own the copyright on that code.

The status of the code in the open source fork, should someone make one is also fine. It was licensed under the GPL. The only real restriction on it, is the new open source fork doesn't have copyright so they can't change the license -- ie its stuck on gpl version X. The new fork can't close source it or change the gpl version.

Re:License Changes (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952810)

The only real restriction on it, is the new open source fork doesn't have copyright so they can't change the license -- ie its stuck on gpl version X. The new fork can't close source it or change the gpl version.

Wrong. If the code has the "or any other later version" clause it can be changed without needing permission.

Re:License Changes (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953170)

Are you sure?

So if it says "GPLv2 or later", you are welcome to fork it and release a "GPLv3 or later" version? What about a "GPLv3 only" version?

I thought it was always GPLv2 or later, so yes, you could use it with GPLv3 stuff just fine... but you couldn't ever take away the GPLv2 at will.

It was stuck on "GPLv2 or later".

Am I mistaken?

Re:License Changes (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953328)

Yes, the FSF even talks about upgrading the licenses. Such as being able to upgrade LGPLv2.1 code to GPLv2 or later or GPLv3 or later, etc.

Re:License Changes (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953346)

And, yes, this is replacing the original license with the upgraded license. This of course does not change the fact that the previously licensed code was a previous version and that isn't revoked.

Re:License Changes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37954422)

Yes, you're mistaken.

The GNU people have a chart [gnu.org] that may help alleviate your confusion.

Or you could recognize that all copyright is an immoral usurpation of power over others (no matter whether you use that power for profit like big content or for the "benefit" of users like GNU) and choose to defy copyright law, coincidentally saving you the trouble of understanding copyright licenses such as the GPL (which is apparently much harder than one would expect, judging from this whole misbegotten ask/. and the proliferation of retards demanding you "accept" the GPL (ala EULA) during installation of GPLed windows programs.).

Re:License Changes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953196)

Wrong. If the code has the "or any other later version" clause it can be changed without needing permission.

No, I don't think that's right. The license says you can apply the terms of any later versions, so you can apply GPLv3 to code that says GPLv2(or later). You cannot revoke the original license, because that right was not granted. You cannot remove the right to use the code under GPLv2.

Re:License Changes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953400)

sure you can. Just add some that code that is licensed only under GPL3 and your fork is GPL3 or later. Obviously you can't stop someone else from maintaining a GPL2 fork.

Re:License Changes (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953446)

I think you may be within rights to use GPL3 for the bits that YOU add; but I don't think you can take away the GPL2 licensing on the parts that already exist. That gets tricky, though.

Re:License Changes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953044)

Whether its kosher or not depends entirely on copyright. If they accepted patches from the community, incorporated them, and the community did not assign them the copyright, then no they can't change the license without removing any code they don't have copyright to.

Kind of also depends on what agreement they made with each patch submitter. If the patch submitters all said "I'm giving you this patch under the GPL" then they couldn't change the license, but they also couldn't incorporate those patches into the closed source tree. OTOH if the patch submitters all retained copyright but said "I'm giving you this patch under a perpetual unlimited royalty-free license to use in any way you want" then they could pretty much do the same things with it that they could do if they'd transferred copyright.

However, if they have copyright on the code, and copyright of any submitted patches was assigned to them (which is pretty normal); even the FSF has you assign them copyright. (Otherwise they wouldn't have been able to chagne the license from GPLv2 to GPLv3 without contacting each person who submitted a patch and getting permission...)

They also might have incorporated the patches into only the GPL'd branch, not the closed-source branch. If this were the case, they could continue the GPL branch under GPL or could simply stop providing it, but could not provide it under a different license, and they could do whatever they want with the closed branch because they didn't receive any of its code under the GPL. It would be really hard for an outside observer to verify this was the case, however.

Owner of code vs. User of code (2)

Corporate T00l (244210) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952768)

The owner of the code can do whatever they want with it. Making it GPL doesn't force them to keep making future versions GPL, because they own all the rights. Users of GPL code need to adhere to the terms of the GPL because they don't own the rights, but are rather licensees of the owner.

That being said, if you have a copy of the GPL'd code, you were automatically granted some rights under the GPL which can't be revoked. So you can continue to use the code that you have under the GPL terms for as long as you want.

I ordered a hit. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37952806)

Expensive, but worth it.

Source code (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37952838)

Someone here link to the source code and then you can go fork the project.

seL4 (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952886)

Looks like they are distributing their own binary, together with complete sources of the Linux kernel + patches.

Whether this is a GPL violation depends on how these two parts interact, exactly.

How to deal with this? ummm a speak to a lawyer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37952892)

If you're in Australia, try Chris Micallef at Marshalls and Dent lawyers. He should be able to steer you in the right direction. Just call his office on Monday and say you're a fan of slashdot :-P

Totally "Kosher" (4, Informative)

SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952896)

"It's unclear to me if that's kosher, as the closed variant must contain code that had been GPLed at one point."

It's absolutely fine. They own the code, they can publish it under whatever license they want. They can also stop publishing a GPL'd version if they want. Anyone who received the GPL version can continue to use it, modify it, etc. under the GPL. They cannot revoke that.

GPL is a license not a copyright (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37952908)

Appears one is confusing Copyright with License:
- Copyright grants ownership. It makes it your property.
- License grant a right to use __your__ property to someone else.
- The Copyright owner does not have to obey the GPL since they OWN the code. They do not need a license. Everyone else must obey the GPL.
- The person/company that owns the copyright to a piece of code can change the license (ie. the term to use their property) anytime they want.
- Code release under the GPL (license) gives others the right to use the code forever under that license but only for code released under that license.
- A person/company can release code under the GPL and then change their mind and stop releasing the code under the GPL. Whatever was release under the GPL will remain under the GPL. However, the company can add enhancements and then sell the who thing under a none GPL license. Only the portion released under the GPL remains free for others and only that portion is subject to the GPL if others modify it. The original copyright owner is not subjected to the terms of the GPL so they and only they can do whatever they want.
- Just repeat over and over - "If you own it you do not need permission to use it."

The above assumes that the code does not contain copyrighted code by someone else that released under the GPL. If you add GPL code not copyrighted by you to your code you must release all the code under the GPL or you have no right to use the other code.

Depends (1)

jordanjay29 (1298951) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952932)

If you're talking about corporations that abuse the GPL, such as creating a closed-source product based on modified GPLed code, that's not okay and is the perfect example of where to enforce the GPL.

If you're talking about a company that used to release a GPLed version of their software and doesn't under new management, that's not a good example. Sure, you might cry over the lack of new features, but the company handed something to you on a silver platter (their GPLed source code) that you, as the customer, neither paid for nor deserved. It was a bonus, not a requirement. And the new company isn't required to maintain the GPLed version, either. It doesn't mean that no one else can, though.

Re:Depends (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953834)

In the se4L case, then it's a closed-source product based on modified GPL code and so your first line of thought applies. However, pressuring the owners of the product to comply is likely to produce a greater amount of negativity around open source than positivity, simply because almost nobody uses L4-based Linuxes.

you need to do some homework first (1)

mzs (595629) | more than 2 years ago | (#37952940)

It is no way certain that there is any GPL violation here. Don't bother until you find one. I mean don't yo feel bad everything you hear about some site getting take down notices for reasons that prove unfounded? I wouldn't want to be like that. So really you need to find evidence in the binary that source code submitted by someone outside of MG and CS was used to build the closed version. If you find that, then you need to contact that person and learn whether or not they have the rights to that (could have been work for hire with a contract or they could have done a transfer of ownership as part of the patch submission process for example) and even if they care at all about it. Why might they not even care? Well MG could just say, "oops, thanks, here we have removed the offending source from our build, here is the new closed version that complies." And really unless you want to be a jerk, that should be good enough. You yourself wrote that you don't want to be that jerk because you do not wish to give ammo to decision makers to avoid going open source or GPL even in the future. So is all the work you and others will need to do worth that potential outcome? That's up to you. Just find an archive of the GPLed version and go from there for the future is what I personally recommend.

Re:you need to do some homework first (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953814)

Ah, good, a reply that's actually getting the point! Yay!

The problem is that in the first case (seL4), they specifically prohibit you from invoking or asking about any Open Source license whatsoever under any circumstance. To ignore that and ask them anyway is more likely to produce a backlash than a sympathetic response.

Under certain circumstances, you want to try anyway because it's more important TO try than to not try, no matter what the probability of a good response is. Under other circumstances, it's better to not stir the pot because it's more important to encourage people to look at Open Source in the first place than it is to win any specific battle - even if you could.

In the second case, we've no means of knowing what Mentor actually bought - even assuming they themselves know - and we already know Mentor is part of the Old Guard that is hostile to Open Source philosophy. Again, the only way to know the facts of the case are to dig and dig hard, but the sheer lack of users of the product convinces me that even if they agreed to make the Open Sourced variant available (albeit unmaintained), the antipathy that would be produced would far exceed the benefit of having the code.

So, again, you've got to find a place to draw a line in the sand. Beyond this point, it's just not worth even the most elementary of digging because even the tiniest of backlashes would swamp the greatest benefits you could possibly obtain.

I have no desire to be a jerk, directly to those involved OR to those who could benefit in future from businesses that feel Open Source is safe enough to enter. Finding an archive would probably work, though the impressive lack of links from anyone looking for such an archive tells me there probably isn't one. Not the end of the world (that's next year) but definitely frustrating.

Equally, doing nothing ever seems just as absurd. (The key word being "ever" - doing nothing when nothing needs to be done is just fine.) The FSF aren't the FBI, they don't have the kind of manpower to track down legitimate crossings of the line, they depend on people knowing where said line is and how to spot when someone's crossed it. In obvious cases, it's obvious. Obviously. But there's a fair amount of debate here as to what it is the GPL even says, which tells me that it's not so much a line in the sand as a fuzzy area the size of Texas in the sand. If none of us knows what a GPL violation actually looks like, how are any of us going to recognize one?

Finally, even when it's all nice and legal, that doesn't make things kosher. It's legal to do lots of highly unethical things and completely illegal to do some ethical things. What to do then?

You seem to be confusing the issues (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37952974)

Assuming Code Sourcery originated all the code, they have, essentially, the right to do whatever they want to it. They can license it under whatever licenses they want. They can't restrict the rights of people who already have it under the GPL, but they are perfectly free to stop the GPL'd branch and continue the closed version. They are also perfectly free to incorporate anything or everything from the GPL'd version into the closed version.

The GPL only denies the right to closed-source a piece of code to people who received their rights to the software through the GPL; the original author already had the rights to the code. The new company bought the "author" so now they have the rights to the code.

To put it another way, the GPL binds the code recipient, not the code author, to continue open-sourcing the code. (If you write a program that copies elements from others' GPL'd code, you are bound by the GPL as to the elements you've copied, which usually means you have to GPL the whole when you release the whole, but you are usually also free to separately release only the new material, as a patch or what-have-you, under your own preferred license)

Been Through This Myself (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953012)

I contacted the FSF's GPL folks some years back about a GPL'ed program that had been re-licensed to a proprietary one. The answer is simple: the copyright _owners_ can decide how to license their own code. Including changing anything any way they like. (In my example, the owners purged Sourceforge and all other reachable repositories.)

You may also remember a dust-up over Mepis Linux not providing source code to what was essentially a repackging of GPL code. The GPL requires that if you _distribute_ GPL code, you must provide the source as well. Stallman said this was to prevent just the situation you're seeing; the original source goes dark for some reason.

So, while it's distressing to have a nice tool go proprietary, Stallman called it right again. He _thinks_ about these things, and is far from being some fanatic. He has a goal and he has been calling his shots right since the whole Xerox debacle in the seventies.

There was another case where the code in question had contributions by multiple people. Those people were the owners of the copyrights, and were able to engage the offender and uphold their rights. So if you own any of that code, complaint is the correct course of action. If not, then there's not much you can do, as they appear to be within their rights.

In my example, the user community put out the word to find the most recent copy of the GPL source, and they have continued development from there. One reason a company would open-source their code is to get the advantage of volunteer developers; you get source, they get code. If the open-source community for that code is 5 people, they may well decide there's no advantage, and that they should reduce their costs by shutting down the resources used for that collaborative development.

Re:Been Through This Myself (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953756)

This is an excellent response, thank you. It shows that the issue is complex enough that it DOES have be to thought through and that it's not just me who is unsure just what is acceptable, and is highly informative over what the rules are. This is exactly the sort of info I was wanting, even though it doesn't go much into the ripples a decision either way will make.

(Doing nothing when doing something is correct is as much a problem as doing anything when doing nothing should be done. Both will produce ripples, unintended consequences. Sometimes these are good, often they're not. The "proper" reaction to a given situation can therefore also be the "improper" reaction, and vice versa. People are complicated, I recommend having nothing to do with them. I've never known a complicated turnip and henceforth will use Baldrik as a source of inspiration.)

Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953066)

Basically, you need to be shot. Repeatedly. Piss off already.

Yes it's kosher. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953100)

That's assuming that they were compliant to begin with, in which case the following is true:

1. They were entitled to distribute a binary-only version. Necessarily, this would mean they did not put any GPL code from other sources into their closed source version, because even if they provide a separate Free (as in Software) version, they must provide the source code to ANY program with GPL code in it.

2. They could have code that they own the copyright to in the closed version that is also GPL'ed in the Free version. That's just straightforward dual-licensing, which is fine under the GPL. However, just because the identical code is GPL elsewhere does not mean it's GPL in the closed version.

3. Providing GPL software at some point does not put the creator of the software under any obligation to continue providing it. True, they can't restrict you from using the Free version (or its source code in your own GPL programs); that cat is out of the bag. But they don't have to continue providing a place to download it. The only restriction is that they cannot provide the binary unless they also provide the source code.

Conclusion: If they stop providing the free version, they can still continue providing the closed version because, due to #2 above, there is no GPL'ed code in the closed version. For all intents and purposes, they are two separate products even if the code is identical.

Is it generally considered rude to end a free (as in speech or beer) product that people have been using for years in order to get them to pay for a version with less features (as in no source code)? Sure. Is it illegal? Not even remotely.

Re:Yes it's kosher. (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953190)

The copyright owner could supply the binary for the free version as binary only. As they are the copyright owner, they are the only people that can sue for copyright violation (see eg Righthaven or ACS:Law), and they aren't going to sue themselves.

I always marvel... (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953150)

I always marvel at the open-source "advocates" that try and throw the book at the poor company that fails to comply with every aspect of the GPL or other open-source license. What is their goal? To educate the company? A polite letter to the legal dept & board will accomplish that...

Re:I always marvel... (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953894)

My point is not to throw the book and even to say that under certain circumstances violations should actually be tolerated because it's more important to achieve the desired goal of greater openness than to win specific battles that nobody will ever use the code from anyway. Equally, there may be times when technically legal but non-kosher situations SHOULD produce a stronger response. The technicalities of the situation are an extremely bad and naive place to start, you have to start with the long-term objective and then establish what steps take you closer or further from it.

My goal is to know where that line should be and whilst I've seen a handful of excellent posts that come very close to answering what I actually asked, I've been much more successful in establishing that only that handful of respondents have even realized that there were questions to be asked at all.

Re:I always marvel... (1)

pseudofrog (570061) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954586)

And I always marvel at the closed-source "advocates" that try to throw the book at the poor people who fail to comply with every aspect of their licenses.

I mean, what are they trying to prove? That they believe their licenses should be followed?

If it is their code, they can do what they want (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953162)

As stated probably 50 or 60 times by now. The best you can do is get the last GPL'ed version and then essentially fork it to add whatever features/fixes you want. If they required people who contributed code changes to sign over ownership of the code (see MySQL as an example), then they own the code outright and can choose to continue providing it in GPL'ed form or not for future versions. MySQL has both free and proprietary parts and versions. Due to the Oracle ownership, and Oracle's (and even previously Sun's) mishandling of the project, it was forked in fact several times, with probably the main fork being MariaDB.

Are you for real? (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953164)

You're asking whether a rights holder can infringe their own rights? Are you smoking crack?

Re:Are you for real? (1, Troll)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953800)

There's no evidence that Mentor Graphics ARE the rights holder, and in the case of seL4 they certainly AREN'T the rights holder, so no I'm not asking that. Since that's obvious to everyone else but you, the safe bet would be that you're the one on drugs.

End of the story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953240)

It's unclear to me if that's kosher, as the closed variant must contain code that had been GPLed at one point.

Are you stupid, or just braindead? Clearly you have misunderstood the GPL and the U.S. copyright legislation entirely. Go do your homework before asking Slashdot. End of the story.

You're looking at this the wrong way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37953296)

The GPL is a license. Think of it like this:

I have code. I own the copyright to that code: it's mine. I can do whatever I like with that code.

I choose to license that code to others under the GPL. That means I'm granting them extra rights that would normally be reserved for myself (e.g. they can redistribute it if they want), but with a few restrictions attached.

If they choose not to follow the license, those rights I've granted them are void and to redistribute it is committing copyright infringment against me. However, I can still do whatever I choose with the code, because it's mine.

Dual licensing (1)

Just Brew It! (636086) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953414)

From the original news post:

When Mentor Graphics bought Code Sourcery, they continued developing the closed-course one and discontinued, then deleted, the GPL variant. It's unclear to me if that's kosher, as the closed variant must contain code that had been GPLed at one point.

As long as they hold the copyright on all of the code in question (or any code they don't hold the copyright on is under a permissive non-copyleft license like BSD or Apache), it is completely kosher. It would be a pretty standard case of a dual license, much like the licensing model Oracle uses for MySQL. There is nothing in the GPL that compels the original developer to continue supporting a package against their will (other than providing the GPLed version of the source code on request to people they've distributed the package to in the past). Nor is there any prohibition against taking all future versions of the codebase proprietary, as long as the proprietary version does not include GPLed code owned by others.

The thing that you don't seem to grasp is that GPLed code is still be owned by someone; it is not the same thing as being in the public domain. If all of the code in an application was written by the same entity (or the copyrights have been signed over to them), then that entity can make future versions of the application proprietary if they want. What they cannot do is retroactively take back anyone's rights to continue using/modifying the old GPLed version(s).

Re:Dual licensing (1)

Just Brew It! (636086) | more than 2 years ago | (#37953478)

Last sentence above should have been: "What they cannot do is retroactively take back anyone's rights to continue using/modifying/distributing the old GPLed version(s)."

(Sorry for replying to my own post, but I figured that needed clarification...)

Re:Dual licensing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37954540)

They can't do that with Copyright Law. Patent law is a different story.
However there might be estoppel issues -- letting people use it for
years and years and then clamping down.

When to complain? (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954050)

The FFmpeg team has some ideas [ffmpeg.org] about this.

I see they are currently updating the page - they do that a lot.

What I am unclear on is whether they are just noisy whiners, or if they ever actually put the legal teeth to any of their targets?

There are far more eggregious examples. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37954544)

McAfee: Both their Ironmail and Webshield devices (now Secure Mail Gateway and Secure Web Gateway) are chok-full-o-GPL code under "closed source".

EMC: Now that they have purchased Isilon, they own a steaming pile of ripped off open source code from BSD and Sun.

is it just me... (1)

steveaustin1971 (1094329) | more than 2 years ago | (#37954792)

I don't think people really care much either way. Of course there will be a small percentage that are concerned about the source of the code, but in general most people just don't care. If they can download it from TPB and it works, they'll use it.
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