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Abusing the GPL?

Cliff posted more than 12 years ago | from the manipulations-and-loopholes dept.

The Courts 771

Anonymous with good reason, a reader would like to bring this important question to your collective attention: "Our (technically savvy) lawyer has advised my company that 'incidental resources' do not a work derive. For example: If I have a student's version of a development environment whose license does not allow me to distribute code compiled with it for commercial use, I am legally allowed to use the environment to create my ANSI C++ code, which, when I compile it with GCC, I am free to use to whatever commercial end I like. This seems fairly intuitive. (After all, you could have written the same thing in a text editor, and the debugging, etc, that you need the IDE for doesn't actually 'show up' in the final code). Here's the kicker: My company wants to translate this to an abuse of the GPL and has been advised 'full speed ahead!'"

"How, you may ask?

Integrate the highly useful GPL code we're eyeing into our only slightly more complex (but much more lucrative) project, thereby saving us at least 30% of the coding involved. The company then go all the way to production with it, but instead of finally compiling the actual project for distribution, they instead compile a bunch of incomprehensible gobbledygook that just happens to compile to the same bytecode. You know the game: globally replace every function name, variable name, and so on from our code with nonsensical names (or random characters), remove all of the comments, and any other form of obfuscation they can introduce. They will then GPL the obfuscated gobbledygook, which isn't much more useful to anyone than reverse-engineered bytecode would be (it is a complex project). 'Voila!' All the benefits of a huge GPL project and countless thousands of volunteer hours and unreadable, incomprehensible source tree.

For the record: I
do not think this is right yet, I have not been able to find any precedent for why the GPL should protect against this kind of abuse.

I'm not trying to snitch on my company -- or lose my job, which is why I am posting anonymously -- but hopefully some lawyers out there could point out some iron-clad
legal reason preventing this sort of thing. I've read the GPL through at least a dozen times since yesterday, and so far it looks like our lawyer is right. I have not found any relevant linkage either, as I have mentioned. Links to extended legal analyses of the GPL from a technical standpoint (if any exist) would be the most helpful. All help is appreciated."

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VA Is Dying (-1)

RoboTroll (560160) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117706)

Just three days ago, I subscribed to OSDN's (formerly known as Andover.net; a subsidiary of VA Software formerly known as VA Linux formerly known as VA Research) Freshmeat Update newsletter. However, I quickly found out that spending half a minute per day reading about new open sores warez is a waste of my valuable time; hence I decided to unsubscribe. Luckily, I was too lazy to do it yesterday or else I would have missed this wonderful ad that came with the newsletter this morning, instead of the usual ad for Thawte's SSL Guide:

--
Mind altering substance from Microsoft.

Microsoft® Visual Studio® .NET from Microsoft
has arrived. Will the old way of programming
survive?Click to find out:
www.msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio
--


It seems that the Visual Studio banner ad [doubleclick.net] [doubleclick.net] was not a single occurence, but rather part of a prolonged advertising campaign by Microsoft on the VA sites.

Hopefully, this means that VA are running short of cash, need every dollar they could possibly get their greedy hands on and their end is nearer than I would have ever hoped. Hopefully, this will also mean that $lashdot won't be around much longer and the pimply-faced slashbots will finally use some real software [microsoft.com] [microsoft.com] instead of that open sores crap [kdevelop.org] [kdevelop.org].

P.S. I liked this part in MS' ad the most: "Will the old way of programming survive?". LOL.

Troll 28 of 131 from the annals of the Troll Library [slashdot.org] .

The truth about windows (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117864)

..so I installed "windows 2000 based on NT technology".

I got on the internet and started downloading a video. While it was downloading I tried to play it to see what it is about. Well, YOU CAN'T DO that in "Windows 2000 based on NT technology". Two programs can't access the same file!
You have to wait until all of the file is downloaded and THEN play it.

Linux supports infinitive number of programs using the same file for ages.

So much for the amazing technology under the NT infrastructure...

I abuse the GPL (-1, Troll)

Fucky the troll (528068) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117715)

Abuse the GPL? That'll be Goatse.cx's Pouting Lips [goatse.cx] then, would it?

First post... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117718)

I just gotta try it once... please oh please

Re:First post... (-1)

Fucky the troll (528068) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117730)

Bad luck, motherfuck.

Sounds wrong to me (2, Insightful)

matthew.thompson (44814) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117721)

Obviously an IANAL comment but to me it just sounds dead wrong.

What you should do is put it as "What would Microsoft do". If you too microsoft's code and decompiled it and then changed a few names and recompiled it would they sue?

Would you company risk taking on Microsoft? If they would then tell them to go ahead and violate the GPL. If they wouldn't ask them why they feel they can get away with taking on someone smaller.

If you find another job please let us know who it is is doing this.

Dirty Pool! But also confusing. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117808)

Although logicaly it doesn't sound like a violation of the GPL because you still can see the source code.

I question the motivation.

How would this benifit your company? The source will still compile right? It still can be obtained free. right? This just seems silly. The problem people have making money off of GPL'ed software lies not in the open source code but in the fact that people can get for free what you are trying to sell. I mean when was the last time you looked at the source of a project that you just wanted to use, not develope.

Re:Sounds wrong to me (0)

yatest5 (455123) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117840)

What you should do is put it as "What would Microsoft do". If you too microsoft's code and decompiled it and then changed a few names and recompiled it would they sue?

Would you company risk taking on Microsoft? If they would then tell them to go ahead and violate the GPL. If they wouldn't ask them why they feel they can get away with taking on someone smaller.


Er, this sounds wrong to me too. Why do you people have to drag MS into everything. And the fact is, YES, MS would kick their ass. But cos this is open-source code, their is no-one with the financial backing to sue their ass, plus they are unlikely to find out in the first place.

Re:Sounds wrong to me (1, Flamebait)

Bios_Hakr (68586) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117851)

Who is goint to sue $Big_Comp if they reuse your code? You? Not likely. The FSF? Maybe.

No, more than likely, you'd get a misspelled writeup on /. with mangled facts and links that are 502. The community would rally, for an hour or so. Then they would be onto the next big thing.

A few months would go by and you would see a 3 line summary about how $Big_Comp killed you with 50 lawyers and some purchaced politicians.

Dirty Pool! But also confusing. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117853)

Although logicaly it doesn't sound like a violation of the GPL because you still can see the source code. I question the motivation. How would this benifit your company? The source will still compile right? It still can be obtained free. right? This just seems silly. The problem people have making money off of GPL'ed software lies not in the open source code but in the fact that people can get for free what you are trying to sell.

I mean when was the last time you looked at the source of a project that you just wanted to use, not develope.

Re:Dirty Pool! But also confusing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117880)

They get the benifits of thousands of hours of development for free. What's not to like?

-J

Re:Sounds wrong to me (2, Interesting)

plague3106 (71849) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117888)

Sounds to me like they are taking someone elses book, changing the names of all the characters and places (leaving the other words exactly as they were written), then including it as a part of a larger book, maybe writing the beginning and ending...with the original book in the middle...

Cut and dried Copyright violation (3, Insightful)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117722)

If you take some code and switch out all the variable names and change the spacing around, it's still the same code. If your lawyer is advising you differently, I'd be very suspicious of his motiviations.

Re:Cut and dried Copyright violation (3, Insightful)

pyramid termite (458232) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117806)

If you take some code and switch out all the variable names and change the spacing around, it's still the same code.

Afraid not - the GPL gives you the right to change the code as long as you release the changes; the fact that it's changed to code that won't make any sense without a truckload of aspirin and coffee doesn't matter. It's not very sporting of them to do this, but I have a feeling it'll even out in the end - they'll lose the comprehesible copy of this, they'll want to come out with a new version and be faced with the awful task of trying to remember what the hell they did.

Re:Cut and dried Copyright violation (3, Insightful)

earlytime (15364) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117822)

I agree. The way I see it, the two things GPL requires you to do above all else are:

1. maintain the GNU licensing that was there when you got it.

2. if you (re)distribute changes, you must at least distribute those changes as source code.

I understand that their actions make the source "unfriendly" but if it compiles, then I can fire up (g)cc and recreate the same binary that you have. Maybe even compile on a different platform. I don't see how this violates the spirit of the GPL, since there are no provisions in it for the quality or readibility of code. It's primarily designed to protect the openness of the code, not to protect the usability of it.

Re:Cut and dried Copyright violation (1)

thaigan (197773) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117875)

It's not very open, if it's not understandable.

Don't be so sure. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117823)

I mean the code is still GPL, just obfuscated. No where in the GPL does it say you can't obfuscate the code. It just says you have to make it avalable.

Sounds like a plan! (-1)

Genghis Troll (158585) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117728)

What's the problem here?

No Ethics == Outathere (2, Informative)

horse (70241) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117731)

Speaking only for myself, here. I would resign immediately, and report the abuse to the FSF.

Life is too short to work for lowlife scum.

Re:No Ethics == Outathere (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117770)

I doubt that's going to happen. It seems to me that he's probably in charge of this himself; and what better place to cover all his bases on the GPL than Slashdot?

And then what? (3, Informative)

IPFreely (47576) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117871)

So he reports it to FSF. Then what?

The primary question of the article was "Is this legal or actionable with respect to the GPL?"
Even if the FSF knew about it, what could they do? There has to be a clear violation of the wording of the GPL, not just some gut reaction.

So the question stands: What can be done about this type of situation given what we know?

If there is something that can be done, then talk about reporting them.

FWIW: The BSD advertising clause would require at least one comment remain in the code, the original authors name. That would at least give someone a hint as to where the code came from when trying to interpret the "garbage" source.

Spirit of the law (3, Interesting)

Chardish (529780) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117733)

Countless times in the courts have cases been overruled/thrown out because they violate the "spirit of the law" - which is a general non-loophole clause that applies to just about everything.

So these people violate the "spirit of the GPL." Throw that at them in your court case. Cite other cases (esp. intellectual property cases) in which a decision was made based on the "spirit of the law."

-Evan

Re:Spirit of the law (2, Insightful)

_DMan_ (105238) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117758)

Except that the GPL is not a law, it is a license.

If there is any "spirit of the GPL", it should be explicitly stated as part of the license.

What the heck is with the add in the middle now? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117734)

Is funding really that bad right now that an add needs to be placed in the middle of a Slashdot article? Not that its a big deal, look at the other online news site...

Re:What the heck is with the ad in the middle now (0, Offtopic)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117838)

The funny thing... and I swear I'm not making this up or exaggerating... I didn't even notice that the ad was there until this post called my attention to it--and then I had to go back and make sure.

Doesn't bode well for the deep-thinkers who believe that the reason Internet ads would work is that they're not sufficiently intrusive.

Can shoshkeles be far behind?

Who's suprised (1)

essiescreet (553257) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117739)

I don't really see how so many people are surprised. As ethically challenged as we hear that corporations are. Misbehaving by companies happens over and over and over again, and won't stop. There will always be someone willing to do something shady to make a buck.

That being said, their idea sucks. Legality aside, it's just a crappy, unethical, lazy, bad way of doing buisness.

Source code = preferred form for modification (5, Informative)

phr2 (545169) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117740)

The GPL explicitly defines source code as the preferred form of a program for modifying it.

To find out whether the gobbletygook you distribute is source code or not is simple: if you normally add features to the program by editing the gobbletygook, it's source. If you instead edit the stuff that you compiled to gobbletygook and then recompile it, then the stuff you distributed isn't source and it's a clear-cut GPL violation.

Re:Source code = preferred form for modification (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117789)

...or if you come across this product and see the source code is gobbledygook - then the company is basically saying: Hello! We're breaking the GPL!

Re:Source code = preferred form for modification (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117859)

Hmm... If this were the case, half the projects on sourceforge would be in violation...

Why did it take so many posts? (5, Informative)

fizbin (2046) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117826)

Why did it take so many posts for someone to point this out? Do people not read the GPL?



What a day to be without moderator points...



For those too lazy to read the whole thing, read section three, point #3 [gnu.org] very carefully. Just because something compiles does NOT mean that it is source according to the GPL. That you would not do development on the obfuscated gobbledegook clearly shows that the obfuscated version is NOT the preferred form for modification. I would be highly suspicious that your lawyer is insufficiently anal when reading contracts if they missed this.



As for precedent, can anyone find a discussion of GPL'ed yacc/bison grammars? This would fit exactly the case above - the original source that must be distributed is the .y file, not the result of compiling the .y to a .c file. Unfortunately, I don't think that anyone has ever been tempted to rip off a GPL'ed grammar.

"viral license" (2, Insightful)

nakhla (68363) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117741)

It's issues like this that cause Microsoft to call the GPL a "viral license" that infects all of a company's code.

Personally, I feel that the GPL should be enforced when the work is actually DERIVED FROM a GPL'd work. The example of the IDE is a prime example. Look at KDevelop. If I write a console-based program which doesn't use the Qt or KDE libraries, I am allowed to release the program under whatever license I choose. No argument.

If we squabble about license issues and what constitutes a "dervied work" then it only gives MS a better case against the GPL. While I'd personally rather see packages like Qt released under the LGPL, the GPL is certainly the most valuable license in the furtherance of Linux.

Preferred form (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117745)

Gnu GPL clause 3: "The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it."

Deliberately obfuscated high-level language code (which is no longer preferred, or even useful, for modifications) does not appear to meet this requirement.

Re:Preferred form (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117768)

Preferred by whom?

Re:Preferred form (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117807)

By your mom, of course.

Is it just me? (2, Insightful)

fruey (563914) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117747)

Or does this article just fail to make it clear what is going on...

Are you saying that using the GCC compiler means that you will then have an executable which you have to GPL the source code for?

Are you saying you are going to integrate GPL source code into a project?

I don't quite understand. Someone else enlighten me?

No, because it's LGPL (1)

knulleke (557202) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117867)

The libraries that come with gcc are LGPL'ed, which basically means you are free to choose the license for any application that contains the libraries.

As for just compiling your code with gcc (which I believe is GPL'ed), you're not using the "static" code used in gcc, rather the "dynamically" generated code by gcc. The license does not stretch to the generated code.

Can't do it. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117748)

Read the GPL. Source code must be provided in a form normally used by programmers.
Obfuscated code violates this license clause. End of story.

Re:Can't do it. (1, Insightful)

Fucky the troll (528068) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117767)

Surely "a form normally used by programmers" means no comments, unrecognisable object and variable names and a complete lack of documentation. :)

Re:Can't do it. (2, Interesting)

Krondor (306666) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117798)

You obviously don't know lawyers. How does one define normal. It could be very well arugued that obfuscated code is a programming norm in a large percentage of the industry. Also, how do you define obfuscated, changing variables named UserTimer to UT isn't necessarily that obfuscated. When do you draw the lines. I can see how this would and could be a very very long ordeal in the courts. It's sad but business isn't immoral they are ammoral (They don't acknowledge the existance of morals).

Re:Can't do it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117830)

Well, sonny boy, maybe those long nosed New York City judges might count the angels on the head of a pin. Maybe they don't know where to draw the line, but our Texas judges are chock full of common sense. So bring it on, junior. I'd like to see your yankee ass eaten up by one of our common sense good ole boy judges. Bring it on!

Heh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117750)

Good luck, you're going to need it. Let's say that you replaced variable and function names to your heart's content in a particular bit of source code, and when it compiled it just happened to be the Quake 3 engine. Quel surprise! Does that mean that you can call it your own? No, it does not. The files that you opened and edited were licensed under the GPL; cut/pasting that code from one window to another does NOT mean that you dissolve the copyright on it. If you built your own car by taking a picture of a Ferarri, building an exact copy and painting it green instead of red, does that mean you're legally entitled to the design? No, it doesn't.

I'm guessing that you're posting anonymously because you're the one that's going to profit from this GPL violation, and you wanted to check with the experts to see if you could get away with it legally. You deserve the trouble that you're going to get from this.

RTFGPL (3, Redundant)

Bazman (4849) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117751)

"The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it."

Shouldn't be too hard to prove that an obfuscated code isn't the preferred form for making modifications. [Unless its perl of course :) ]

Baz

Possible problem (5, Insightful)

IainHere (536270) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117752)

I think some people here have misunderstood the original post - it looks like the company's intention is to release their code under the GPL, so as not to violate the licence terms, but to obfuscate that code, to render it useless for further modification. Surely though, we can compile the obfuscated code, and get to the final product, which still makes it free beer? We could also sell the product.

It's clear. (3, Redundant)

Eric Sharkey (1717) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117755)

The GPL states:

The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it.


If this isn't the form your company prefers for doing their own internal modifications, then this isn't the source code!

Re:It's clear. (1)

ankit (70020) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117813)

What if... (hypothetically),
the company does not make any modifications to the code after releasing it? Or makes trivial changes in the obfuscated code only? What then?

Your lawyer is a fucking retard (1, Insightful)

mosch (204) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117756)

If you start with the code, remove comments, change variable names and whitespace... it's still the same code, AND it's a derivative work, subject to the restrictions on the GPL.

I think what your lawyer meant to say was 'you probably won't get caught, and if you do those damned GPL hippies can't afford lawyers anyway'.

By not being willing to put public pressure on your employer to stop this, you're as culpable as they are. The crime is being commited with your full knowledge of the action and the fact that it's illegal. Failure to report your company could leave you personally liable in the future.

Re:Your lawyer is a fucking retard (1)

Krondor (306666) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117820)

Who are you to judge? Are you so pure that when faced with loss of a job in a country reluctant to hire you wouldn't bow down. What if he has a family to support. I don't know how you can make such a personal attack without knowing someone.

Re:Your lawyer is a fucking retard (2)

evil_one (142582) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117885)

It's only a copyright violation if the code is re-released. That's not /his/ responsibility, that's the company's.

ALSO - he's not talking about removing comments variablenames & whitespace in the gpl'd source, but his company's.

I don't think this tactic will help your company (1)

jrifkin (100192) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117759)

because

(1) Although the source is obfuscated, it is still
GPL which means its freely available and freely
compilable.

2) If folks know from which original obfuscated
code the GPL derives, it may be possible to
write some program that separates it from the
new code and then the new (but obfuscated) code
can be examined and possibly cleaned up, then voila new GPL code.

So your company produces code that must be distrubuted freely - how can they benifit?

From the GPL (1)

Procrasti (459372) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117760)

The GPL quite clearly states [gnu.org] :
The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it.

Your company is breaking the law... enough said.

Re:From the GPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117828)

they are not braking the law, they are breaking the license.
dont forget that the next time you click-through some eula.

Re:From the GPL (2, Insightful)

Procrasti (459372) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117844)

Damn, you have to be fast to not be redundant... Guess that's why they call it internet time. Was a pretty obvious answer really. I shouldn't have spent so long formatting it.

Oh well, go ahead, Mod me to hell -- I never had any karma to begin with :(

Still must compile. (0)

Penguinoflight (517245) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117762)

If the unsaid company would generate their project GPL'd, at least the product would be free. I agree that messing up the code like that is really bad. If it can't be compiled, I think they will be sued.

INAL

Legal Loopholes (3, Insightful)

Kombat (93720) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117763)

You did say they still plan on releasing the resulting, obfuscated code under the GPL, right? So, under the terms of the GPL, there is no violation. The GPL says you can change the code all you want (including obfuscation), as long as you release the resulting work under the same license.

Nowhere does it say that that code has to be non-obfuscated. Nor do I think it should. Do we really want to try and formalize that gray area between "obfuscation" and just plain "sloppy code?"

Not all of the code released under the GPL is what we would consider "good code." By that, I mean people release all sorts of toy projects and junk code under the GPL, for learning purposes. They use bad variable names and inefficient algorithms, but when do we start to consider code "obfuscated?" And more importantly, do we want to leave it to a lawyer to make that decision for us?

I say if you're really concerned about it, then leave the company. Otherwise, just write it off as mean-spirited. There's no law against being mean. :(

Total obfuscation is not possible (4, Insightful)

jsmyth (517568) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117765)

Previous article: On the (Im)Possibility of obfuscating programs [slashdot.org] .

Pretty boring stuff, but the overall point is that once the end product is GPL'd, it won't take long for someone in the bazaar to figure out a meaning for "asdfgh", and do a s/asdfgh/meaningfulName/g through the whole thing. Or even figure a way to diff it with the original source.

As long as it's GPL'd, the source will be available, and it'll be figured. You're wasting a lot of your time (and the rest of the community's) for very little reason.

No matter how complex your obfuscation, it's likely much less complex than, say, CSS or DES was.

Maybe not legal, but what about PR? (3, Interesting)

Rashkae (59673) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117766)

As far as I can tell, AINL, as long as you do in fact release the source code (and all linked pieces... must be careful about this), you are in compliance with the GPL, even if the souce code has been obsufacated as much as possible. Just remember though, *everyone* will get to see this source code. They will either know that 1. You are ripping them off by 'working around' the GPL. Or 2. Think your company is staffed with the most incompetent imbecil programmers anyhwere. So my question for you is... Why would *any* company want to release something that makes them look bad??? What exactly is the advantage they think they will get from this?

Why are you asking this here? (1)

Jucius Maximus (229128) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117769)

You will just get a bunch of "IANAL..." responses.

You were right in talking to your lawyer.

What a bunch of jokers (1)

dachshund (300733) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117771)

Unfortunately, the only requirements I can see in the GPL regarding source code is that it be "machine-readable". There's a vague statement that "source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it", which could potentially spell trouble for your bosses... As the crap they intend to give out seems to be less than the preferred form for doing anything. But that's a slim chance.

I would imagine this'd be something to think about for the next version of the GPL.

Obfuscated source code is not GPLable..... (2, Redundant)

AndyS (655) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117772)

This doesn't seem too hard, although the part is limited. To quote from the GPL

"The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it."

In this case - obfuscated code is not the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it - your company isn't going to be making the modifications to the obfuscated version - they're going to use an internal version and make modifications to that instead. In which case they would be in violation of the GPL. A bit of an arse to litigate I would guess.

Breach of copyright (1, Redundant)

juju2112 (215107) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117773)

The way I understand it, if you distribute GPL'd code to the public, you must also distribute the source code. It doesn't matter how much you modify it -- if you fail to release the source code then you are breaking copyright and can be sued.

This violates the GPL (1)

Make (95577) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117776)

GPLv2 says:

"The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it."

Obfuscated source code is obviously not "the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it". 'Nuff said.

Wait a sec (1, Redundant)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117778)

Are we talking about just compilation and use of an IDE? I we talking about compiling against libraries?

We're not talking about including source files.

It all sounds fine to me. I don't pay a royalty to Sun Microsystems just because I compiled under Forte. What am I missing here that you're doing?

Oh, you're obfuscating existing code...Gotcha(n/t) (1)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117835)

No Text

Seems to me the bytecode is not the "source code". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117779)

Certainly it would be tough to argue that the bytecode is the "source code" used for a project. How could bugs be fixed in such code? The GPL requires that source be included. Certainly if it got to court you'd have a tough time telling a judge that the obfuscated code was the source, and trying to present that in response to a subpoena would probably get you jailed for contempt. The GPL is not a machine, and the company involved looks to me to be getting bad advice. You could do the workaround IF you actually planned to use only the obfuscated code, but then your maintenance costs would skyrocket.

One other issue (2)

Xentax (201517) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117781)

While the code MAY be obfuscated, you're still releasing it under the GPL.

And while it's true that it's "Almost" as useless as reverse-engineered bytecode, it's not necessarily. Someone with the patience and, say, economic motivation, could still retrieve your full codebase, and be perfectly within their rights to do anything with it, including compete directly against the company.

If you really want to stop this, that's a tack you could take -- try to convince management that there IS a security risk in releasing even the obfuscated code.

I don't see companies like Microsoft or Cisco releasing even obfuscated source to code they consider valuable.

Xentax

Re:One other issue (2)

gilroy (155262) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117874)

Blockquoth the poster:

If you really want to stop this, that's a tack you could take -- try to convince management that there IS a security risk in releasing even the obfuscated code.
I don't see companies like Microsoft or Cisco releasing even obfuscated source to code they consider valuable.

But then, as I understand it, they could not use the GPL'd stuff they want to use, since use of GPL stuff mandates making the source code available.

defacing of code (0)

gerf (532474) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117782)

there should be a clause about defacing code until it's unrecognizable. this is not cool, it's simply horrifying.

i can see this being used in bigger cases, such as if aol actually buys some open source o/s, then manipulates it to a disgusting end like this

Using GPL software means submitting the changes (1)

mst (30456) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117783)

Isn't youd company obliged (under the GPL license) to publish any modifications they make, under the GPL license? That would have interesting implications on their plans.

Free (as in beer) (1)

bringert (520653) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117785)

However unreadable the mess will be, it will still be possible to compile it to the working product.

This means that you cannot stop people from distributing the product) freely.

Sure, nobody can modify you program, but they can still use it without paying you.

From the GPL (1, Redundant)

BeBoxer (14448) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117788)

The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it.

If anybody from your firm states in court that the obfuscated version of the code meets this definition, they will be perjuring themselves. Your company is not going to be having the developers maintain the obfuscated code. Any claim that the obfuscated code is actually the "source code" is a lie. Claiming that it is isn't any more true than claiming that your intermediate .s files are the source code.

Tell your company they should hire better lawyers. And find another job, because your employers appear to be a bunch of dishonest pricks.

GPLing obfuscated code is no good. (1)

cryptic (48987) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117791)

Quote from the GPL [fsf.org] :

The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it.

So I guess, this is not going to work. Then again, IANAL, and I don't want to be one.

Do it man. (2, Funny)

sinserve (455889) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117792)

Do the fucking thing your boss says, as long as you
are not in power, follow orders.

But as soon as you follow the wrong orders, and
break the law, you are instantly in power.

Do your job, get paid, and fucking report them if
they ever fire you.

It is a win-win situation for you.

--

Three points (1)

theCoder (23772) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117793)

1) Java code is almost inherently open source. You can always decompile the .class code into .java files. There are obfuscators out there that change the names of the variables, etc, but you still have the basic logic of the code (it's just harder to figure out). If your company thinks a competitor wouldn't be able use this, they're probably mistaken.

2) The obfuscation process, if applied to the source code is essentially another compiliation. IANAL, but I think a lawyer could successfully argue that the obfuscated code is an intermediate step in the compiling process being used and doesn't constitue the original source code.

3) If the company wants to license the GPL'd code, they should comply with the restrictions and GPL their modifications or derivative works to it. Or, they can simply not license the GPL'd work!. There's a cost involved with everything, this is that cost.

the case of the zmodem source code (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117799)

The zmodem file transfer protocol was copyrighted but the source code was released but to use it commerically you had to purchase a license. A couple fellows got the idea to rewrite it in Pascal. ``Hah hah,'' they thought. Yet the last laugh was on them. The court found that reworking it as Pascal was a copyright violation and they had to cease and disist distribution. They got bitch slapped.

Go ahead. Try it. Make my day.

What about Assembler? (2)

raynet (51803) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117800)

IMHO you're allowed to port a GPL project to another programming language, eg. C to Pascal. But what if you port it to Assembler? Are you still complying GPL because you distribute the software with .ASM-files created with GCC or some other compiler? Or just dump your executables through de-assembler and claim that those are the source code.

Interesting (0)

mazdak_rezvani (562479) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117801)

This is an interesting dilemma. However, I do not think chaning function names and variables, etc. is a very professional way of going about doing things... sounds like a bunch of university students who want to hand in the same programming project!!! if the savings are only 30%, then you should go ahead and write your code from scratch.

GPL abuses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117803)

This is another type of abuse:

I once went to a job interview and when they were describing the product they told: "look at this piece of code, it was taken from tool X - a GPLed highly known tool". Of course their product was not free source.

It seems to me that this type of abuse if very hard to detect.

There may indeed be an oversight in the GPL (2)

BadDoggie (145310) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117814)

After looking through the GPL [fsf.org] , I can't find any requirement to leave author comments and other information in the source, nor anything that forbids obfuscation.

My guess is that Section 2a is the only thing that may help here:

2. You may modify your copy or copies of the Program or any portion of it, thus forming a work based on the Program, and copy and distribute such modifications or work under the terms of Section 1 above, provided that you also meet all of these conditions:
a) You must cause the modified files to carry prominent notices stating that you changed the files and the date of any change.
This may allow someone to at least track down what the code was before obfuscation, but I see no requirement to name the source of the original code.

Worse, Section 3 -- which allows distribution in binary -- only requires the source to be "machine readable". Again, nothing against obfuscation. Section 1 only says you have to keep the copyright notices and references to such as well as the disclaimers in your code.

I'd like to see what the FSF has to say on this.

woof.

Source without comments is like a joke without the punchline.

Well I would you steal a commercial programs code? (2)

JohnBE (411964) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117815)

For me this is a huge inditement of Microsofts shared source and commercial licenses for code. Why? Well, if you rip of GPL'led code the authors while annoyed if they knew, are not going to be saddened by the loss of income. The bulk of them make money on the packaging, sponsorship, their day jobs or consulting related to the product.

Now 'shared source', and companies that provide Perl/PHP/JSP code with a commercial license *would* loose income! They don't have any more magic reverse engineering tools than the open source community.

What you're company is doing is morally very wrong but I don't think it'll kill the GPL as a license but it could have an impact on other ideas such as 'Shared Source'.

They may not be doing it for the income (1)

phr2 (545169) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117869)

As a GPL code author I've given up a ton of potential income to spend time writing GPL'd code and contribute to a free codebase. The reward I got was not financial but I valued it just as much--in fact I valued it more, since I chose it in preference to the income. If someone rips off the GPL'd code I wrote, they take that away from me, so it's ridiculous to say I haven't lost anything just because there was no actual cash involved.

Ripping off GPL'd code is a copyright infringement just like ripping off Microsoft code. I assigned my copyrights to the FSF and I will vigorously assist the FSF in any way necessary in prosecuting GPL infringers of stuff I wrote.

Keep in mind that if someone willfully infringes a copyright, they can be liable not only for actual damages (the amount of income they cost the copyright owner) but also for statutory damages of up to $100,000 per infringement (i.e. they can have to pay $100K per infringement even if they didn't actually cost the owner anything). So don't do it.

i can sell it to your customers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117816)

"They will then GPL the obfuscated gobbledygook"

So once they GPL the obsfucated code - I can then grab a copy, compile it, and sell it to your own customers for less money than you can?!

Cool :o)

Semantics... (2)

gillbates (106458) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117819)

This is little different from those students in my CS classes who would copy code from each other and use a global search and replace to change the variable names...

When it comes down to it, this is a really sticky question. There are certain algorithms which can only be done efficiently in one way. If I code a linked list in C++, and the optimizing compiler boils it down into the same object code as Microsoft's linked list class, do I owe Microsoft royalties? The source code is different, but it is very possible that the object code would be identical. If object code can be copyrighted, then this would place many open source projects in jeopardy, as they frequently borrow algorithms from the proprietary UNIXes.

I think a better approach for your company would be to have an analyst read through and analyze the GPL code, and then create something new based on the knowledge gained. Copy the algorithms, but not the code. This "black box" approach would take only marginally longer, and there would be no possibility that all of your code could be forced into open source status. Since the design is already proven with this approach, the only thing you would have left to do is the coding and testing (which should be about 8% of the total project cost.)

Is your software Complete? If it doesn't come with the source code, it's Incomplete Software .

Let 'em try (2)

Mattygfunk (517948) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117821)

Ok so this isn't the spirit of the GPL. I am fine with it though because despite their best efforts to obfuscate it can be modified back to readable very easily. If their code is worthwhile having for the general community it will get cleaned up and OSS will have a little bit more than they had before. Let 'em try.

What could they possibly be working on that capable programmers couldn't write themselves? I don't think that this companies attempted theft is really that well thought through.

Maintainance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117829)

How are they expecting to maintain the source ?
If they're going to start off the clean code base
after releasing the mangled version, then that
would be a way more easy argument to sue them
(they could argue that the original cleaned
source got mangled, but they surely could not
argue that they needed to get the previous clean
version, I guess).

There is no loophole (2)

joshv (13017) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117833)

Verbatim from the GPL:
"The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it. "

This gooble-de-gook is by no means the 'preferred form' for making modification, thus it is not source code under the GPL.

Get another job, this company is going down.

-josh

Doesn't look legal (2)

D_Gr8_BoB (136268) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117837)

From the GPL:
The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it.

While this obsfucated form of the source is indeed machine-readable, you're going to have a hard time passing it off as the preferred form for making modifications. Seems fairly open and shut to me.

the penis troll. (-1)

RoboTroll (560160) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117843)

Mayor McPenisman has a tale of woe to dispense, and since you asked, here goes:
Emporer Napleon Bonerpants founded Penisville with the intention of eating penis pot pie on a daily basis. Soon after, Harry "Penis" Houdini assisinated him through trecherous means. Our penis loving state was in danger of being taken over by the Poonis worshippers.
Then I, Mayor McPenisman united the penisites under the flag of penis (the flag of penis being a penis drawn on a flag) and the general love among penismen. All "members" (get it?) of the penis party get penis sitting privilages any time they want. Phallic Phreedom to all!

Troll 30 of 131 from the annals of the Troll Library [slashdot.org] .

GPL source code = intelectual property? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117846)

Firstly, i think you should be fired and if i were you're boss, i would sue you. That being said, if the company is violating the GPL then let the FSF take care of it because i think that there are many cases of this happening all over the software development world even beyong the GPL. What can you do about it?? Nothing, unless you get the company to open their source code. Not bloody likely, unless you want to testify against them for the FSF Gestapo and why would you do that?

Even though we don't have the source code of Microsoft, there is alot of GPL software that rips thier "Intellectual Property" (just look at all the GPL desktops) which is analagous to GPL source code (GPL license source code == intelectual property of copyright holder).

So, unless you want to claim that GPL covers "concepts", or intellectual property (how ironic), just live with it.

Here's a possibility (2)

PhilHibbs (4537) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117849)

They will then GPL the obfuscated gobbledygook,
Doesn't the GPL forbid this? (re-reads GPL) Um... it appears not, it doesn't even require that the original copyright notices be included! (or at least, I could not find the requirement)

IANAL... (1)

crc32 (133399) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117850)

and so this is NOT legal advice. But here's how the GPL works:

1. every contributer to the code has a copyright in their seperate piece

2. everyone who wishes to use the code is bound by the GPL to release their "new version" under the GPL

3. if you don't do this, or you place more restrictions on the code than expressly authorized by the GPL, the licence becomes void

4. then you are open to copyright violoation, and the statutory damages that apply.

Now, what this company is about to do may not feel right, but obsfucation does not seem to violate the GPL. BUT, they will have to go about that obsfucation carefully, and they must release their software under the GPL too. Because of that, I have a feeling that the community will react to decompile their code and rebuild it so that there is a readable version out there.

Lesson of the day: we need to update the GPL!

Re:IANAL... (1)

crc32 (133399) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117878)

Ok, the "prefered form" posts appeared while I was typing my comment. The "prefered form" requirement is substantial, but it is definitly something that could go to litigation, with all the less-than-desirable results that will ensue. But it may be the way to prevent this obsfucation abuse.

preferred form for making modifications (0)

babychess (452803) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117856)

The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it.

That is from the GPL. Obvious "incomprehensible gobbledygook" is not the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it. It is not source, because it is never modified. Admitted, the GPL is not very clear about what excatly constitutes "source," but this company asserting their obfuscated code is their source which they make changes to shouln't hold in court, in the case if the copyright holders want to pursue this firm. I wonder if the software in question is copyrigted by the FSF.

You company does not have permission (4, Informative)

Jamie Lokier (104820) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117857)

(BTW, I am not a legal advisor. This is my understanding of the GPL).

If you are including other people's GPL'd source code in a program which you distribute, then you must abide by the terms of that license. Section 3 of the GPL is precise enough to disallow scrambling the source code:

  1. You must provide the source code of the whole GPL program to your customers, as defined in clauses 3a, 3b and 3c.
  2. The provided source must correspond exactly with the binary that you give your customers. So it must include your modifications, for exactly that version.
  3. The provided source must be in the "preferred form of the work for making modifications to it". That means the source code must be what you actually load into your editor to develop the software. In other words, you must distribute the useful source code.

There is nothing to stop you changing all the variable names, or the style of someone else's code. However, if you distribute a GPL'd binary then the source you distribute with it must be the source that you prefer to use for modifying the program yourself. You may be called upon to prove this in a dispute.

For reference, section 3:

3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it. For an executable work, complete source code means all the source code for all modules it contains, plus any associated interface definition files, plus the scripts used to control compilation and installation of the executable. However, as a special exception, the source code distributed need not include anything that is normally distributed (in either source or binary form) with the major components (compiler, kernel, and so on) of the operating system on which the executable runs, unless that component itself accompanies the executable.

If distribution of executable or object code is made by offering access to copy from a designated place, then offering equivalent access to copy the source code from the same place counts as distribution of the source code, even though third parties are not compelled to copy the source along with the object code.

Nothing to do with GPL. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3117860)

It's illegal to do that with any form of copyrighted work unless the copyright provisions specifically allow that, AFAIK.

My two cents (1)

Dodger_ (51556) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117862)

Okay, this company would be violating the "spirit" of the license, but that's not illegal, so they could probably get away with this. However, there is one thing they do have to be careful with and that's the 30% of the GPL'd code they haven't written but plan on using. If they obfuscate this code and then attempt to claim copyright of it, there could be some big consequences. This is clearly illegal and doesn't involve the GPL at all. I'm also not sure how the system would work if they obfuscated the original 30% GPL'd code but the attributed copyright to the original owner. I'd assume that they'd still get in trouble because the copyright owner of that code did not produce the obfuscated mess. Might be slander or defamation of character(or one of those goofy legal terms).

But regardless, I think this company is going about things the wrong way. To the original Anon poster of the story, please, let us know when this code is released, I love a challenge and would be happy to go through and un-obfuscate this code.

Obfuscation -is- a derivative work (2)

mccalli (323026) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117863)

To obfuscate source, one must have source to start with. It follows that result of obfuscation is simply the next version of that source in your particular development tree.

By obsfuscating all you've done is create v+0.0.1 of whatever you started with in, but in your own fork. That means this alteration is covered by the GPL.

Standard not-a-lawyer stuff applies.

Cheers,
Ian

A bit shortsighted?? (2)

HiQ (159108) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117865)

So you've either got an obfuscated sourcetree to maintain & bug fix, or you've got two sourcetrees, the internal one and the external one. In either case it's slowing development down, and the change of errors creeping in is increasing. All in all, not a good idea.

Scum (1)

SkyLeach (188871) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117866)

IANAL comment. This poster is probably just someone making this up (unless he works for the Mafia). Gimme a break: what you are talking about here is just plain scummy.

And what's the point anyhow? Take the GPL code and compile it as shared libraries. You don't have to open-source your project just because it links to open code.

It sounds like you just want to start a Llama lynching party.

It's a GPL violation, and more (5, Informative)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117879)

Obligatory disclaimer: This is not legal advice, get another lawyer than the one you've already heard from to give you that.

The GPL states:

The source code of a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it.
That term was written to prevent exactly the sort of obfuscation the attorney is proposing. Obfuscated code is demonstrably not the preferred version for creating modifications. So, what is being proposed is a GPL violation, and your company's attorney missed that part of the license. The talk about incidental resources isn't germane, it actually seems to be intended to confuse, because what is being proposed clearly is a derivative work, and the company attorney is acknowledging that when he suggests that the obfuscated code be GPL-ed.

But there are simpler remedies than legal ones. If the free software developer community hears about a product using obfuscated code to circumvent the GPL, they will retaliate by creating a non-obfuscated version and using it to compete with your company's product. They are experienced at reverse-engineering, they have excellent tools for code reformatting and analysis, and there are a many programmers who will be angry enough to work on this.

If your employer wants to unashamedly take advantage, they are simply buying a lawsuit. The free software community does have the resources to bring one - it would probably be brought by law professor Eben Moglen of Columbia University. He wants more legal tests of the GPL, and would love to make an example of your employer. Don't go there.

Bruce

This is an excellent idea. (0)

Lord Hugh Toppingham (319381) | more than 12 years ago | (#3117881)

It will either prove once and for all that the GPL is not worth the paper it is written on, OR it will demonstrate to big corporations that they cannot ride roughshod over the open source community.


I say, keep quiet, let your corportation take the legal flak. At least we can then resolve the legal status of the GPL ONCE AND FOR ALL and then move on.


Personally its issues like this that make the BSD license seem so much more "free" than the rather more restrictive and viral GPL

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