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GPL Causing Problems for Derivative Linux Distros

ScuttleMonkey posted about 8 years ago | from the rules-just-make-everything-harder dept.

386

NewsForge (Also owned by VA) is reporting on a recent discovery by Warren Woodford about how the GPL could affect derivative Linux distributions. This could make life difficult for those small distros that are being maintained by one or two people in their spare time due to the high amount of work it creates. From the article: "Woodford does supply the source code for MEPIS' reconfigured kernel in a Debian source-package. His mistake seems to have been the assumption that, so long as the source code was available somewhere, he did not have to provide it himself if he hadn't modified it. While he has not contacted any other distributions, he suspects that he is far from the only one to make this assumption. 'We, like 10,000 other people, probably, believed we were covered by the safe harbor of having an upstream distribution available online,' Woodford says. 'I think, of the 500 distributions tracked by DistroWatch, probably 450 of them are in trouble right now per this position.'"

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386 comments

Applies to other GPL software as well (5, Interesting)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 8 years ago | (#15616621)

Remember, this applies equally to kernel hackers as well as people creating derivatives from other GPL software.

From: mrAngry@snootygits.com
Subject: I want the source code to your system!

Polite Reply:
If you would like the source code you are welcome to have it.
Please note however that I have only made changes to a few of the thousands of x system source files.

There are 2 ways that you can have it, the simplest being go to my upstream system writer and download the base code which I used and see the src folder on my FTP/CVS/web server for my own modifications.

Otherwise I am willing to post you a CD/DVD containing the entire source code (original and my modifications). I cannot unfortunately upload the entire x GB folder since I do not have the bandwidth to spare.
Please note however, there will be an administration and postage charge of £10 if you require a DVD image.

have a nice day.

Anyone making source modifications to a system must have at least one source copy of the original so be respectful but don't waste your time worrying about it.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (4, Insightful)

wpanderson (67273) | about 8 years ago | (#15616684)

I think the primary concern is, what happens to a distro like MEPIS? Do they need to retain a full and publically available source repository for every package in Ubuntu? That could be an administrative and financial drain.

If an upstream distro has to keep their sources available for all revisions of all packages for three years, surely all a downstream distro has to do is refer to those sources for untainted packages? Is this good enough for the FSF, or are they just going to turn into the bully of the FOSS community?

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (3, Insightful)

nocomment (239368) | about 8 years ago | (#15616712)

Is this good enough for the FSF, or are they just going to turn into the bully of the FOSS community?

It appears to be the latter.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (4, Insightful)

Doctor Memory (6336) | about 8 years ago | (#15616723)

Do they need to retain a full and publically available source repository for every package in Ubuntu?


No, just the ones they distribute. Honestly, I don't understand why this is such a big deal. I mean, you had the source when you compiled the system, right? Once you get your release squared away, you do the release build, then zip up a copy of the sources and tuck it away somewhere. If someone wants the source, then you drag it out and make it available. Note that the GPL permits you to charge reasonable fees for making the source available, so go ahead and copy the source CD and ship it off. As long as it's not in some odd-wad format, you should be fine (legally speaking).

Better check with (1)

WebHostingGuy (825421) | about 8 years ago | (#15616764)

Darryl first. He will probably want a license fee even if he has never heard of your distribution.

Re:Better check with (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15616789)

Darryl first. He will probably want a license fee even if he has never heard of your distribution.

The bloodless freak's name is Darl, not Darryl.

Re:Better check with (1)

WebHostingGuy (825421) | about 8 years ago | (#15616979)

I would have typed correctly "the one whom we do not mention" in, but I didn't want to be sued a second time by the nameless one.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (5, Informative)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 8 years ago | (#15616775)

Exactly my thinking.

There is no requirement to keep the source code available online to every single release you have ever done, but it makes SENSE to keep it stored away on CD inside a filing cabinet.
If somebody comes to you in 3 years with a request to the source code, you can return the EXACT code he had from the release he is requesting.

It is not breaking any clause of the GPL and would infact be a worthy test of a company to produce such data.

The daytime software I work on is closed source, however we use the same thinking there.
I can go into our files and produce a CD containing the entire code and packages for every single release of the software we have made since the DOS days.

To my knowledge however we have only ever required it ONCE. If it were open source, why would I waste the space to keep that online? (there are around 90 release CDs available, each around 400mb)

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (-1, Troll)

NemosomeN (670035) | about 8 years ago | (#15616840)

I remember asking for the source for the kernel included wit Ubuntu, I was flamed into oblivion for not just accepting kernel.org. I said Ubuntu wasn't being compliant, and that I didn't want the vanilla kernel, I wanted the EXACT kernel included. I was told to fuck off. (This was by an admin, or mod, or whatever, I don't remember). Needless to say, I no longer am worried about getting it, or anything to do with Ubuntu.

How did this get modded up? (3, Informative)

chuhwi (877139) | about 8 years ago | (#15616930)

In ubuntu, as in debian, there is complete source package for every binary package. Should you read the appropriate documentation, or even google, you could easily download the source package corresponding to the kernel package. Perhaps you were told to "fuck off" because you were too lazy to google before being rude?

Re:How did this get modded up? (3, Insightful)

iotaborg (167569) | about 8 years ago | (#15616993)

And these snobbish [slashdot.org] attitudes are exactly the reason why linux has difficulty in desktop penetration and overall mindshare.

Re:How did this get modded up? (5, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | about 8 years ago | (#15617063)

google is not a replacement for communication, and it is pathetic to tell people to google instaed of at least offering a link.

Oh, and typicall reason why people shy away from Linux:
"Should you read the appropriate documentation, "
maybe the poster didn't know where the docs are? perhaps they where new and just need some friendly advice?

Man, you are a dick.
I imagine if some asks you for directions to the corner store you just tell them to fuck off and by a map.

Re:How did this get modded up? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15617080)

Yeah, cause "newbies" always need access to source code.

YOU'RE the dick.

Re:How did this get modded up? (2, Insightful)

nuzak (959558) | about 8 years ago | (#15617082)

Quoth the OP:

> "I said Ubuntu wasn't being compliant"

He seemed to know enough to sling around baseless accusations. He deserves a good "fuck off" response.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (5, Informative)

Fourier (60719) | about 8 years ago | (#15616958)

You clearly asked the wrong people. Much like Debian, Ubuntu's packages can be found quite easily on its website. A quick search here [ubuntulinux.org] leads to the kernel image package [ubuntulinux.org] ; there you can find a link leading you to the kernel source package [ubuntulinux.org] used to generate the image.

The APT package management system also provides commands that make it quite easy to download source automatically.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (1)

NemosomeN (670035) | about 8 years ago | (#15617058)

Thank you, but it doesn't matter much, I've moved on. As the problem involved a network issue, apt-get was not an option. I tried to search the page but with little to no luck. This was some time ago, by the way.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (1)

rbanffy (584143) | about 8 years ago | (#15616978)

Is there a problem with "apt-get source linux-image-2.6.15-25-686"?

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15616986)

Prove it. Provide a link to the Ubuntu forums where the admin/mod told you to "fuck off".

As far as I'm aware, the kernel source to Ubuntu is also easily available through apt. I'm using Ubuntu 6.06 right now and I see several source packages for the various kernel releases. I'm busy and to lazy to confirm it, but is this not the complete kernel source?

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (1)

DeafByBeheading (881815) | about 8 years ago | (#15617047)

I don't think he can [google.com] . Grandparent will probably claim that the post was censored or the thread removed.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (1, Insightful)

NemosomeN (670035) | about 8 years ago | (#15617076)

Or that it didn't occur on the forum. Why should I prove it? This argument isn't important anyway. Assume I'm lying, that's what you want to do anyway. Wasn't trying to light a wild-fire here.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (4, Informative)

throx (42621) | about 8 years ago | (#15616760)

I think the primary concern is, what happens to a distro like MEPIS? Do they need to retain a full and publically available source repository for every package in Ubuntu? That could be an administrative and financial drain.


There is no requirement to have the source instantly available online. It is perfectly acceptable to simply present a written offer of the source code for a nominal handling fee on physical media such as DVD-R. This will eliminate most of the people who just want the code to annoy you rather than do something serious with it.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (1)

mindstrm (20013) | about 8 years ago | (#15616965)

They don't have to keep their source for 3 years, unless they used the Section 3b "written offer" clause of the GPL to redistribute.

Every distro I know of uses 3a and the "equivalent access" principle to provide source (the source is available from the same place you get the binaries.. either on CD or donwload. IF you use this method, you dno' thave to maintain anything for 3 years.. you can stop distributing the source as soon as you stop distributing the binary.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 years ago | (#15617019)

IF you use this method, you dno' thave to maintain anything for 3 years.. you can stop distributing the source as soon as you stop distributing the binary.

I don't think it matters. The GPL says that if you cannot distribute your program under the terms of the GPL then your sole remedy is to stop distribution... that sort of implies that stopping distribution is sufficient response if you are violating the GPL. Thus you shouldn't need to keep anything around if you stop distributing permanently. Of course, IANAL, so bend over.

The FSF has specific reccomendations... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15616771)

Their favorite reccomendation is that you *distribute the source along with your modified binaries* That way, you've automatically fulfilled that part of the GPL right from the start.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (1)

TheOtherChimeraTwin (697085) | about 8 years ago | (#15616844)

These issues with the GPL are exactly why I stopped supplying my ChimeraLinux distro. Now I just help people pirate Windows warez.

Urgent Note to the BSA: I'm just kidding. You know, a joke. Really just a joke. Please don't send the black helicopters.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (2, Funny)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 8 years ago | (#15616870)

Please don't send the black helicopters.

Here in England, the helicopters are navy blue with pinstripes ;)

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (1)

IANAAC (692242) | about 8 years ago | (#15616883)

I would agree. About three years ago, I published a couple of glossaries and put them up on the web in Pilot-DB format (an opensource database for the Palm). I fretted so much about makeing sure that the source of the underlying database was available, and have always had a link on the download page to get the source if needed or wanted by anyone.

In the three years I've made these glossaries available, not once has anyone requested the source. Not once.

Re:Applies to other GPL software as well (1)

cyclop (780354) | about 8 years ago | (#15616932)

Well, I don't think the issue is how many times the code will be requested, but it is important the very fact that is is *possible* to retrieve it.

what did you distribute? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15617039)

From your comment it seems you are distributing glossaries not Pilot-DB. If so, I don't understand why the need to make Pilot-DB sources available. Maybe I misunderstood?

Uhhh, you can (2, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | about 8 years ago | (#15616638)

His mistake seems to have been the assumption that, so long as the source code was available somewhere, he did not have to provide it himself if he hadn't modified it.

It's called passing on an offer to supply source code.. it's a part of the GPL. What a load of shit.

Re:Uhhh, you can (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about 8 years ago | (#15616694)

that only applies to written offers to supply the source code at cost in physical form.

most distros operate under the "offering equivalent
access to copy the source code from the same place counts as
distribution of the source code" provision which makes no such allowences for redistributors.

Re:Uhhh, you can (3, Informative)

QuantumG (50515) | about 8 years ago | (#15616765)

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.)

So if Debian is offering binary packages of something that is under the GPL they MUST be offering a written offer under section (b) and therefore you are clearly free to pass that written offer third parties under section (c). Assuming you're not commercially distributing the work, but this guy probably is, so what's so hard about replacing their name with yours. All this is supposed to encourage you to use section (a) and distribute the source code with the binaries.. why is that so hard?

Re:Uhhh, you can (3, Informative)

mindstrm (20013) | about 8 years ago | (#15616880)

No, Debian uses section 3a.

Having the source downloadable from the same page/location as the binaries, or other "equivalent access" satisifes this obligation.

Re:Uhhh, you can (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about 8 years ago | (#15616902)

continue reading after the section you quoted

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.

That is the clause under which most linux distributions operate at least for thier free download services (and debian don't sell copies on physical media themselves).

Re:Uhhh, you can (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 8 years ago | (#15616926)

All this is supposed to encourage you to use section (a) and distribute the source code with the binaries.. why is that so hard?

Because it will make every download practically 10 times bigger across the entire board benefitting only the handful of people who might actually be interested in the code.
They currently have a viable means of getting that code so why make it difficult for everyone?

I don't think the net is ready for it yet (38mb to download firefox vs about 5 currently, 350mb for openoffice 90-120 currently)

Re:Uhhh, you can (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 8 years ago | (#15616960)

that only applies to written offers to supply the source code at cost in physical form.
The phrase "physical form" does not appear in the relevant section of the GPL, the language there is "on a medium customarily used for software interchange". That extends far beyond physical form; it does require a written offer, however, which may or may not be problematic ("written" can include fixed information in electronic form; whether it does or not in the GPL probably depends on which jurisdiction's law the licenses is interpreted under.)

Re:Uhhh, you can (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 years ago | (#15617038)

If you're in the US then an electronic version should be good; after all, the federal government ruled that an electronic signature is valid some time ago; so you might have to sign it or something to make it a valid "document" :)

linux sucks (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15616639)

mmm deep throat it baby

MEPIS is commercial (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15616645)

Tough titties. You want to make money off other peoples' work, respect their license or get out of the kitchen.

rtfa and still don't get it (4, Insightful)

seanadams.com (463190) | about 8 years ago | (#15616648)

Why should the "upstream" or "bigger" distro supplier be obligated to distribute source code for YOUR particular distribution? Of course _somebody_ needs to be responsible for making the source available, otherwise the entire spirit of the GPL is unenforceable...

It makes sense to me that the person distributing the binaries should be responsible for making source code available for said binaries. That is how the license is written, and it is very straight forward. No surprise here - so what is the complaint?

Do we really want everyone and their brother shipping their own MyFirstDistro as binary only, just because the sources are individually (hopefully, for the time being) available elsewhere? Is it fair to put that burden on someone else?

Re:rtfa and still don't get it (2, Interesting)

also-rr (980579) | about 8 years ago | (#15616807)

Why should the "upstream" or "bigger" distro supplier be obligated to distribute source code for YOUR particular distribution?

Bear in mind that, although not directly related to cases where changes are made, handing out CDs to friends *is also* distribution, but thanks to section 3(c) of the license you are perfectly able to refer them to the "bigger" distro supplier for the source code.

There are cases where indeed the big fish are required to provide source code hosting for the smaller distributors.

Re:rtfa and still don't get it (2, Insightful)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 8 years ago | (#15617012)

Bear in mind that, although not directly related to cases where changes are made, handing out CDs to friends *is also* distribution, but thanks to section 3(c) of the license you are perfectly able to refer them to the "bigger" distro supplier for the source code.
Actually, technically, that's pretty clearly not right; if the upstream distributor didn't use the written offer option in 3(b), which most don't, you can't use the 3(c) option to pass on that written offer—as 3(c) is expressly limited to passing on a written offer received under 3(b)—since you never received such an offer; you are, therefore, obligated to either provide the source code (under 3(a)) or provide a written offer, valid for at least three years, to whoever you give the object/executable software to that you will provide the source code, at your cost (under 3(b)).

Re:rtfa and still don't get it (1)

ClamIAm (926466) | about 8 years ago | (#15616916)

It sounds like you do get it.

However, like the other reply to your comment stated, there are some instances when the "upstream" provider does have to make the source available.

Re:rtfa and still don't get it (1)

Brandybuck (704397) | about 8 years ago | (#15617009)

It's not just distros, it's ANYONE who distributes the software. Including you! If you burn a copy of SimplyMepis for your friend, then you are obligated to *personally* make the sources available to him. Telling him to download the sources from Mepis just isn't good enough. Or at least that's the way today's interpretation of the GPL reads.

GPL? (3, Interesting)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 8 years ago | (#15616660)

Wouldn't any license be a headache for a small distro provider? How many packages in an average distro, for a team of 2-3 people to validate compliance on?

Re:GPL? (2, Insightful)

Pieroxy (222434) | about 8 years ago | (#15617054)

Wouldn't any license be a headache for a small distro provider?
To be fair, I think a BSD license is not a very big burden to anyone, small or big.

This is nothing new... (5, Insightful)

Old Man Kensey (5209) | about 8 years ago | (#15616664)

I seem to recall various incidents in the past few years (a DVR maker comes to mind, though I can't remember which) where commercial products used GPL software unchanged, failed to distribute source (pointing people to the maintainer of the software), and the FSF and community raised a fuss. So I don't understand why this is suddenly such a light-bulb moment.

People who do not read license... (5, Insightful)

also-rr (980579) | about 8 years ago | (#15616667)

...surprised when their guess as to what is required is not correct. Film at 11.

Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] has a pretty good plain English translation of the requirements to distribute GPL software.

Re:People who do not read license... (3, Interesting)

also-rr (980579) | about 8 years ago | (#15616758)

Apparently I am also one of those who did not read the license carefully enough - it's a good job I don't redistribute GPL software.

These projects may be covered under section 3 (c) of the license:

(relating to pre-compiled binary distribution)
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.)

I don't know about you but I would read that as, provided no changes have been made, stating that a link to the MEPIS source code repository was adequate if that was the nature of the offer recieved when the MEPIS binaries were downloaded, provided the sub-distro is non commercial.

In any event for non-commercial sub-distros I cannot see that a violation in word but not spirit of such a minor nature would cause any eyebrows to be raised, generally you have to work quite hard to get sued under the GPL.

For commercial entities then it's an entirley different matter, but if they don't take the time to read and understand the license then, well, words fail me.

Re:People who do not read license... (2, Informative)

ray-auch (454705) | about 8 years ago | (#15616983)

These projects may be covered under section 3 (c) of the license:


Only if the upstream distributor uses 3(b).

If they used 3(a) - as most do - then the downstream guy has no written offer to pass on.

We need a GPL police to enforce the GPL (3, Funny)

Serveert (102805) | about 8 years ago | (#15616669)

Requirements for being in this police force include an aversion to shaving, showering and doing laundry. Punishment will involve rubbing the face of violators with the dirtiest beard in the police force.

Big deal (-1, Redundant)

maelstrom (638) | about 8 years ago | (#15616672)

If you are creating your own Linux distribution, I imagine you would have some sort of internal source repository anyway. Tar it up and make a torrent available for anyone that requests it. I fail to see the issue.

Re:Big deal (1)

NotQuiteInsane (981960) | about 8 years ago | (#15616782)

The obvious problem being that a lot of ISPs these days (especially UK-based ISPs) are blocking or severely throttling torrent traffic. It makes it rather slow to grab the latest Fedora ISOs...

The obvious solution to this problem is to provide a HTTP or FTP server to grab it from, but the catch is how are you going to get that multi-gigabyte file onto the server in the first place, unless both you and the server have got an uberfast connection?

Dedicated servers aren't the most expensive things in the universe (£80pm for a 2.4GHz server with 512MB RAM, 80GB HDD, and a 10Mbit direct pipe to the Internet last time I checked) but they can be a bit of a pig to admin...

Re:Big deal (1)

cyclop (780354) | about 8 years ago | (#15616963)

The obvious problem being that a lot of ISPs these days (especially UK-based ISPs) are blocking or severely throttling torrent traffic. It makes it rather slow to grab the latest Fedora ISOs...

Well, that's not distributor fault, and therefore the distributor should still be GPL compliant (unless the torrent becomes completely un-downloadable). But in this case, hey, put it on a couple of DVD's (just to have backups) and write on the homepage "if you want source, send me $2+stamps and I'll send you the source code DVD".

This article is FUD (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15616680)

The GPL only requires that one provide the source code if asked, and it is perfectly legal to send it via postal mail for a nominal fee.

I can't imagine that anyone is actually asking these small Linux distributions to provide the source code for the Linux kernel when it is available for a free download.

Re:This article is FUD (3, Insightful)

linvir (970218) | about 8 years ago | (#15616809)

Word you left out in bold:
I can't imagine that anyone reasonable is actually asking these small Linux distributions to provide the source code for the Linux kernel when it is available for a free download.

Quit whining, distro makers (5, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | about 8 years ago | (#15616700)

OK, these "distro makers" are downloading vast amounts of material covered by the GPL for free and then redistributing it for money or advertising. (MEPIS sticks in an Earthlink signup icon, for example.) And then they whine that they have to provide the source for the free stuff they're reselling.

Even worse, some of these distro makers want you to sign up for a "support contract". If they don't have a repository of the source, their support probably isn't worth much.

Re:Quit whining, distro makers (3, Informative)

2nd Post! (213333) | about 8 years ago | (#15616732)

OK, these "distro makers" are downloading vast amounts of material covered by the GPL for free and then redistributing it for money or advertising.


This is perfectly acceptable to the GPL, to my understanding.

The problem arises when someone wants the source and the distro maker does not have the capability of providing it; they are obligated to provide it, even if it's a measly single line patch+original source.

Re:Quit whining, distro makers (2, Interesting)

mindstrm (20013) | about 8 years ago | (#15616861)

Of course it's perfectly acceptable. Parent is only pointing out the irony of making money off someone elses work, then whining that you have to abide by the same rules regarding source that allowed you to have your distribution in the first place.

Re:Quit whining, distro makers (1)

2nd Post! (213333) | about 8 years ago | (#15617099)

That is definitely not how I interpreted the parent post. To quote:

And then they whine that they have to provide the source for the free stuff they're reselling.


It sounds more like the parent poster is saying, "then whining that you have to provide source to stuff they haven't modified but are selling and distributing," which is distinctly different from what you say, "then whining that you have to abide by the same rules regarding source that allowed you to have your distribution in the first place."

In other words, a distro maker has to provide the whole distro, even if they only change one line, which isn't implied by your statement, "you have to abide by the same rules regarding source that allowed you to have your distribution in the first place."

Your statement expects the reader to know what "the same rules" are, while the parent post seems very clear: The rule to follow is, "if you are selling it or distributing it, you have to provide the source, even if you didn't write the source."

Flamebait (-1, Troll)

pavon (30274) | about 8 years ago | (#15616707)

Not enough trollish articles around to stir up page views? Don't worry our sister company can supply them for us, and we get double the page hits. This isn't an unreasonable request - if you can go through the effort of compiling and testing all these packages, then including the sources on the CD/FTP site isn't that much more work - it is just part of the process. The only headache here is that they haven't been doing it and they need to catch up, and the FSF is lenient about that.

So what? (3, Insightful)

fm6 (162816) | about 8 years ago | (#15616709)

This could make life difficult for those small distros that are being maintained by one or two people in their spare time due to the high amount of work it creates.

And who would be affected if these distros stopped being maintained? Nobody in their right mind is going to rely on a software project that is somebody's hobby.

This doesn't really kill one-man distros, it just means that the one man can't go through the pointless ritual of creating an ISO that nobody actually uses. So big deal. If you want to have fun by creating your very own Linux distro, nobody's stopping you. But if you want to create a distro (or any other open source project) that people will actually use, you have to learn to work with others.

Re:So what? (5, Funny)

Bluesman (104513) | about 8 years ago | (#15616790)

>Nobody in their right mind is going to rely on a software project that is somebody's hobby.

Best. Irony. Ever.

Re:So what? (5, Insightful)

krack (121056) | about 8 years ago | (#15616811)

Nobody in their right mind is going to rely on a software project that is somebody's hobby.

What is the criteria for any open source project leaving 'hobby' status? To put it another way, when did people of 'right mind' start using Linux, which started out as Linus' hobby?

Re:So what? (1)

QuantumG (50515) | about 8 years ago | (#15616825)

The world has changed, and it'll do it again.

well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15616711)

I really like using Linux distros. I've been using MEPIS for a year. I'd hate to see it go away because fscking ubuntu just plain doesnt work on my cheapo hp pavillion ze4900 laptop and i'm not enough of a masochist to try and install slackware or gentoo (no offense to users of either distro).

What about things like GNU Classpath (1)

dodald (195775) | about 8 years ago | (#15616725)

GNU Classpath is licensed under the GPL with an exception:
Linking this library statically or dynamically with other modules is making a combined work based on this library. Thus, the terms and conditions of the GNU General Public License cover the whole combination.
As a special exception, the copyright holders of this library give you permission to link this library with independent modules to produce an executable, regardless of the license terms of these independent modules, and to copy and distribute the resulting executable under terms of your choice, provided that you also meet, for each linked independent module, the terms and conditions of the license of that module. An independent module is a module which is not derived from or based on this library. If you modify this library, you may extend this exception to your version of the library, but you are not obligated to do so. If you do not wish to do so, delete this exception statement from your version.
Would this also mean that people who use GNU Classpath in closed source applications would be required to supply the source? Even though they may never have used the source.

What about FTP mirrors? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15616726)

What about public FTP mirrors (such as run by many universities) that distribute binary packages/CD images/...? Do they have special agreements with the projects they mirror? Otherwise I guess they have to provide the source for any version they ever distributed for a period of three years too.

the point of the GPL (2, Insightful)

drDugan (219551) | about 8 years ago | (#15616733)

I'm not an expert on this ... but

I thought the point of the GPL was to encourage people to share and reuse code. Enforcing that EACH person who reuses code also shares it themselves is counter to this intention. The effect will be less reuse and less sharing overall. Obviously someone has to make it available, and when and upstream provider stops doing so, everyone else would have to pick up the slack. ... but enforcing this is actually counter to the intent of the GPL as far as I can see.

Re:the point of the GPL (1)

Vexorian (959249) | about 8 years ago | (#15616879)

The objective of the GPL is to encourage people to share code but to maintain and update the code for the original software's benefits as opposed to encourage them to share and reuse the code. I don't really like this approach. I'd also like it to encourage people to share and reuse code. That's the reason I prefer the FreeBSD license over of the GPL. The one I use for my hobby from scratch projects is zlib though.

Re:the point of the GPL (1)

madcow_bg (969477) | about 8 years ago | (#15616929)

You are cleary not an expert;)

Sorry for the harsh words, but everybody who distributes the package is obliged to supply the source code as well. You can use it without limitations. So, if you modify it, you MUST supply it. Otherwise, how can someone prove it has been modified?

Re:the point of the GPL (1)

cyclop (780354) | about 8 years ago | (#15617014)

I thought the point of the GPL was to encourage people to share and reuse code. Enforcing that EACH person who reuses code also shares it themselves is counter to this intention.

Quite an oxymoron.

If the point is to share AND reuse, why enforcing sharing along with reusing is against sharing and reusing?

Re:the point of the GPL (0, Troll)

Brandybuck (704397) | about 8 years ago | (#15617070)

I thought the point of the GPL was to encourage people to share and reuse code.

No, the point of the GPL is to sue people you don't like. It's purpose is to be a big legal club you can bash people over the head wth. This may sound cynical, but if you reexamine the history of the GPL with this in mind, it will all suddenly start making sense.

I have an idea (4, Funny)

Ethan Allison (904983) | about 8 years ago | (#15616747)

Why don't we completely rewrite the kernel from scratch and license it under something else?

Wait, I've heard that idea before somewhere...

Ad ? (1)

slashdot_nobody_nowh (845201) | about 8 years ago | (#15616768)

I like Mepis; the newest release is expected on July the 10th or so - nice way to remind about the distro :-).

the killer bees are almost here (1)

jaydonnell (648194) | about 8 years ago | (#15616796)

this is typical sensational journalism. Who exactly are they in trouble with? Is someone going to sue them? Of course not! No one cares if somebody packages up a linux and distributes it to 3 people.

Re:the killer bees are almost here (1)

Otter (3800) | about 8 years ago | (#15616858)

If you read to the second line of the article, MEPIS got a threatening letter from the FSF.

So offer the source code. (2, Interesting)

T-Ranger (10520) | about 8 years ago | (#15616800)

At a reasonable price. My billable rate is CAD$78/hr. Minimum 3 hour callout, plus materials, and shipping.

HTH, HAND

Only copyright holders can sue, and they won't (2, Insightful)

MarkByers (770551) | about 8 years ago | (#15616823)

If someone comes up to you and demands the source code rudely, you can politely tell them to fetch the code from the same place you got it from. You can send source files for anything you have changed or added.

The angry user cannot legally sue you since they do not own the rights to the source code. The chances are the original programmer won't try to sue you either. They would have nothing to gain by doing so, unless you are making tons of money from your distribution (and if so, you can afford to mirror the entire source code). As long as you are reasonable you should be fine.

Just relax, and get on with making the next version.

Mepis plays fast & loose with GPL (4, Insightful)

gvc (167165) | about 8 years ago | (#15616833)

Warren has made his own problems. I tried Mepis in 2004 and quite liked it. I used it for more than a year and installed it on several people's machines. However, I will not use it any more.

My reasons are several, but one of the top ones is murky licensing.

No doubt somebody from the MEPIS community will loudly declare that licensing is not a problem. If this is the case, exactly how can I get the source to build myself a MEPIS distro?

There has been considerable bad blood in the MEPIS community and former community. I am not a member of any faction. I have done my share to contribute. [uwaterloo.ca] I simply tried to get my questions answered and MEPIS and Warren came up short. His many rants -- the one cited in the story is one of many over the last three years -- further convince me that I was right to walk away.

MEPIS is because is non-standard. Warren repeatedly warns against upgrading packages from the standard Debian repositories. There is no upgrade path from one version of MEPIS to the next. There appears to be a very weak mechanism for collecting community know-how as to how to configure the system to "just work" on a particular platform.

I'm not buying it. (2, Insightful)

mindstrm (20013) | about 8 years ago | (#15616839)

There is no safe harbour....

If you are re-distributiong non-commercially, without modification, upstream source is fine (which makes sense)

If you are modifying anything, including doing your own custom kernel, then you must provide source. Providing the source alongside the downloads, granting equivalent access to it, satisifes your obligation under the GPL to provide source. The day you stop offering downloads, you can stop offering the source as well.

Good (3, Insightful)

glwtta (532858) | about 8 years ago | (#15616853)

This could make life difficult for those small distros that are being maintained by one or two people in their spare time

That's a very good thing - there needs to be a lot less "small distros maintained by one or two people in their spare time". These SDMBORTPITSTs aren't helping anyone: if you want to roll your own linux for some itch you want to scratch - more power to you; but there's no need to call it a distro and pretend that you are going to maintain it for more than 2 months.

500 Distros? (1)

wardk (3037) | about 8 years ago | (#15616855)

Time for some natural selection

Let the situation dictate (1)

CyberNigma (878283) | about 8 years ago | (#15616865)

If they are obviously just being lazy and skimping out on the requirements (large distribution with plenty of donations to come in that could cover such things, then they need to get their heads out and start offering it up. For the small hobbyist that's doing it alone for fun on his home website he can stick it out and see what happens. Going after the little guys isn't helping the RIAA and MPAA very much in the public eye, so I doubt that it would help the FSF much either (should they pursue it). Copyright infringement is the same before the law whether its 'free' software or music and movies. Hell, they could set up torrents for their binaries (assuming they have another place to seed them from) if they have to take them down from their site because they aren't hosting the source.

Disclaimer? (1)

cb8100 (682693) | about 8 years ago | (#15616875)

What ever happened to the "NewsForge is part of the OSTG, just like Slashdot" disclaimer that used to get posted on stories that linked to other OSTG sites?

Re:Disclaimer? (1)

ClamIAm (926466) | about 8 years ago | (#15616964)

FTFSummary: NewsForge (Also owned by VA)

Its 2 freeking thousand and six (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15616895)

Where has this meat head been keeping his brain? Under a rock?

Why go after MEPIS and give Google a pass? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15616904)

GPL requires for **non-commerical** unmodified redistribution (such as SimplyMEPIS download mirrors):
1) A copy of the GPL be provided (and for a distribution with glibc, a copy of the LGPL as well)
2) A list of the GPL/LGPL packages used and where the source code is available from (the source code can be provided by a previous location *IF* it is non-commerical redistribution)

GPL requires for commerical redistribution (such as can be ordered from the MEPIS store):
1) A copy of the GPL (and LGPL) be provided
2) A written offer for source code on a physical media (such as CD) that costs no more than recovering the costs of performing such redistribution (if time/materials to download and burn all the source packages is worth $50 then the cost is $50 even if the binary CD is only $15)

It seems silly for the FSF to go after MEPIS considering the on-going GPL violation that Google continues with for their Google Search Appliance at http://www.google.com/enterprise/gsa/ [google.com]

Google performs redistribution of a RedHat-like GNU/Linux distribution *WITHOUT* providing any written copy of the GPL or LGPL. There is no copy provided with the written documentation provided. And while there is a copyright/about option in the web administration piece of the appliance, it also fails to provide any copy of the GPL or LGPL. So far, I am not aware of any effort by the FSF to correct Google's actions and the group that provides support for the GSA has stated they have no intentions of changing their actions to comply with the GPL since they consider themselves to already be complying by *NOT* providing any copy of either license!

Also, EndRun Technologies has a small GNU/Linux distributions can be downloaded from:
http://www.endruntechnologies.com/download.htm [endruntechnologies.com]

The source code is not available for download but is available on CD-ROM for a $100 fee.

Exception for free distribution? (1)

nsayer (86181) | about 8 years ago | (#15616917)

GPL section 3c seems to offer the solution:
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: [...] 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.)
That is, if you're giving the stuff away, it's good enough to simply point them back to the original source you used to fetch the code - which means it's probably good enough to include a README with a URL to the project's home page.

Re:Exception for free distribution? (2, Informative)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 8 years ago | (#15617044)

That is, if you're giving the stuff away, it's good enough to simply point them back to the original source you used to fetch the code
That's true if and only if you originally received a object/executable distribution with a written offer of source code under 3(b); if you received source code under 3(a), either as part of the package with the object/executable or provided from the same source as a separate, optional downloaded, you haven't received a written offer under 3(b), and can't yourself pass on that offer under 3(c).

Re:Exception for free distribution? (1)

nsayer (86181) | about 8 years ago | (#15617075)

That's correct. But if your "distribution" consists of a little bit of customized stuff (which you provide the source for), and a pile of binary packages you fetched from somewhere else, AND if you're giving it away...

Re:Exception for free distribution? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 8 years ago | (#15617089)

Then you still have to provide the full source code for everything you are distributing, changed or not, unless the upstream distributor used the option in 3(b), which almost no major Linux distro does. Now, maybe that's not the way the license should be, but its the way the license is.

GPL Problem Areas - Symbiotic Code and Content (1)

Pfhorrest (545131) | about 8 years ago | (#15616968)

I'm a hobbyist mod-maker for the ~10yo FPS game Marathon [bungie.org] , the engine for which is now GPL'd, spawning the Aleph One [bungie.org] project. I've got a near-total conversion mod in progress right now (don't worry about the "near" part, the original game content is also free game [bungie.org] for such purposes now), and for the ease of my potential players, I'd really like to include the application program, renamed and with a custom icon (as has been traditional practice for Marathon mod-makers of the pre-Aleph days), in my download. Since Marathon was originally a Mac game, Aleph One requires no "installation" (at least on Mac and Windows); you just download a .zip of the program, put it in a folder with your choice of game files, and play. So including the app with my mod would mean players just download and go, no other downloads or installation necessary. (And yes, players of other Marathon mods do actually get confused by the three-step process of downloading the game, downloading the engine, and putting the two together).

However, I found out not long ago that I can't do that without distributing all the source, including that for my modifications. Nevermind how to distribute what little I modified in "source"; I renamed the files in the Finder and copied some icon graphics into the app package, what's the source to that? Nevermind that I couldn't code my way out of "hello world"; even if I wanted to ship a completely unmodified binary, I'm not even sure how to get the source to it, much less how to distribute it properly.

I'm basically a user of this software, but a developer of art content that is symbiotic with it. A game engine is useless without game content and vice versa; the two are really things that ought to be packaged together. But developers of game content, especially amateurs like me, are quite often not developers of software. They just use the software to present their content.

I think the GPL causes significant problems in cases like these. Another example I could imagine would be an open-source installer program or self-extracting archive maker (not that many things use these anymore, probably for this very reason): if you want to use that installer to ship your stuff, must you also distribute the source to the installer? Even if what you're shipping has nothing to do with the installer, other than that it installs whatever it is you're shipping? Must you ship an "installer package" and make people download the installer separately if they don't already have it? So, self-extracting archives are not feasible under the GPL, since everyone who used one would have to distribute the source to the archive-maker as well?

I'm sure this will probably get a lot of "that's what the license says, if you don't like it don't use it" responses, but I'm just trying to point out that the GPL as it stands is not appropriate for the distribution of all types of applications (like game engines or self-installer programs), even when it is otherwise appropriate for the projects that develop those programs, and thus I think the GPL could use some modifications to allow for such reasonable uses.

The GPL seems to assume that everyone is, or at least ought to be, a software developer and/or distributor. But I think I've shown that there are some cases where software is only incidentally distributed by people who have and want nothing to do with the development or distribution of software, but rather, things that use that software. An apt analogy might be if some bottle-maker distributed instructions on how to make such bottles (i.e. chemical ingredients and such) with every bottle, and insisted that anyone who make and sell copies of those bottles also include those instructions. Maybe you've got an ingenious bottle plastic formula and want it open to the world and not patented or exploited by Coca-Cola for profit; that's fine and dandy. But does that mean I can't serve my favorite home-made fruit punch mix to company at a party or other event without photocopying the bottle-making instructions and distributing them with the drinks? I don't care know or care what the bottles are made out of, I just need something to serve my fruit punch in.

Re:GPL Problem Areas - Symbiotic Code and Content (1)

cyclop (780354) | about 8 years ago | (#15617096)

So including the app with my mod would mean players just download and go, no other downloads or installation necessary.

Fine. You can go along with it.

I can't do that without distributing all the source, including that for my modifications. Nevermind how to distribute what little I modified in "source"; I renamed the files in the Finder and copied some icon graphics into the app package, what's the source to that? Nevermind that I couldn't code my way out of "hello world"; even if I wanted to ship a completely unmodified binary, I'm not even sure how to get the source to it, much less how to distribute it properly.

You don't need to know how to program to redistribute the source. Just take the source, rename the files you renamed, copy the files you copied, zip it all and link it on your home page. You don't have to give it to everyone also downloades your binary, you just have to keepi it there, "just in case".

Must you ship an "installer package" and make people download the installer separately if they don't already have it? So, self-extracting archives are not feasible under the GPL, since everyone who used one would have to distribute the source to the archive-maker as well?

You don't get it. You don't need to give people an installer-source package EVERY time they take the self-installer. It's enough you put on your program webpage a link saying "This program uses OpeenSoorceSelfInstallaz 1.2.3-rc1, you can grab the source of this installer right here". Maybe nobody will download it, who cares, what's important is that it's there.

the GPL as it stands is not appropriate for the distribution of all types of applications (like game engines or self-installer programs), even when it is otherwise appropriate for the projects that develop those programs, and thus I think the GPL could use some modifications to allow for such reasonable uses.

Perhaps (perhaps) the GPL is not the right license for that program. Perhaps the developers of your game engine could add an exception to the license about cases like yours, if you feel it's really important. There's no reason the GPL should take care of ALL possible cases: unusual cases can licence a program with GPL+exceptions instead of pure GPL, and they actually do.

But does that mean I can't serve my favorite home-made fruit punch mix to company at a party or other event without photocopying the bottle-making instructions and distributing them with the drinks? I don't care know or care what the bottles are made out of, I just need something to serve my fruit punch in.

Again, you don't get it. It's enough to have copies of the instructions somewhere in the place you do the party, if someone wants to have them, no to give it to everyone.

Overblown (1)

Todd Knarr (15451) | about 8 years ago | (#15617001)

The concerns the article expresses are valid but a bit overblown. Yes, distros have to offer source code. Yes, that means for all packages even if you only modify a few. The FSF has a point, that's the only way to insure the source for your distro is available if the upstream moves to newer versions that aren't compatible with your stuff. But there's several ways to handle this without much trouble:

  1. Offer source directly with the binaries. Including the source on CDs/DVDs along with binaries merely requires more discs (which you should charge for if you offer physical media). Including source packages on the server alongside the binary packages, by the FSF's own statements, satisfies your obligation under the GPL. If people don't download the source at the time, you've still satisfied your obligation to make it available. Yes it'll cost some server space and bandwidth, but your binaries are already using a bunch of that and you've handled it.
  2. Distribute only your modified packages and provide source for them. Direct people to the appropriate distribution's site for the unmodified packages. Or host ISOs of the base distribution in unmodified form (assuming you qualify for the "non-commercial" label and can take advantage of the pass-along option).
Frankly, were I doing a Linux distribution, I'd opt for the first course. It's got the fewest issues down the road, and it follows the lead of the major distros so I'm unlikely to run into unexpected trouble.

Yet another example (0, Flamebait)

nurb432 (527695) | about 8 years ago | (#15617004)

Of why the BSD license is 'more' free, and much safer

Re:Yet another example (1)

cyclop (780354) | about 8 years ago | (#15617040)

Sorry if I bite the flamebait, but... so I must wait for my code -and therefore, my work- to be reused and sold by money by commercial software houses without any benefit to the community, just because I'm too lazy to tar up some source code?

No thanks.

Solution=OpenSolaris (0, Troll)

maitas (98290) | about 8 years ago | (#15617034)

As RMS stated about Bitkeeper, if you trade fredom for conviniance, sooner or later you will loose. GPL takes your freedom away (forces you to do things you might not want to do), CDDL gives it back to you.

I wonder what reasonable is? (5, Insightful)

EQ (28372) | about 8 years ago | (#15617061)

Not a troll, nor flamebait - just "hacking" the 'reasonable' clause and cost in the GPL.

Hypothetical:

Say I make (ast an hourly rate of my annual salary) $50 an hour. Not unresaonable for a consultant.

I am distributing a baby distro and I do the source via DVD and postal request since I cannot afford a lot of bandwidth.

Figure it takes me 20 minutes to process the request, type up the label, grab the latest from my repository and DL the rest fromthe upstream, burn a DVD, and put it in a protective mailer package. And other 20 to go to the post office and 20 to come back (assume I'm in a rural area outside the suburbs). So thats and our of my time. Add in that this is essentially overtime in addition to my real job, so I bill it at time and a half. Thats $75 baseline in cost.

Add in the postage ($8 or whatever the USPS "Priority Mail" rate is), the mileage and gas on the car to go to the post office, the CD cost (including mileage on the car and gas and time to go buy them, plus wear and tear amortization on my CD burner), cost of the bandwidth, etc.

So all in all:

"Yes, you can have the whole source tree from my upstream and the 2K of diffs I have added - the reasonable cost for this source is $94.37 per CD"

Is that the right answer?

Every penny of it is documented and accounted for. Every bit of it is involved with the cost in materiels and time that it takes to prepare and ship the source. My software is free, my time is not. If you think otherwise, go ahead and put yourself down as a slave who will work for free at the demands of people that use the software you donated - is that the intend of the GPL, to enslave authors to the whims of the recipients of their gifts?

Again: Not a troll, nor flamebait - just "hacking" the 'reasonable cost' clause in the GPL.

Who decides what is reasonable?

Does the GPL give someone the right to dictate to the person releasing the software what they can and cannot do with their time? Think about it.

If not, then how do you overcome the situation above, where the GPL seems to imply that you have to release the whole of the code, including upstreams, not just your diffs, especially where releasing the whole of the upstream is cumbersome or onerous - and the response ($94.37 per DVD) is likewise.

Personally, I never looked at it this way before - the only thing I've released as open source (long ago) has been under the BSD license just to avoid the entanglements the GPL requires. And that only to be able to avoid warranty that Public Domain doenst expressly mention.

Re:I wonder what reasonable is? (2, Insightful)

ebrandsberg (75344) | about 8 years ago | (#15617098)

Sounds reasonable to me. Include a printed invoice (bill at say $.20 for the paper) that details this, and you are covered. If you get too many, state it will be 2-4 weeks for deliver, and make a bunch at once, saving costs, and pass it on. Reasonable means just that--is it reasonable for someone maintaining a baby distro to charge more for the labor of a physical copy? Yes. Is it reasonable for Redhat to charge the same amount? No, simply due to volume.
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