BSD/MIT is pretty well thriving, too. You probably use OpenSSH every day :)
The more permissive licenses always seemed the way to go, to me. I'd rather people contribute out of personal desire to, rather than legal obligation. That, and the GPL always seemed a bit too communist (in the sense of implying that other people have a moral right to your work) for my taste.
If a software author wants for people to use/distribute his software under a specific license, that's his prerogative.
And the GPL is a truly free and open source license, it does allow you to use it commercially and for whatever reason, it does allow you to create derivates, all it asks is that in case you redistribute a derivate, you must also give the source-code on request. It's not even an EULA, it's just a copyright license.
And btw, compared to BSD/MIT, the GPL also contains a patents grant (implicit but powerful enough for version 2, explicit for version 3). And unfortunately in this universe, the big companies contributing to open-source also have really big patents portfolios, therefore I always look suspiciously at code licensed with BSD/MIT. And unfortunately patent trolls are a reality.
If you prefer more permissive licenses, then go for the Apache 2.0 ;-)
We're discussing the merits of particular licenses, particularly their impact on the software world, so this is kind of tautological, don't you think?
In any case, I was not aware of that difference between Apache and BSD, so you have my sincere thanks for pointing that out. I've got a few things on Github to modify methinks...
But people contribute when they've got reasons to do so and many people believe in copyleft. And the GPL is an interesting case, because it happened because its author hated copyright, so he decided to turn it on its head and use it to his advantage. And in a world in which copyright (and other IP laws) keep getting worse, copyleft gets even more relevant.
To the issue of whether copyleft did any good versus MIT/BSD, well, would have Apple open-sourced WebKit if it wasn't for KHTML's LGPL license? I'm inclined towards no, but truth is, we'll never know.
On GCC on the other hand, its authors not only used GPL, but actually made it hard in the actual code for proprietary extensions to happen. This might have been good 15-20 years ago, when the landscape was dominated by proprietary compilers, but now I consider that we're better off with LLVM taking off.
Yes, it does. You set up a pretty big straw man there, allow me to illustrate:
"Smoking is bad"
"I don't know, I have very good friends who smoke."
If encouraging your project's success is secondary to preserving the freedom to scrutinise, modify, or redistribute its code, then GPL should be considered. Windows is successful by many metrics, but a failure where those freedoms are concerned. Obviously this is a good trade-off for Microsoft. It's not a good trade-off for Linux.
Where derivation is concerned, MIT & BSD guarantee diametrically opposed freedoms to the GPL. Which freedoms are more important depends on the intentions of the author, and the nature of the project.
The question here is about the choice of licence affecting the success of free software.
My argument is that, if success is more likely under an MIT style licence, this still may not be enough to sway me if I want a guarantee that users of my software are able to scrutinize the source code, or that derivatives of my software will remain free.
I can put a "hello world" app out there and release it under GPL, but is it useful? Does it actually solve any problems?
In any case, freeness is a goal for me as a user of software. I choose Gimp over Photoshop, for example, because I care more about still being able to access my photos in 20 years time than I do about having access to certain feature sets.
The purely political stance I rail against is, in effect, "X fits my use case and is objectively better in every way, but Y is free, so I'll use Y."
For what it's worth, I can still open PSD's created way back in the 90's, and the format is well documented. Adobe could disappear in a puff of logic tomorrow and their format wouldn't become unreadable.
I would argue that "hello world" is useful only if you release it under a very permissive non-copyleft free software license or, better, as public domain, for exactly that reason. Copyleft is excessively restrictive for this purpose.
I believe that BSD/MIT is thriving because GPL was there. Google, Facebook, Microsoft open sourcing their products. Free compilers, free operating systems all of this stems and started from GPL being there.
> I'd rather people contribute out of personal desire to, rather than legal obligation.
Sure, that why you as an author (or your company as the owner of your work) can choose how to distribute your work. You can pick any license you want. You can still use GPL and dual license it. I've bought dual license GPL-ed code and was glad to do it.
> That, and the GPL always seemed a bit too communist (in the sense of implying that other people have a moral right to your work) for my taste.
Communism really? Well thanks to communism then we have Linux, Android devices, free compilers, and probably the reason we have free and open source software today.
What if a working computer is your primary concern, not the political status of the code?
No, its main purpose is guaranteeing that all users can understand how the device works, even if they don't belong to the company that builds it. Other FLOSS licenses don't guarantee that in the same way than the GPL does, as they allow modifications to be kept secret. We could say that the GPL is "knowledge-friendly".
In the case of video cards, the alternative would be having only the proprietary closed driver and no open source version. It's incredibly hard to know of such closed systems work by reverse-engineering them; an open source driver, even if limited and less perfect, provides a full specification of the device.
I suppose that you are arguing that an OSS driver licensed under more permissive terms would encourage GPU manufacturers to contribute more back to the original driver. Maybe it would and maybe it wouldn't. It certainly wouldn't discourage them from not contributing back.
Somehow I think that if they wanted parts of their drivers to be OSS they would have licensed them that way in the first place.
I think most people don't realize what the world was like before open source and free software.
Just using someone's code or sharing code for free was pretty radical. Now it seems obvious that you can use a free compiler. A free Unix-like OS. That was not the case. And people forget that.
I think GPL, GNU toolkit, Linux are a big part of that. I think this is a much better and interesting world than it was before. That is why I support it.
Using the GNU GPL family of licenses would not even be on our radar. (It isn’t core code, and if we accepted contributions from elsewhere, it would then start to have the ability to taint our code.)
I think the GPL is most useful at keeping us honest, or if it fails to do that, at least it provides a definition of what honesty is.
In an age in which we are hugely dependent on software, this is a human rights issue.
By what I see now (from old and new, but cursory public information), most likely, VMWare has too big resources for a long protracted legal battle, and I don't know if Conservancy can stand to it. That's not the same thing at all.
I guess when you're paid from other people's taxes, you don't care as much about perceived "fairness", or that businesses don't take advantage of your work. It may even be the right thing to do.
In fact, companies using your "free", no-strings-attached SW may be a bonus in that situation. It looks good on academic grant applications.
Of course, the word "free" here means "paid for by other people", as it often does.
However, if you want to enforce “share-alike” semantics for what you write, and you want the widest composability of your software with other “share-alike” software, by all means choose the GNU GPL (prefer locked to v2 unless you really care about “TiVo”-isation, then lock to v3—never choose the “at your discretion, a later version” clause). If you want to discourage SaaS companies from forming around your software, choose the GNU AGPL. If you want to enforce limited “share-alike” semantics at the link boundary, choose the GNU LGPL•.
• Warning to people using GNU LGPL software, though: it doesn’t mean what you think it means. You still have to provide recipients of your combined software the means to relink your software with modified versions of the GNU LGPL libraries.
If, however, you write software to scratch your own itch and don’t care what people do with it after you’ve written it? Pick a different licence: MIT, BSD, Apache, Artistic, whatever. You can even pick the GNU GPL family of licences if you really want that, but at least know why you’re picking it.
I do, however, associate GPL resistance (not "hatred") from for-profit businesses.
Confusion about "why on earth would somebody NOT want to give away their software for free, for any use whatsoever?" is better. (Hey, it works for them!)
I agree with the principle that if you make improvements to the original work you MUST contribute those improvements back, and I like the fact that the GPL protects and enforces this principle.
But other restrictions leaves much to be desired because they seem too idealistic to be feasible (ex. distributing your entire work under the GPL).
I don't condone breaking the GPL if you disagree with it, but I believe that free and non-free software should not be mutually exclusive as the GPL intends to be; real life is not black and white.
It protects your freedom as a free software developer maybe. People that do not release under the GPL do not really benefit from it.
I like to believe that corporations would generally agree to the above, though some employees may accidentally violate open source licenses or other forms of IP without realizing (and thereby potentially putting the company's business or own IP at risk). Making employees aware of the licensing issues would help.
Interestingly though also, people go through such corporate IP training treating it as bureaucracy. Elsewhere too, I see people copying things from the Internet (e.g., images, music) without adhering to copyright laws. People click on "I agree" without reading, sign employment agreements without having slightest idea of what they says, and so on. I have myself tried to educate people about these several times on Hacker News.
Not to defend VMWare here by any means, fixing/mitigating the bigger problem would require increasing general awareness of IP issues at forums like HN and elsewhere, such that the corporations can sanely honor the IP licensing without high costs of employee training and maintaining a sizeable legal department.
It also seems to me that lawyers at big corporations can also help by making the legal processes easier. They are often so risk averse (to save their own back, not necessarily for the benefit of or on behalf of the organization) that they won't approve even reasonable IP requests sent their way.
That uncertainty plus the viral nature of the GPL means that there's no way to know for sure that you won't be forced to open your whole codebase at some point in the future. That's more risk than a proprietary software company is willing to take.
The only way to resolve this problem is to get legal decisions like this one. One way or the other, this decision will clarify the picture slightly. If we add enough other decisions, maybe someday we'll have clarity.
Until then, my company is solidly in the "Absolutely no GPL" camp.
No one can force you to open your whole code base. They can only make you choose between opening the parts that do the unsafe things listed above (linking, running in the same address space, utilizing private data structures via some kind of shim that is supposed to work around the GPL), or they can force you to stop distributing the GPLed software.
Until then, my company is solidly in the "Absolutely no
The problem with VMware is that they have been pushing all of the boundaries; rather than just taking the easy road and doing known safe things like ensuring that there's a clear separation between GPLed code and their code, or just releasing their code that is linking to the GPLed code.
Now think how you configure MediaWiki; you modify LocalSettings.php to (at the bare minimum) add the database username/password, and set the secret key.
This means essentially every site running a MediaWiki installation (or Wordpress, or effectively any other GPL-licensed web application) is violating the GPL, and are only getting away with it because no one has bothered to take legal action over it.
"You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License [...] These requirements apply to the modified work as a whole."
If the thing you want to use is a DLL, how do you use it without linking to it? Writing some sort of external process and using IPC to talk to it might fulfill the letter of the license, but it's more work and less robust, and still violates the spirit of the GPL.
In the end, we picked the MIT licensed component and worked around the issues.
That's not so hard, is it?
It's just like the question you get when using proprietary software. If you don't want to pay the license fee or abide by its terms and conditions, you find an alternative or write an alternative yourself.
The obligation to release your code is just the license fee for the GPL. If that's too steep for you, look somewhere else.
I'll quote LWN's summary  from the talk Bob Young of Red Hat gave at LCA this January:
He has long been a staunch advocate of the GPL, he said, but not because he has detailed opinions of the differences between it and other, similar licenses. Rather, he said, he learned early on that customers do not care about the details of free-software licenses, and that diving into an explanation of them was the fastest way to send a potential customer running toward the competition. ...
With the GPL, everyone knows what the rules are, more or less, so the debate is over quickly. They might not actually know the rules, he added, but they think they do, which amounts to the same thing. As a "business guy," he said, he is always trying to simplify the "pitch" - the GPL tells everyone "what we're about," so it has the greatest impact.
 We did this when we wanted to publish a royalty-free patent license tied to certain code, and wanted to be sure it would not keep people from using that code in GPLv3 projects. We were reasonably sure of our interpretation of the terms, but it's always nice to double-check.
Outside of a business that can hire lawyers, it would be helpful for the FSF and sites like http://opensource.org/licenses/BSD-3-Clause to have examples right beneath the licenses. Something like: "Here is a JS plugin with BSD-3 here is another plugin based on it. Note how the license did/didn't change." "Here is an MIT license and an example of a company adding that code to their app with license intact on the app's about screen". Stuff like that. http://choosealicense.com/ is helpful, and part of the way there.
They can't do that. The law doesn't work like that. The GPL FAQ has to be deliberately vague about some things, because judges and juries themselves are vague, as are the laws they work to interpret. You can't have cut-and-dry examples of what can be done and what can't, because there can be many other externalities that could make a different case work in a different way, despite similarities to your proposed list of examples.
There are can be broad strokes, but the law is not a programming language. Recent xkcd comes to mind.
Now, if individuals would be willing to work together to put up such a site, as a collection of information and opinions, with necessary disclaimers so that its limits are well-understood, and add examples, thoughts about them, critique and disagreements about them too, that would be different.
If Apple can afford to use the GPL, i.e. they think the GPL risk is low enough for them and won't make them free their entire codebase, then anyone can also make this assessment.
They seem to have no problem with GPLv2, but since they are using the last and aging GPLv2 releases of a bunch of GNU packages, they seem to be moving to non-copyleft alternatives purely because there are no more updates to the GPLv2 versions.
They had no apparent problem in adding git to Xcode despite their overall GPLv2+GPLv3 purge.
That sounds like a fun story. What happened?
Consider GNU Objective C. NeXT initially wanted to make this front
end proprietary; they proposed to release it as .o files, and let
users link them with the rest of GCC, thinking this might be a way
around the GPL's requirements. But our lawyer said that this would
not evade the requirements, that it was not allowed. And so they
made the Objective C front end free software.
Specifically, as I've spoken about in my many talks on GPL
compliance, the earliest publicly discussed major GPL violation
was by NeXT computing when Steve Jobs attempted and failed (thanks
to RMS' GPL enforcement work) to make the Objective C front-end to
GCC proprietary. Everything for everyone involved would have gone
quite differently if that enforcement effort had failed.
That doesn't happen. A violator would be ordered to pay compensation and remove the offending code, though they could reach a settlement to do something else.
Simply providing the source of libhoge is not sufficient, and most people do not understand that about the GNU LGPL.
Yes, you have to provide the source and a build process for the (L)GPL'd software in question. That's standard for both the GPL and LGPL; no difference. From there, linking is just another step in the build with ld, or at runtime with LD_PRELOAD.
The LGPL is incredibly under-appreciated. Developers love to complain about GPL'd software, but who actually takes raw chunks of code, or entire applications, and re-packages it as their own? Most developers don't have a reason to do this -- the majority of our work with third-party code consists of interfacing with libraries and that is where the LGPL comes in handy.
If you're uncomfortable committing completely to the GPL but still want to support its basic tenets, try the LGPL.
I personally recommend against using the GNU LGPL because of this confusion. If you want something that does what most people think the GNU LGPL does, use the MPL with a GNU GPL exception. (IMO, the MPL is a superior licence to anything in the GNU GPL family, but it is also not my licence of choice—that is the MIT-style licence.)
The language of most of common software licenses is straightforward; blindly using any license without being aware with their implications, especially in a commercial capacity, is... stupid.
Beyond that, we'll have to agree to disagree. If you're familiar with the four freedoms of the GNU free software definition , then licenses that are nonfree and non-copyleft do not ensure the four freedoms for users of the software. The (L)GPL has been carefully crafted to ensure those those freedoms. Although that might not matter to you personally, preserving those freedoms is important for many people.
The MPL is a superb licence that is under-appreciated. It usually acts similar to the MIT licence in that it never taints your software that uses MPLed software. It has, at best, a “modular” taint. If you depend on an MPLed library, you can combine that library without revealing your source at all. If you modify that library, you only have to release your modified source. You can even modify it so that it goes from proprietary -> MPLed library -> proprietary, but you have to document the nature of what you’re doing in that call out from the MPL and you may need to release that (I haven’t dealt with the MPL in years, but I think that describes that particular case).
GNU activists were loud enough for years (despite having had the exact same debate at the beginning of the licensing project) that ultimately Mozilla caved and dual-licensed its projects just to shut them up. (It didn’t help with some folks in the Debian community because of the constraints on the trademarks, but some people will never be satisfied unless you’re receiving your web pages by email in emacs.)
You may want to know that in the past few years, MPL 2.0 was released, which embeds a so-called "GPL compatibility" by default. In fact, it's a relicensing allowed by MPL 2.0 licensor.
MPL 2.0 still keeps an option for the licensor's software to never be relicensed, but they have to specifically use an "incompatibility" clause.
Ignoring the structure of actually related areas of law, as ditching intellectual property as a category would be doing, is great if you want to deceive people, but very bad if your intent is to educate and help people understand the law.
IP is a subcategory of intangible personal property, which is a subcategory of personal property, which is a subcategory of property. There are legal principles that are generally applicable to property, others that apply to personal (as opposed to real) property, others that apply to intangible (as opposed to tangible) personal property, etc.
IP isn't particularly closely related to "physical property" (which isn't a particularly useful category); nor does the term suggest that it is. Real property is in a separate branch from IP at the highest level of categorization of property rights, and tangible personal property is at the next level down. It is more closely related to things like debts and choses in action (rights to sue), which are, while not IP, also intangible personal property.
And there's no need to make it an us-vs-them issue. Nobody is defining terms to fit their agenda, criticism of IP is simply pointing to differences that are already codified in law. So if you don't like it, take it up with your legislators. You don't have to be either for or against copyleft to want say the big scary copy-r-word to your developers. Even the most ardent copyleft haters and copyright abolitionism idealists are shooting themselves in the foot when they make snide remarks toward lawyers about their "legalese", before they know it reality will catch up with them and they'll be hit with overly broad patent suits or some jerk will infringe on their trademarks.
In one way, this seem to be suggested. How can we expect employee of software development companies to understand software licensing, copyright, or that downloading stuff from the internet doesn't automatically make it free-for-fall. On the other hand, the software industry seems to be very aware of piracy, that downloading stuff from the pirate bay is copyright infringement, and that its not free just because its on the internet.
I am thus torn to the suggestion that this is a education problem.
In previous thread :
is kernel's source really 'built'?
That said, it's vital to the future of free software that we keep legal precedent aligned behind the GPL. I donated and I encourage other people to donate as well.
In any case, thanks for removing the editorialized (incorrect?) part in the title.
I rather like bkuhn, because he's a lawyer and a free hacker. His opinions on the GPL should be taken very seriously. I would only trust GPL-cowriter Eben Moglen himself more than bkuhn on GPL legalities.
The FSF does more advocacy and handles infrastructure for GNU packages. For example, they handle our GNU Octave donations. Conservancy handles similar tasks, plus legal services. They handle the donations of the other big project I like, Mercurial. Oh, and they do the same for git.
I also think bkuhn's writings are saying pretty much the same things that rms says, but in a different way that alienates fewer people, e.g. here is one on a fairly recent event you may remember:
That's an eye-opening perspective! For the most part I agree with your point about alienating fewer people but the above quote stuck out.
One way out for VMWare would be to import FreeBSD drivers, although that wouldn't do the Linux community much good. From what I've read, VMWare does provide the source for the drivers, but not the core of their kernel, so Linux would still benefit from any improvements they make. If they switch to another set of drivers, that won't happen.
I can understand the principle of the position, but given that releasing the crown jewel core of the vmkernel as GPL seems unlikely, I'm not sure what actual benefits will be realized here. Something of a Pyrrhic victory.
According to LWN's article they found linux kernel's source (radix tree, scheduler) https://lwn.net/SubscriberLink/635290/e501ce0264c182f4/
But it's not exactly clear if those codes were actually built and shipped with product according to 'former employ'
This is all cluster*uck of wild guessworks unless they elaborate more on VMware's response or VMware makes formal statements on their position. What a waste of time
Presumably when LWN article states "code can be downloaded from VMware's web site" they got it from the open source tab on VMware vSphere's download page .
The bigger question I think is how a non-technical judge will think when presented with a description of the vmkernel. Does it constitute one work, or is it a larger number of isolated small works that simply happens to work together in a independent fashion? Are the drivers in question separateable from the kernel and the finish "product" that wmware sells? Are wmware following what can be reasonable understood as the intended use of the licensed work?
Dynamic linking is mere use.
If you say that "this cannot be called from certain kinds of programs", you're restricting use, not merely redistribution.
That is because such programs can be shipped to users without including the GPLed code (thus without redistributing it), so that the users then instruct the software to load the GPLed code that they separately obtain.
Any GPLed program which isn't a shared library could be turned into one, and it could be turned into one by a project which completely complies with the GPL.
For instance, if I'd like my proprietary program to be able to use Bash without spawning a process, I can make a public "Libbash" project which turns Bash into a library (without switching the license to LGPL, which I have no right to do).
In my proprietary program, I can test for the presence of Libbash on a system, and use dlopen or LoadLibrary to use the thing if it is present, otherwise fall back on spawning an external process. If I do this, the crazy FSF zealots think I'm a violator, even though I didn't ship a single line of GPLed code with my program.
So, whereas the jury is out on P = NP, but to me, it is clear that GPL = LGPL. :)
Independently of the linking issue, the GPL prevents redistribution in non-source-code form.
It ensures that users have access to the source code of the covered work, and can modify that code, share the modifications, and build the code to produce a component which replaces the one which the proprietary program uses.
Continuing with the fictitious "Libbash", it means that users can patch or upgrade their "Libbash". My proprietary program will use whatever version they have installed, just like it will use whatever version of /bin/bash they have installed. If I were to statically link "libbash.a" into my program, then there would be a violation: users cannot upgrade or replace that. And, of course, it necessarily must be shipped with my program, being an inseparable part of it, so I cannot avoid redistributing.
Dynamic linking is no different from command line invocation. Having it embroiled in the licensing rhetoric is a pointless mingling of C-and-Unix technology concepts with freedom concepts.
By the way, I think even static linking is fair, if the program is distributed as separate images, and only linked as a part of use. (Which is why the LGPL is silly.)
That is to say, suppose we have a "Libbash" library version of Bash. I could ship my program such that when the user installs it and runs its wrapper program, it statically links itself prior to execution. If it finds a "libbash.a" on the system, then it statically links that. Otherwise it falls back on linking to its own "libbash-stub.a" which works by spawning a process. Since I didn't redistribute any part of Bash, I cannot possibly be infringing on any copyright.
According the LGPL (if that were the license), I would be infringing because of the specific linking technology that is identifiable as "static". (Though it is de facto dynamic by being delayed as long as possible, happening on the user's target machine).
Yet note how the user has full rights over "libbash.a". The user can update to a new version or make local modifications, and rebuild this. When the user runs my program, it will notice there is a newer "libbash.a" and re-run the static linking steps.
Preparing a derivative work is an exclusive right of the copyright holder, meaning they can prevent it or place conditions on it. It's not only distribution.
Now, no one (afaik) in the free/open software communities will focus on the user here, they may focus on the wrapper/Libbash writer: if the work you're creating is a derivative work, then it is within the scope of copyright of the parts.
Wow. I did not know they were that big.
IT won't be good for the OSS ecosystem to have thousands of devs all the sudden stop contributing at their day jobs when the code is replaced.
. I'm very irritated by this FUD "Just think of the jobs!" line of thinking.
Companies are aware of the "license risk" surrounding GPL today. They know what they can and can't do -- services like BlackDuck exist mainly to assess this "license risk".
Any sizable company using GPL is doing so because it helps their bottom line, not because they have their fingers crossed praying that it won't get enforced.
Reading that, I am instantly wondering if you are currently infringing someones copyright and are now working hard to hide the crime?
There is alternatives of course. Are your product a prototype that never got shipped to a customer? Are the product at the moment gpl'ed, witch corresponding source code provided to the customer, and you want to move away to closed source in the future? I know any of the three scenarios could be the situation you are describing.
There is a reason why almost every AAA game now days comes with a long list of licensed works in their credits. The competition is just that impossible to fight if they decide to write their own xml parser, their own font types, their own everything. This will happen to any aspect of the computer industry that has enough competition, so the question about using third-party licensed software, be that of any license, is a simple question about competition.
In fact, I worry that they will feel emboldened when they see how long they can violate the terms without repercussion.
Many CTOs of large enterprises have, let's say, a less nuanced view of the GPL. Their concern is that "just complying" would mean the complete and total revelation of all of their code, all of their trade secrets, and thus all of their competitive advantage. They believe, wrongly, that there are no other ways to come into compliance than to do something they believe would kill their business. Cases like this are accelerants on those flames of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.
If EMC wins the lawsuit, I'd seriously consider never releasing open source code again, and I'm sure many developers would feel similarly. There are many jobs that exist only because of open source. The damage done by EMC winning this lawsuit would be substantial. And for companies who pay for their employees to develop GPL code, you think they're going to be happy if competing companies start absorbing their code into proprietary systems?
And even if you screw up and forget the link, the lawyers don't descend on you like buzzards - you get tapped on the shoulder and asked to fix it, which is a pretty simple matter too. The lawyers don't come out unless you stall and act in bad faith like VMWare has done.
This is about more than Busybox. Their 'vmkernel' proprietary code seems to rely heavily on code from the Linux kernel, up to the point where it may be a derived work:
In other words, their hypervisor could violate the GPL.
Of course, that does not change the point. If you want to benefit from GPL-licensed code, you also have to play by the rules. If the rules are never enforced, companies will systematically violate the license, as we've seen with many Android OEMs.
That said, I wonder how this will end up? I lean towards VMWare just putting their big boy pants on and releasing the VMKernel source.
Speaking purely subjectively, they don't have any "competitive advantage" to defend anyways.
The Conservancy has good people and provides valuable services to the F/OSS community. I trust they've weighed these considerations before deciding to act.
Its not clear how much money, nor clear what damages occurred. How does this usually play out?
It may or may not be; I think its usually seen as a gratuitous license, but I've seen some argument that it is a contract, and which it is may vary by jurisdiction.
> I thought civil suits could only result in money for damages.
This is inaccurate.
> For instance, its not possible to make VMware do anything; just to fine them.
Civil suits can result in orders for specific performance of duties under a contract, they can result in money damages, and they can result in permanent injunctions and other measures that mandate or constrain behavior of the parties. Money damages are the most common thing in civil suits, but not the only possible outcome. (And, of course, the possible outcomes and what the rules are for them all vary by jurisdiction.)
(IANAL) The GPL is a license, which is similar to but different than a contract. It says "you may use my IP under these circumstances (and I can't sue you even if I change my mind)". If one "violates" a license, one is simply using IP without permission. Incorporating GPL'd code contrary to its terms (and with no alternative license from the IP owners) is no different than copying a chapter or three from a book and releasing it as your own.
"license" is an overlapping category to "contract". Some licenses are also contracts, some licenses are gratuitous. Anything that gives the receiver permission to do something that the issuer has the exclusive right to control (such as, in the GPL, the right to do things which are exclusive to the copyright holder under copyright law) is a license, whether something is a contract depends on whether there is offer, acceptance, mutual consideration, etc.
Contacts and attempts to resolve this amicably with VMware have been going on since 2012.
> I don't see in there all the accounting configurations you'd need to integrate [a bitcoind installation] with Conservancy's accounting system, nor all the legal research to figure out how it impacts Conservancy's Form 990 filings, nor all the workflow code to make sure transactions are auto-imported, identified with people who want to be identified, so they can be sent their t-shirts.
I believe there are people who will convert it for you and forward the results to SFC.
If anyone wishes to trust me (does karma count?), I could do this. Any coins to 16ctFcjpXJSuLSfX23sdPve3eLFGd17mco sent within 7 days of this post (so from 2015-03-06 until 2015-03-13) will go directly to the VMWare suit by the Software Freedom Conservancy. Market price is used from bitstamp. If you want a confirmation, email me the source address at email@example.com and I'll message you how much I donated exactly in dollars.
The article seems to get upset about this event: "They took Christoph's code from Linux and modified it to work with their own kernel without releasing source code of the resulting complete work." So that's the harm? But how is that harmful? How does that hurt Christoph or anyone else?
Perhaps the answer is: "Christoph worked so hard on it, and gave such expertise and so much time, and now his work is providing benefit to others with no further benefit to himself." I would certainly agree in general that if you work hard on something and someone else steals your work and benefits from it instead of you, then this is a clear and deplorable harm. But if you give your work away so that people benefit from it in general, then you have agreed that your sole benefit is not at issue and that you don't expect compensation for the work. If someone then uses the work for their own financial benefit, or modifies it without giving you the changes back, what has that deprived you of? Surely that's not taking away anything that would have been coming to you had they not done it. Is it?
Where's the harm?
Say that I help you with some endeavour of yours, and that I do that provided you do the same with an endeavour of mine. You accept, so I help you, then you decide to not help me. The harm is that you have extracted value from me by promising to me something you didn't deliver.
In the GPL licensing case, the harm is that he choose to provide his code under GPL provided those who use it would put changes and derivative works under GPL too.
In particular, this means that VMWare choose to use GPL code knowingly they would have to share the result but they didn't. The harm is much bigger in that everybody who is happy with GPL code can't use VMWare's code. That's a lot of people.
Now, when it comes to IP that notion of ownership has all but been thrown away. 'Owning' a song entitles you to some rights, often only valid for a period of time, and subject to arbitrary modification later on.
When it comes to software we're often even worse off - we can't even find out what it does. The GPL is an attempt to enforce a stronger notion of ownership, so that if you have the software in your possession you can do whatever you like to it. The source code is open, you can modify it, or anything else.
So there's the harm. The harm is to you. When you're given a piece of software you have limited, if any, ability to find out what it does, to modify it to suit your needs, to modify it to play around. And yet you 'pay' for this software. You're paying to acquire a set of limited rights, often mutable and on the whole useless (as rights).
You might say that's all a bit theoretical. But all the sony rootkits, Lenovo MITM attacks, credit carf theofts, etc. - they all happen because no one can see what the software they "own" does.
I dislike the way the GPL works - copyleft enforcement - the law should simply be changed. But the principle seems about right.
Compare this to your song analogy. A GPL'd song would also provide the original production project "source" - the raw studio recordings of each track, the digital audio workstation file project that compiles it all together and renders the final single stereo track. You could then modify the song by removing individual elements, changing the mix, changing the arrangement, etc, and render out a new stereo song. Very few artists actually do this, because it's a weird idea that somehow the software industry has latched onto that no other sections care much about or think is particularly important, because they haven't been bitten by this strangely worded "freedom" bug.
Or the table analogy: not only do you own the table, you own the design documents, the factory floor plan, the knowledge of what saws and blades and bolt suppliers were used to assemble it. You can then use that knowledge to produce new tables with modified designs. Etc.
In other words your physical goods analogy falls pretty short unless you separate it into the functional object or IP and the original, complex information that allows one to actually produce modified versions of that object or IP.
Namely, that if everyone behaved the harmless way you and VMWare describe, there would be very little/lower quality GPL software. And, that GPL contributors give their time and code away on the condition that those who benefit from it give back in the form of contributions and openness instead of money.
GPL coders give their code away with conditions, and VMWare is breaking that condition. If VMWare wants to get code for free with no quid pro quo, then there's BSD.
EDIT - Personal context - I've always liked MIT/BSD license. I just understand the GPL and its intentions, too.
The GPL is intended as a license that improves software available to the public. By not complying with the license they agreed to, VMware is depriving me, you, Christoph and the general public from software which we have the right to use, modify and share under the GPL (and which just happens to be coded by VMware).
So I think the "harm" is that they failed to adhere to the contract they made with him. That may not be satisfying to you, but that's certainly enough in itself for this to go to court. Contracts is fundamental to how modern societies function—courts enforce that when parties agree to legal terms, those terms are adhered to.
There is nothing wrong with using GPL code in commercial products, but why should VMWare be allowed special privileges to it? Everyone should be able to use the code for their own purposes, whether commercial or not, on the same generous terms.
1. Code written under the GPL is value created for public consumption. VMWare is violating the spirit of reciprocity by benefiting from that value, creating more value on top of it, then not releasing their additions for everyone to benefit.
So it's not about Christoph's benefit, nor the company's. It's about our benefit as the people not involved directly in that transaction.
2. I imagine copyright gets really hairy if you write something, someone comes along and modifies it over a period of a year or two, then claims ownership. I imagine the GPL helps clear that sort of thing up as well.
Uh... it's depriving you of the changes? e.g the kind of changes a big, rich company can afford to pay people to do to free software.
If he were really giving it away for free with no strings attached, then he would have used something like a CC license, which was specifically designed for that purpose.
Some people seem to get upset about such events: "The lousy crackers copied this software/game/movie and removed the copy protection, then distributed it for free no the internet. Nobody paid us!" So that's the harm? But how is that harmful? How does that hurt VMWare or anyone else whose copyrighted material has been reused without their permission?
Perhaps the answer is: "The author of that worked so hard on it and gave such expertise and so much time and now their work is providing benefit to others with no further benefit to the author." I would certainly agree in general that if you work hard on something and someone copies your work and benefits from it instead of you, then this is a clear and deplorable harm. But if you sell your work for money so that people who pay can benefit from it in general, then you have agreed that your sole benefit is not at issue and that you don't mind if other people use it. If someone then uses the work for their own financial benefit, what has that deprived you of? Where's the harm?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
To state it plainly, instead of simply using parody, Christoph wrote some code, and under copyright law has a right to control how people use it for at least the next hundred years or so. Some people who write code like that say "I'll let you use it if you pay me money." Christoph said "I'll let you use it if you let ME (and everyone else) use any modifications you make or things you build from it." Allegedly, VMWare used Christoph's code and DIDN'T pay him (they did not pay him money NOR did they adhere to the specific behavior that Christoph had requested). It is "harm" only in the sense that "stealing" software or music or movies is "harm".
Karl Fogel proposed an experiment, that legislators introduce a bill proposing a right to attribution, essentially making plagiarism illegal, to gauge the media industry's reaction. His prediction was that they would balk at the proposal.
The states involved in this dispute recognize the idea of intellectual property and protect it with copyright. Questioning the validity of intellectual property as a concept is a very different from the question at hand.
To wit, an author in Germany should be able to expect that his copyright would be respected by other entities in Germany, as they're all bound by the same laws. Regardless of our feelings regarding the moral validity of copyright or intellectual property.
Two things. First, you aren't giving your work away. This premise is false. You are licensing your work. It's still yours. Without that license, it's yours. You are exchanging the right to use that work for certain conditions that must be followed. You expect to be compensated.
> what specific asset or benefit have you lost when someone takes your GPL code and uses it in their commercial product?
This can be rewritten as such:
"What specific asset or benefit have you lost when someone takes your copyrighted code and uses it in their commercial product?"
The answer for that is the same answer for the question you asked.
I think a future which this is universal understood by everyone will be one which GPL won't be needed. If there is no copyright or patents to protect, the argument against releasing source code evaporate like a bad idea. Until that day, the answer to "Where's the harm" is two legal words: Copyright and patents.
Christoph, having not seen the improved code, made changes to the GPL code that ended up somewhat similar to what VMWare did but hid it instead.
VMWare decides to sue Christoph. I am sure the basis for this lawsuit would be weak but VMWare may not care since they have the money while Christoph does not.
I recall the battles SCO did to Linux as you can read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCO%E2%80%93Linux_controversies
This is why I believe it is always important to defend your license because who knows what happens down the road.
Or installing a hacked Photoshop or Windows?
Just because Christoph decided to sell his code for something that isn't money, doesn't mean you can use it without paying. In the case of GPL, you pay with the source code you add to the software.
If companies take his work under GPL and don't contract with him to write new code, they are damaging his income.
You want programmers to earn a living don't you ?
There are two points that most people confuse themselves on with respect to the GNU GPL, and they’re captured in this sentence:
> …If someone then uses the work for their own financial benefit, or modifies it without giving you the changes back, what has that deprived you of?…
First, the GNU GPL says nothing about financial gain from the use or modification of the work in question except in terms of mere transmission of the work. That is, when you exercise your right under licence to a copy of the modified code, a company cannot charge you more than it costs them to prepare and send you the modified code. This particular clause comes from the point where the shipment of tapes was used to transmit code rather than the network, because both tapes and shipping had tangible costs.
Second, the GNU GPL says nothing about contributing changes back to the original author. What is required is that people who have (legitimately·) obtained a copy of the modified software are guaranteed the right to request a copy of the modified software’s source code. Further, those people are explicitly permitted under the GNU GPL to further modify and/or redistribute the code and/or their modified versions. The recipient is also permitted to make financial gain of their own, if they choose. (Under the GNU GPL v2, nothing prohibited those modified versions from being useless because you could not load the modified versions onto the target hardware. This is why the GNU GPL v3 has what people called the “TiVo” clause.)
· This leads to the reason for the GNU AGPL, after a fashion. If a company were to make “Lilypond as a service” with their own private modifications, they are not required to either contribute those modifications back to the original project or to their customers, because they are not distributing the software. Someone who hacks into their servers hand obtains the modified Lilypond binaries does not have the right to request the source because the LaaS company did not distribute the software. The Affero GPL is the version of the GNU GPL that requires service companies to make available even the private modifications because it redefines distribution as use, in this case.
I’m not a fan of any of the GNU GPL licences•, but every software developer or company that uses open source or GPLed software needs to have a better understanding of the licences that they are interacting with. Most of them are written in fairly accessible English—and if they aren’t, you probably shouldn’t be using them.
• The cooption of “free” and “freedom” for licences that are highly restrictive is detestable. The effect of these licences may be desirable in a number of cases, but there’s a level of doublespeak and disingenuousness around the GNU GPL family that turns me off.
I encourage you to donate now!
That way, commercial companies that don't want to risk the successful lawsuit and just want to build on existing code will go the MIT/BSD route exclusively; and GPL can remain in the academic and the ideologically-driven free software sector where it's really much more suited.
If a company then wants to actually be a free software-based company, more power to them, but there'll be a lot less stumbling into that situation and half-assing the ethics of it like we see now.
If nothing else, giving the GPL teeth will force the confrontations and precedents that finally define the boundaries of the copyleft concept and let people make more informed choices.
They primarily provide truly fantastic infrastructure and support for major projects like Git, Mercuial, Boost, PyPy, Busybox, Selenium, and more. For example, the Conservancy is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit, which allows donations to those member projects to be tax-deductible in the United States. They also hold assets on behalf of projects, provide basic legal services to members, and assist in contract negotiation when a project needs to, say, rent a venue for a conference.
They're also the organizational home for Outreachy, which was formerly known as the Outreach Program for Women and run by the GNOME project.
I donated $250 last year to support those efforts, and I plan to do the same this year.
More info on the services provided at http://sfconservancy.org/members/services/
Would you be ok with them breaking the terms of the MIT/BSD license?I'm not familiar with the MIT/BSD restrictions, but I think one of them is to acknowledge original author? How would you feel if they violated that?
See my related comment here about increasing general awareness about IP issues:
Large companies are not capitalist entities unto themselves, but rather a semi-free component of a fully functioning capitalist system made useful by the GNU corelibs, shell utilities and vital system components comprising a full corporate person as defined by law.
Many capitalist systems run with a modified version of the GNU system every day, without realizing it. Through a peculiar turn of events, the version of GNU which is widely used in large companies today is often ignored, and many citizens are not aware that it is basically the GNU system, developed by the GNU Project.
There really are large companies, but they are just a part of the wider system. Large companies are the parts we see every day: the people we buy goods and services from, allocating the world's resources for their customers. Large companies are an essential part of a capitalist system, but useless by themselves; they can only function in the context of a complete capitalist system. Large companies normally exist in combination with the GNU operating system: the whole system is basically GNU with large companies added, or GNU/Large companies. All the so-called large companies are really distributions of GNU/large companies.
But even assuming it is a nasty thing, no one will notice that if its nastiness isn't enforced.
But if a corporation chooses to violate the terms of someone who did release their stuff under GPL then they should pay for it.
Bold and inaccurate statement. There's a 100% chance that it won't be beneficial at all to "the entire community."
Also, the judges in the fancy courthouse aren't any less prone to error than the ones sitting ringside at boxing matches.
Which is why cooler heads have prevailed on these matters for so long.
All sides (copyleft, non-copyleft, and proprietary) have a lot to lose and the unresolved tension was largely keeping things in check. Until the FSF chimes in I'd be hesitant to encourage this with financial support.
If the GPL is never proven to be upheld (at least to the point where most legal corporate accepts it) by the courts then it is a meaningless licence that only matters to free software advocates and geeks.
Several bad things could happen here, not the least of which is that people avoid the GPL for new projects while this plays out.
Agreements are just that -- agreements. The tension that both sides know that they can seek judicial relief in the event of a dispute arguably is the entire basis of civilization.
>We don't think so, but this case will let the court to decide that question.
I don't think a judge is able to decide it. A grey area cannot be black or white.
25 years ago I heard a RMS speak and it seems to me the whole freedom movement is unable to move and/or adapt. The same old (now) boring words again and again. And meanwhile we have App distribution models (iphone, google play, SaaS) which are much more closed/dangerous then waht we ever had. Abundant ad spamming and data grabbing. FSF did not help one yota and their extremism made them weak. GPLv3 divided instead of fortified.
What shall I think of RSM which not even uses smartphones? How much more beside your shoes could you be today?
The problem with this (correct me if I'm wrong) is that you neither seem to suggest an alternative course nor care to act yourself towards a solution. RMS, on the other hand, does and most would agree that his actions have yielded a net positive effect in today's ecosystem.
As a side note, the strength of the cult of personality around Richard is always striking to me. He gets away with doing and saying things that would seem absolutely insane if anyone else in the software community did them. For example, forgoes all normal Internet usage (instead he fetches html files to his email), no longer programs, doesn't own a cellphone, did not know that lldb was a debugger, etc...
Yet, we are still supposed to beleive he is capable of producing modern and relevant solutions. I'm sorry, but Richard is out of touch. He is stuck in the past. His achievements should no doubt be honored, but someone else needs to take over.
I've worked at a lot of companies these past 20 years and in every single one of them, the GPL was simply banned. You were not allowed to touch any software that used that license, and sometimes, the ban extended to even more reasonable licenses like the LGPL.
And for good reasons.
These days, releasing a software with a GPL license is pretty much a guarantee that your code will never become popular because nobody with a sane mind and a minimal understanding of software licensing will want to touch it, let alone corporations.
That being said, this doesn't seem to be about a company looking at the GPL and avoiding it. This looks like a company looking at the GPL, not complying with its restrictions, but using the code anyway.
I may not like the GPL, but if a fellow developer decides to use it, I will defend that right.
[edited to elaborate on my reasons for not using the GPL. See comments below]
So yeah, I could have made my point a little better. Here's some elaboration:
I will personally avoid applying the GPL, either by my own decision or because of code I am using, mostly because I want the freedom, both for myself and for those who might use my code, to release on iOS.
Besides, there's compelling reasons for companies to GPL software they code which doesn't overlap with their core business. If you happen to code a new testing framework because you need one, you can GPL it and profit from the community improving it. In that case you don't really care about adoption, you care about getting improvements back, which is the strength of the GPL. It's a great license for infrastructure code, just not for your main product.
So the GPL is alive in the same sense that COBOL is alive: because there's still some software out there that uses it.
That's a pretty useless definition with a ridiculously low bar, though.
The simple truth is that hardly any new project created in the past ten years has picked the GPL. And just for that reason, it's dying. It will never be technically dead, but it's certainly dead from a practical standpoint.
GPL is not for being a popular developer. It's about giving users rights.
(and it's for users, not for other developers who can then do whatever they want including adding EULAs and DRM to take users' rights away).
Your companies that "simply banned" GPL did so because they were too ignorant to bother to read it and understand it. Banning LGPL too proves the point.
Your claim that it's somehow not "sane" to use it betrays your own hostility and ignorance. Why don't you direct your anger at something actually evil, instead of a license that has done demonstrably good things for the world?
The good news is you pissed me off enough to get off my ass and donate. GPL Forever.
It's already pretty much dead, hardly any project uses it any more.
> Why don't you direct your anger at something actually evil, instead of a license that has done demonstrably good things for the world?
> The good news is you pissed me off enough to get off my ass and donate. GPL Forever.
Anger? You seem to be the one spittling at your keyboard right now. I don't really care much about this topic, I just avoid the GPL for my projects and it looks like I'm not the only one.
Sorry I made you angry, it's really not worth getting yourself upset about.
Hahahaha ! Almost every single device you own or will own will include GPL code, from your phone to every television to (soon) your light switches and light bulbs.
After the world ends, the only thing still alive will be GPL licensed Linux kernels running robots (assuming that's not after the int64_t time_t wrap time :-).
Lots of companies open source their products under the AGPL with a commercial license they sell. This allows them to say their products are 'open source' and look good, but in reality it hampers their own product. If I wanted to commercialise that product and make changes, I can open source the changes, but I won't sign the original companies CLA which means they can't take my code and use it in their commercial version.
This lawsuit will be interesting though, as it will probably set a precedent on how you can use GPL software in commercial software.
Why wouldn't everybody else?
Pick Apache or a BSD license, you have the same guarantees of access to the source code and you're not restricting the freedom of people using your code.
Maybe I'm mistaken, but I have the feeling that many -of course, not all and I'm not saying that you do- think that their precious code is so amazing and it will give so much competitive advantage that they need to leave open the option for a closed source version that will make them rich, and that's why they defend "freer" licenses very passionately. Newsflash, it almost surely -like 99,99%- won't happen.
As for MySQL, I don't see how the existence of a proprietary version of MySQL is somehow the GPL's fault. The users would be even more at a disadvantage if the proprietary version was the only one that existed and there was no free version, so the existence of the GPL version is a net benefit for everyone.
Not that it's a particularly good idea to buy a proprietary license or even contribute code to Oracle. PostgreSQL will treat you much more fairly. It doesn't require copyright attribution from their contributors, it's governed by a 501(c)(3) charity in the US and a similar non-profit in the EU rather than a company that only looks out for itself.
There is nothing wrong with making a profit with software, but signing an expensive restrictive EULA for a database is just a bad deal, whether you're a small startup or a major corporation.
 The right to view the source and make changes as you see fit.
All the BSD license ensures is that if they distribute the code they have to retain things like author retribution.
If your goal is simply to get your code used by other people and corporations, under virtually no restriction with what they do with it, then the GPL is not a good choice.
If your goal is to let others use your code for the greater benefit of everyone that uses your code, then the GPL enforces that (at least to the extent it can be reasonably enforced).
The freedoms awarded by the GPL are not intended for the authors of the derivative works but for everyone else. The restrictions in place only prevent the author of the derived work from restricting everyone else.
If you want the freedom to do whatever you want with your code, then write it all from scratch.
It's just not worth a conversation in every case I've run across.
This is demonstrably false.