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Doubts Raised About Legal Soundness of GPL2 521

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the no-you're-unsound dept.
svonkie writes "Two prominent IP lawyers have warned that the all-pervasive General Public License version 2 (GPLv2) is legally unsound. They claim GPLv3 and AGPLv3 are much better suited for the realities of modern open source software. 'If you go back in time to when GPLv2 was written, I don't think people were aware of just how ubiquitous this license would become and how closely scrutinized it would be,' said Mark Radcliffe, partner at the firm DLA Piper and general counsel for the Open Source Initiative (OSI). 'At that time, open source was not something as broadly used as it is now.' Radcliffe was joined by Karen Copenhaver, partner at Choate Hall & Stewart and counsel for the Linux Foundation, for a GPL web conference hosted by the license-sniffing firm Black Duck software"
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Doubts Raised About Legal Soundness of GPL2

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  • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @11:33AM (#29758873)

    The article essentially says that the terminology used needs more rigorous definition, and needs to match more closely with the existing legal terminology. For example, their use of "derivative work" might have legal connotations that don't completely follow from the terms of the licence. It's not like they've determined there's some fundimental legal principle which brings the whole thing crashing down, as you see in EULAs for example.

    • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:05PM (#29759295) Homepage Journal

      It's not like they've determined there's some fundimental legal principle which brings the whole thing crashing down, as you see in EULAs for example.

      Right. Which strikes me as interesting that they'd suggest "upgrading" from a distribution license (GPLv2) to a EULA (AGPLv3). Remember, if you have an in-house branch of an AGPLv3 package, and you let a customer SSH in to run it, then you have to grant them full rights to your changes (even though you haven't distributed it). I dig RMS and I love the GPL, but I hate that derivative abomination.

      • Why shouldn't they get the source code to a program they are using, even if it is over SSH? Isn't that the whole point of the Open source and the GPL. Software authors granting the same rights they enjoy to their users? When did having the program you're using running on your own computer become a prerequisite for obtaining GPL rights?

        • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @01:06PM (#29760157) Homepage Journal

          Why shouldn't they get the source code to a program they are using, even if it is over SSH? Isn't that the whole point of the Open source and the GPL.

          The problem is that all versions of the GPL have governed distribution, and they're on solid ground with copyright law. Basically, they grant you additional distribution rights above and beyond what you'd normally be allowed as long as you comply with certain restrictions. End users don't even have to agree to the GPL to use software so licensed because usage isn't governed by copyright. The GPLv3 (and the AGPLv3, confusingly enough) even explicitly states this:

          9. Acceptance Not Required for Having Copies.

          You are not required to accept this License in order to receive or run a copy of the Program.

          Contrast with the AGPL which seeks to control how you run the software by adding:

          Notwithstanding any other provision of this License, if you modify the Program, your modified version must prominently offer all users interacting with it remotely through a computer network (if your version supports such interaction) an opportunity to receive the Corresponding Source of your version by providing access to the Corresponding Source from a network server at no charge, through some standard or customary means of facilitating copying of software.

          So, there are new limits to how I can modify the software that have never existed in any prior FSF license. If I start with a GPLv3 library and only want to use one function, then I'm allowed to do that. Not so under the AGPLv3! Taken to the extreme, imagine that Linux was relicensed under the AGPLv3. If you host a Linux server, then you have to offer copies of the Linux kernel (which holds the networking code) to any client that connects to it. Wouldn't that be fun to comply with?

          When did having the program you're using running on your own computer become a prerequisite for obtaining GPL rights?

          When the GPL was written as a distribution license.

          • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @01:44PM (#29760655) Homepage Journal

            This is a work-around for the bug that copyright law does not define a public-performance right for software, although a similar right is defined for audio recordings, movies, and theatrical scripts.

            Thus, we had a loop-hole in that companies which performed the software over the net without ever distributing it can make substantive derivative works of the program from which they derive tremendous profit but have none of the obligations. Think of google in this context.

            I think the first FSF meeting where we discussed this was in 1994. It was seen as a significant problem even before google.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Just Some Guy (3352)

              This is a work-around for the bug that copyright law does not define a public-performance right for software, although a similar right is defined for audio recordings, movies, and theatrical scripts.

              I think there's a fundamental difference, though, in that the AGPL and related licenses are seeking to affect the instruments themselves and not their output.

              I understand the rationale behind the license, but it seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Yeah, some people might get to abuse the system, but I think that's better than killing the ideals by trying to save them.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Late Adopter (1492849)

                I think there's a fundamental difference, though, in that the AGPL and related licenses are seeking to affect the instruments themselves and not their output.

                Yeah, this.

                Copyright demands a creative component. You can't claim that the algorithmic output of a webapp is somehow a work whose public performance needs to be protected. You could claim that the webapp needs to be protected, and it is! Through the GPLv3.

                Now to go even further, say you have HTML templates or images that get distributed via the webapp. That's where the real public performance analogy is, but you're already protected if you stick a distribution license on them!

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by Bruce Perens (3872) *
                  We made movies the algorithmic output of software at Pixar. They were protected under the performance right, and nobody doubted that the work was creative. I don't see a substantive difference where other software is concerned.
                  • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                    by Thinboy00 (1190815)

                    We made movies the algorithmic output of software at Pixar. They were protected under the performance right, and nobody doubted that the work was creative. I don't see a substantive difference where other software is concerned.

                    That's because the input was creative.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by BitZtream (692029)

          Never, GPL isn't a right, and you're an idiot for thinking it is.

          What the author is complaining about is that GPL screams loudly about freedom and then every time it changes it restricts freedom more and more by adding new stipulations and constraints.

          GPLv3 is most certainly MORE restrictive than GPLv2. If you don't recognize that you are most certainly blind or just plain stupid.

          You may prefer GPLv3's restrictions more than anything else for your needs. Thats fine and there is nothing wrong with you appl

      • by kestasjk (933987) * on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:48PM (#29759905) Homepage
        I chose the AGPL for a web project of mine, and the protection it gives is pretty essential. Without it someone could take the code, improve it and run their site based on it without sharing the improvements back.
        You may hate that etc, and prefer not to share the improvements back, but for my web project I've been able to add lots of improvements to my code that derivative sites wouldn't have been obliged to share otherwise, and everyone enjoys the better code as a result.

        If you don't think that's fair I'd be interested to hear why not.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by BitZtream (692029)

          I don't hate it, I just find it to be rather childish and not really in the OSS spirit.

          Of course, I have the nice simple solution of just remaking what you've done in a BSD/Apache/MIT licensed code base. Don't worry, we'll get the same amount of contributions regardless of license, and your app will be able to use my work without worrying about some retarded restrictions preventing you from taking my changes and using them for yourself.

          You don't want open source, you want someone else to do your work for y

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:22PM (#29759517) Homepage Journal

      GPL2 is not about to become invalid. But consider all of the changes we have gone through since GPL2 came out. Back then, the most complicated input device that people were likely to have in their homes was a touch-tone phone. Music came from phonograph records and cassette tape. The "@" sign was a little-used oddity on the typewriter keyboard for most people. Home computers were more the exception than the rule, and their CPUs used 16-bit addresses.

      With the advent of consumer digital media we got a ton of law, both legislative and case law. Garbage legislation like ECPA and then DMCA, and a great increase in software patenting. All of that law essentially blind-sided the GPL, which had to cope with it but was not written with knowledge of it.

      So, a license upgrade to deal with all of this is like installing a security patch on your operating system. It's just a sensible thing to do.

      Bruce

    • by radtea (464814) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:51PM (#29759943)

      The article essentially says that the terminology used needs more rigorous definition, and needs to match more closely with the existing legal terminology.

      The article also says, "This marks one of the core questions of GPLv2: Is it based on copyright or is it a contract that, while borrowing some copyright terms, ultimately stands on its own?", which is so bizzare that it makes me question the whole thing.

      I have no idea why anyone who knows anything about contract law or the GPL would ask this question. The GPL involves no consideration (payment) and therefore is not a contract in any jurisdiction governed by Common Law. The GPL further depends explicitly on the software author's copyright for its legal force.

      So why exactly would anyone think this is a "core question of GPLv2"? A core question of clueless jurnos writing far outside their comfort zone, maybe. But not a question anyone who wasn't that profoundly ignorant would ask.

  • Related (Score:4, Funny)

    by schmidt349 (690948) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @11:34AM (#29758887)

    In other news, Darl McBride was seen dancing a little jig at the corner of 42nd and Broadway in New York City.

    A source close to the situation informed Slashdot that he was in fact accepting small change to offset his legal fees for the next phase of his litigation against Linux users.

  • Conspiracy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dijjnn (227302) <bwthomas@@@cs...uchicago...edu> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @11:37AM (#29758915)

    So, I actually count myself among the few that like Richard Stallman. I've met him, and he's a nice guy. But does anyone recall the furor over GPLv3 when it first came out, & some of the new provisions? This caused a lot of projects to stick with v2.

    I'm wondering if this isn't just FUD to try to get people to switch to v3. Which is icky, but it did occur to me.

    • Re:Conspiracy? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Disgruntled Goats (1635745) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @11:38AM (#29758931)

      I'm wondering if this isn't just FUD to try to get people to switch to v3. Which is icky, but it did occur to me.

      What would either the OSI or the Linux Foundation gain from such a thing?

    • Re:Conspiracy? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @11:48AM (#29759059) Homepage Journal

      I'm wondering if this isn't just FUD to try to get people to switch to v3. Which is icky, but it did occur to me.

      I doubt it, the crappy language choice in v2 was one of the reasons for writing v3 in the first place (other reasons being that they wanted explicit anti-patent language, that Tivo had pissed off all the extremist nuts, and maybe a few others I don't recall offhand).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bieber (998013)
        So your definition of "extremist nut," then, is someone who thinks they should actually be allowed to exercise the rights that the license is expressly designed to give them. I fail to see how there's anything extremist about requiring that you not distribute software under the license if the hardware directly prevents the users from using the software in a manner that the license explicitly says they can...
        • by dgatwood (11270)

          That's silly. The hardware can't prevent the user from using the software. The user merely has to provide hardware without those restrictions. Nothing in TiVo prevents you from taking their GPLed kernel changes and applying them to a custom board that you design with similar chips or even a standard off-the-shelf PC with PCI cards that contain the relevant bits. The software is still every bit as useful even if you can't use it on a particular device. Boo hoo, my $30 router won't let me upgrade it with

        • Re:Conspiracy? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by causality (777677) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:23PM (#29759525)

          So your definition of "extremist nut," then, is someone who thinks they should actually be allowed to exercise the rights that the license is expressly designed to give them. I fail to see how there's anything extremist about requiring that you not distribute software under the license if the hardware directly prevents the users from using the software in a manner that the license explicitly says they can...

          It wouldn't be the first time I have seen that definition of "extremist" or "nut" that means "a person who takes a reasonable, legally and morally justifiable action that you happen not to like." It seems to come from a line of thinking which states, "reasonable people cannot possibly disagree on something or take different positions on it; therefore, if you disagree with me, it can only be because something is wrong with you and it is now my job to label what that something is."

          Now if someone said that punching random strangers in the face for no reason should be legal and acceptable behavior, I'd say that yes, there probably IS something wrong with them. But to draw such conclusions based on the choice of software license? For code that the author didn't have to write and had no obligation to share with us in the first place? Yeah, that's a bit much.

          Besides, if you want to see an "extreme" license, read the average commercial EULA sometime. Wade through all of the legalese and look at the long list of prohibitions and restrictions. Consider whether this really benefits you as a customer and whether it was intended to. Then note that you generally don't get to review it until after you have purchased the commercial software. The freedoms that the GPL guarantees are a breath of fresh air by comparison. Maybe this is just my personal tastes, but I have always found "enjoy this, just don't restrict someone else's ability to enjoy it as you have" to be far more reasonable than "what you bought isn't really yours, and you will use it only in ways that we have decided to allow, which by the way are subject to change."

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by init100 (915886)

            The freedoms that the GPL guarantees are a breath of fresh air by comparison.

            In addition, the GPL is one single license used by many projects. I have read it, so I don't need to read it for every new GPL-licensed project that I use. This is contrary to proprietary software licenses where every vendor seems to write their own EULA. You cannot know what some random vendor will put in the license without reading it.

            It would be nice if proprietary software vendors could agree on using one of a small number of EULAs, so that you don't have to read each one. The same applies to ToS agreem

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by EvilBudMan (588716)

            --Besides, if you want to see an "extreme" license, read the average commercial EULA sometime--

            Microsoft has a sell soul to "Old Scratch" clause in their stuff.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I guess I'm one of those extremist nuts. I heard about Tivo, knew they used Linux and heard they tolerated the hacker community. I purchased a Tivo Series 2.5, then when I went to extend it, found out they had encrypted the kernel and binaries, and it would take a hardware hack to get the thing to do what I wanted it to. Damn, I was pissed off! I had paid for the hardware and a lifetime subscription, and now they wanted to lock me out.
    • Re:Conspiracy? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CarpetShark (865376) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:40PM (#29759783)

      So, I actually count myself among the few that like Richard Stallman.

      I think/hope you mean among the non-vocal majority who actually like him :) Stallman has done a HELL OF A LOT for the IT industry, and ethical/free software in general. Lately there seems to be a vocal group out to generate hate towards him, but I like to think his record still more than negates their pitiful smear campaign.

      That said...

      I've met him, and he's a nice guy.

      lol. We must have met different people. I like what Stallman's done, but trying to have a conversation with him was like trying to swap stories with the loudspeakers at a rock concert --- I mostly just felt like my ears were bleeding and I had to get away ;)

  • Cause and Effect (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iamhigh (1252742) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @11:38AM (#29758925)

    They claim GPLv3 and AGPLv3 are much better suited for the realities of modern open source software.

    ...

    "At that time, open source was not something as broadly used as it is now."

    Maybe the way it was written is why FOSS is where it's at? Might not be such a bad idea to keep it around?

    • by sg_oneill (159032)

      Nah thats not the point. The GPL is the right licence, but it might have a few vunerabilities that could do with some patches. Thats where GPL3 comes in. I sorta reckon that it might be cool if the FSF put out a "definitions"document or whatever that could be included with the GPL2 to clarify the ambiguities that are worrying the law boffins however.

    • by Teckla (630646) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @11:55AM (#29759161)

      Maybe the way it was written is why FOSS is where it's at? Might not be such a bad idea to keep it around?

      Then again, maybe the GPL is [freebsd.org] not [python.org] responsible [apache.org] for great free software and open source software being written.

      Don't get me wrong, I think developers should be allowed to pick their license of choice, including GPL. But there are plenty of examples of free software and open source software being highly successful and widely used that are not GPL'd.

      The assumption that the GPL is responsible for the success of FOSS reminds me of a Simpsons episode where Homer is carrying a rock around that supposedly repels lions (or something). Lisa says, "That's ridiculous! What makes you think that repels lions?" and Homer replies, "You don't see any lions around, do you?"

      • by Crispy Critters (226798) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:24PM (#29759541)
        And which of those is developed without gcc?

        It is very hard to avoid relying on FSF software unless you stick with vanilla MS Windows or old-school proprietary UNIX.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          All three of them.

          Python and Apache are built with Microsoft's C compiler.
          The BSD kernel and userland predate gcc, but currently require it, though clang will most likely take gcc's place soon.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by onefriedrice (1171917)
          You're missing the GP's point who is not saying that GPL licensed software should not be relied upon or has played no role in bringing us to this point. Rather, he makes the very good point that people often think that the GPL is responsible for either the success of Linux or the success of free and open source software in general. As he communicated so well, that assumption is debatable at best and certainly not self-evident as there are many, many successful free and open source software packages which
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by evilviper (135110)

          And which of those is developed without gcc?

          Just because they happen to use GCC to build their binaries does not make GCC integral to any of them. Several compilers exist out there, and there's often work done to ensure programs can be compiled with ICC, and others.

          And it should be pointed out that the major BSDs are all directing their effort into improving BSD-licensed compilers so that they can eliminate GCC all-together. Not only is GCC NOT an important part of the underlying software, but it has now

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by BitZtream (692029)

          All of them build, have been built, and will continue to be buildable using compilers other than GCC on any OS where they want performance to not suck ass. Thanks for playing, now try again.

          You don't build apache on solaris with GCC if you want performance. You certainly don't do so on Windows, and if you aren't using the intel compiler for Linux you again, don't care.

          OSI didn't invent C, I was using it to compile open source software before GCC or the OSI were a stain in the Stallman/Perens love nest.

          I b

  • If you just take a GPL project, add a new UI skin and sell it in binary form, judge will make you release the source notwithstanding the license ambiguities. If what you are doing is not clearly a derivative work (like code inspired by reading a textbook) or you have a reasonable fair use case (like using the client part of client/server stack which is complex and not documented except for existence of the code itself), it's a good thing that the license will not be enforced.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      If you just take a GPL project, add a new UI skin and sell it in binary form, judge will make you release the source notwithstanding the license ambiguities.

      No, a judge will never do that. It might be part or whole of a settlement before or during trial, particularly since it's all the FSF ask for though they're not the copyright holder of all things GPL. The judge can only rule on copyright law, that means liabilities in cash and injunctions against further infringement. Companies just don't ever end up there because it's much better for them to settle.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hindsight is 20/20.

    This argument can be made for most of what's written into law. Where's the news here??

  • Ideology? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DesScorp (410532) <.DesScorp. .at. .Gmail.com.> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @11:49AM (#29759071) Homepage Journal

    How much of this is about nudging Linus... pushing him, really... into applying GPL 3 to the Linux kernel?

  • "Derivative work" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by l2718 (514756) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @11:53AM (#29759123)
    TFA claims that the term "derivative work" as used in GPLv2 requires further definition in the GPL itself because courts haven't clarified it, but this is wrong. The authors of the GPLv2 (i.e. RMS) clearly intended it to cover as much as possible: any and all works following under the statutory definition. It's true that software copyright cases are rare so the lgegal system hasn't developed the idea completely -- but that's not the GPL's duty.
    • by ClosedSource (238333) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:19PM (#29759475)

      The GPLv2 author's "intent" is irrelevant in court.

      To the extent that a word has not been specifically defined within the license, its common legal meaning will prevail.

      The reason is that the license is intended to inform the potential licensee of his rights and restrictions before he agrees to it. If the "intent" was not clearly stated in the license and courts allowed it to apply anyway, the licensee's rights would be violated since he did not know what he was agreeing to.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        "the licensee's rights would be violated since he did not know what he was agreeing to."

        This is also a mistake. The licensee didn't agree to anything. The GPL is not a negotiated contract. It is a grant of rights. The licensee has no rights whatsoever, except the rights received from copyright law. The GPL does not attempt to take away anything granted by copyright law, so no rights of the licensee are violated.

        The intent of the author of the GPL is irrelevant, but not for the reason you say. The

        • by BitterOak (537666) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:28PM (#29761187)

          The licensee has no rights whatsoever, except the rights received from copyright law.

          Er, I think you have that backwards, but it's a common mistake, usually made by big media companies and their **AA agencies. Licensees have every right to copyright works except those rights specifically withheld by copyright law.

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:05PM (#29759285) Homepage

    This is a real issue. For instance, I wrote a physics textbook, which is open-source, and I wrote a bunch of ruby and latex code that helps to produce the pdf from the latex sources, automatically handling some things relating to placement of figures on the page that are awkward to do with plain latex. My book, including the ruby and latex code, is under CC-BY-SA. I got an email from a guy at MSU who was writing a textbook, and had already started using my code to handle the illustrations. He wanted to check whether it was okay under the license, since he didn't intend to release his own book under a CC license. Well, my answer ended up being that I really didn't know whether it was okay or not. It wasn't clear to me whether his work counted as a derived work. On the one hand, you could say that what he was using was simply some software I wrote, so his book isn't a derived work based on my software any more than a book written in MS Word is a derived work based on Word. On the other hand, there's really no perfect separation between the software and our books. When you write a book in latex, the latex code *is* a piece of software. My code generates various boilerplate in its output, some of which is text that is visible to the reader, so it's under my copyright and license. Of course I could have just told him that it wasn't an issue, and I wouldn't sue him, but I had intentionally chosen the strong copyleft because that's what I wanted. I suspect that a lawyer would tell him his work was actually not a derived work, but I also suspect that he (and his eventual publisher) wouldn't even want to get into that issue.

    Although the issue is real, it seems goofy to me to suggest GPLv3 as the fix for the problem. First off, there are huge philosophical differences between v2 and v3. Also, there is so much GPL v2 code out there that you can't necessarily just relicense under GPL v3 without causing yourself hassles with license incompatibilities. I also don't quite understand how they think they can bypass the fact that various countries have various inconsistent and ambiguous definitions of a derived work. The only thing that forces anyone to accept the GPL license attached to a work is that copyright law doesn't allow them to do certain things without a license from the author. Those things include (1) copying and redistributing the work, and (2) creating and distributing derived works from it.

    • by nacturation (646836) * <`moc.liamg' `ta' `noitarutcan'> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:21PM (#29759493) Journal

      As the copyright holder, you're free to release the code to this one individual under whatever terms you want. Just because you released it once under one set of conditions doesn't mean that you're bound to release it to the MSU guy under the same conditions. Being the creator, you're free to re-license anything you want. Assuming your code isn't mixed up with someone else's, just license the Ruby code as a separate work.

    • by Hognoxious (631665) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:30PM (#29759629) Homepage Journal

      For instance, I wrote a physics textbook, which is open-source

      No you didn't. I didn't compose an open source song, and that guy over there didn't make open source blueberry jam.

      • by bcrowell (177657) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @03:57PM (#29762287) Homepage

        For instance, I wrote a physics textbook, which is open-source

        No you didn't. I didn't compose an open source song, and that guy over there didn't make open source blueberry jam.

        I don't understand your point. It is open source. The source code is in latex format. Latex is a Turing-complete programming language, which people use as a format for writing documents. You can download the source code of my book here [lightandmatter.com] (scroll down to the bottom of the page). The source code is under a copyleft license (CC-BY-SA). So I would say that that makes the book an open-source book by any reasonable definition of open source.

    • by Crispy Critters (226798) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:48PM (#29759889)
      A different license is not the answer. Neither of you knew whether his book was a derivative work under copyright law. Your license can't redefine the terms of copyright law, so no change in the wording of the CC would reduce the confusion. This is the same problem with TFA. Like the GPL, the CC licenses are grants of rights to be added to those rights we already receive under copyright law. If they redefined terms, they would also potentially (attempt to) take away rights, which would make them very different beasts legally. It would completely change the legal landscape.
    • I got an email from a guy at MSU who was writing a textbook, and had already started using my code to handle the illustrations. He wanted to check whether it was okay under the license, since he didn't intend to release his own book under a CC license.

      No open source licence of any kind has ever put restrictions on the output of a program or of code. If he uses your code to make illustrations, those are his illustrations, as if they were drawn by hand, and he can do with or licence them as he pleases. If this wasn't the case, then every picture ever made with the GIMP would be GPL'd!

  • Missing the Point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vga_init (589198) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @12:09PM (#29759347) Journal

    The point of the GPL was that it was very simple and broad-sweeping. Naturally this does make it vulnerable to attack in the sense that the legal system might feel threatened by the massive impact of such a game-changing license; copyleft practically redefines IP law in a way that those in the legal institution (eg lawyers, judges, lawmakers, and the business interests that pay for them) don't acknowledge, understand, or otherwise feel comfortable with because they don't feel in control. All it takes is a mere technicality to disqualify the GPL from functioning at all, and the Free Software community is justifiably anxious about that, but the GPL has been successfully upheld in court time and time again, so I wouldn't worry.

    At this point there should be no doubt of the legal soundness of any version of the GPL, but it all boils down to a matter of principle. If a society believes in Free Software, then the GPL's legal application is perfectly simple and valid. To those hostile to freedom in the society, then the application of the GPL becomes something artificially difficult/problematic.

  • Saber Rattling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hackus (159037) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @01:09PM (#29760191) Homepage

    Oh I don't know....GPL V2 has been in and out of the court all over in Europe.

    Most settle without a hitch.

    Some, need to have it explained in front of a judge.

    This guy doesn't know what he is talking about, and if the GPLv2 was unsound legally, it would have long been over turned.

    GPLv2 even scares Microsoft's lawyers.

    The guy just wants attention.

    Send him a cookie.

    -Hackus

  • by rubycodez (864176) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @01:26PM (#29760463)

    better story: OSI attempts earth-shaking announcement about GPL to draw attention away from fact that their status as nonprofit in California is suspended. Perhaps it was due to failure to file required tax documents (for California and U.S. IRS) for many years, that issue was discussed on Bruce Peren's now-defunct site Technocrat

    http://kepler.sos.ca.gov/corpdata/ShowAllList?QueryCorpNumber=C2224685 [ca.gov]

  • by prgrmr (568806) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @01:37PM (#29760569) Journal
    A lot of the supposed ambiguity can be eliminated if you first look at the code as not being computer programs, but just being another written work, then evaluate any potential "derivative works" from that perspective, and let existing copyright law and case law guide the evaluation. Once you've done that, then look at the license-specific terms of the GPL regarding what it says constitutes distribution, as well as what it says triggers the requirement for distribution, and I think you'll find it's not nearly as convoluted as these two jokers are making it out to be.
  • by proxima (165692) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:20PM (#29761099)

    One thing that's often confused me is the exact relationship between the GPL and interpreted languages. For example, if I write a perl script which calls perl functionality which is part of the base interpreter, my script need not be distributed under the terms of the GPL. This is akin to using a GPL word processor or other software, where the output of a program is not subject to the GPL.

    If, on the other hand, my script calls a perl function which is itself written in perl (licensed under the GPL), the FSF argues [gnu.org] that this constitutes a derivative work akin to dynamic linking. Thus, my script (if distributed) must be distributed under a GPL-compatible license.

    I can see it both ways. On the one hand, calling a function written in the same interpreted language is very much like calling a function in a library from a compiled binary. On the other, it's strange to think that there's a distinction based on whether the function being called is written as part of the interpreter (in, for example, C) versus the interpreted language itself. In addition, there seems to be disagreement about whether the GPL really binds like the FSF claims. Lots of interpreted code gets released as the GPL when it seems likely that the LGPL is what the authors really intend; that is, they do not want to restrict scripts and functions which call the code.

    A good example of this is R [r-project.org] This statistical language has fairly small interpreter and a large set of both included and downloadable packages, themselves written in R (and licensed under the GPL). Clearly most of the primary authors do not intend for all R scripts using the most basic of functionality to be released in a GPL compatible way; for one, they make the header files necessary for writing C-based libraries for use in R LGPL to explicitly allow such libraries to be non-free. In addition, they are fine with a large number of downloadable packages which restrict commercial use (obviously not allowed under the GPL). Their interpretation of the GPL seems at odds with the FSF. Even if you want to release all your code in a GPL-compatible way, it may be (IANAL) that you cannot call both code restricted from commercial use and GPL-licensed code (basically unavoidable) in the same project.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party. -- Dennis Ritchie

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