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Beware of "Backspaceware" 257

SubLevel writes "Since conception in 2004, Paint.NET has been generously been offering the software community the taste of successful freeware, by allowing anyone to download and decipher the entire working of their extremely popular photo editing program. As posted in the Official Paint.NET blog by Rick Brewster, "Backspaceware" as he has so coined has become a tremendous issue. "Paint.NET's license is very generous, and I even release the source code. All free of charge. Unfortunately it gets taken advantage of every once in awhile by scum who are trying to profit from the work of others. I like to call this backspaceware*. They download the source code for something, load it up in to Visual Studio (or whatever), hit the backspace key over the software's name and credits, type in a new name and author, and re-release it. They send it to all the download mirror sites, and don't always do a good job covering up their tracks.""
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Beware of "Backspaceware"

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  • to the solution [] to your problems.
    Years ago, I dealt with somebody who backspaced my freepuzzlearena [] package, which was distributed under GNU GPL version 2 [] or later. Specifically, he did not "includ[e] an appropriate copyright notice" on the title screen. We cleared it up amicably: he agreed to stop distributing the backspaced version. But not all GPL violations get handled as smoothly as this one was.
  • Source code defined (Score:5, Informative)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <{tepples} {at} {}> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:30AM (#21708582) Homepage Journal

    This is a good reason to implement obfuscated C for things like the program name and author.
    But obfuscated code is arguably not "source code" as many common copyleft licenses define it. For example, the source code for a work under the GNU General Public License is "the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it". GNU manuals are distributed under the GNU Free Documentation License, which addresses obfuscation more directly: A "Transparent" copy of a document "is suitable for revising the document straightforwardly with generic" software, and "A copy made in an otherwise Transparent file format whose markup, or absence of markup, has been arranged to thwart or discourage subsequent modification by readers is not Transparent."
  • You can sign over your copyright to the EFF (correct me if I'm wrong) and they will defend your code vigorously.

    I know the FSF provides this service. I did not know the EFF did.

  • One of the culprits (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:01PM (#21708802)
    This person was one of the named examples:
    Ultra Software backspaceware []
    On the products page a number of applications have been "re-branded".
    I would imagine Mr. Hardy is blissfully unaware whether anyone has noticed.
  • by psychiccyberfreak ( 1158187 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:34PM (#21709034)
    4. Conveying Verbatim Copies. You may convey verbatim copies of the Program's source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice; keep intact all notices stating that this License and any non-permissive terms added in accord with section 7 apply to the code; keep intact all notices of the absence of any warranty; and give all recipients a copy of this License along with the Program. You may charge any price or no price for each copy that you convey, and you may offer support or warranty protection for a fee. So in other words you can modify it and sell it, but if it's copywriten under your name and he removed that, then it's breaking the GPL and you can sue him.
  • by ucblockhead ( 63650 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:48PM (#21709100) Homepage Journal
    If he were to GPL it, he could assign the rights to the FSF, which has things like lawyers and such whose job it is to go sue people for violating licenses.
  • by man_of_mr_e ( 217855 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:26PM (#21709452)
    Umm.. no. The GPL has not been tested in court. At least, not in the way you are implying. It's true that there have been a number of lawsuits against violators of the GPL, but every one of these has resulted in a settlement out of court. There has never been any decision by a court that explicitly upholds the GPL.

    There is a lot of weight to the argument that a large number of settlements effectively make it "tested", but that's only really a probability, not a fact. Until such time as a decision is handed down by a court, upholding the validity of the GPL, and assigning damages to the copyright holder (either monetary or injunctive), there will still be a question.
  • Moral rights (Score:2, Informative)

    by frenchbedroom ( 936100 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:29PM (#21709474)
    This discussion makes me wonder if there is such a thing as "moral rights" in the US law. Let me explain : in France, the law gives you two sets of rights to protect your works. One is the "author rights" (droits d'auteur) and is the equivalent to US copyright law, ie, it expires some time after your death. The other set of rights is the "moral rights" (droits moraux), which are _inalienable_, and state that YOU are the sole author of the work and should be credited for it. So basically if you put your work in the public domain, and if someone distributes it and claims it as his own, under French law you can sue him. Is there such a protection in the US ?
  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @02:47PM (#21709990) Homepage
    The reason for that is that the GPL is a license which lets you make copies.

    If somebody infringes it, the copyright holder sues the copier, and the copier's only defense is the license granted by the GPL, otherwise he has no license to copy and is in violation of copyright laws. The GPL hasn't been "tested in court" because if the case goes to court, it is in the defendant's interest to show that the GPL is valid and that he's been following it. (The only other option would be to somehow try to prove that the GPL is equivalent to putting something in the public domain, and that argument just won't fly.)

    Usually it doesn't take long for the plaintiff's lawyers to point this out to the defendant's lawyers, and the defentdant's lawyers to point this out to the defendant, and for them all to quickly come to some settlement.

    And actually, the GPL has been tested in court in Germany, and found to be perfectly valid.
  • Re:Statutory damages (Score:3, Informative)

    by ehrichweiss ( 706417 ) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @02:50PM (#21710014)
    There is no "potential to lose copyright by not defending it" at least in the U.S. You are thinking of "trademark".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @02:56PM (#21710074)
    Let me introduce you to the problem - Michael J Hardy. Read this lovely tale and see how little the license will help: []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @03:44PM (#21710550)

    Umm.. no. The GPL has not been tested in court. At least, not in the way you are implying
    I'm sure some courts would disagree, as would those who have won compensation in court for GPL violations.
    Since when do court cases in other countries mean more than a bucket of spit here in the USA?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 16, 2007 @07:44AM (#21716016)
    If you think about mozilla/Firefox: they _do_ include the artwork for a branded version. They just don't allow you to distribute it if you build it with the branded artwork. And I think they also have special non-branded artwork included that is just as usable.
    So I really don't think that is comparable...

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