[linux-elitists] Bizarre press release of the day

Rick Moen rick@linuxmafia.com
Fri Nov 21 13:12:28 PST 2003

Quoting Adam Kessel (adam@bostoncoop.net):

> On Fri, Nov 21, 2003 at 09:39:02AM -0700, Jonathan Corbet wrote:
> > Anybody ever heard of Wolf Greenfield & Sacks?  They've just seen fit to
> > send out a press release trashing the GPL:
> It's not so bizarre. It's still an open question how far private parties
> can legally contract around default copyright law.

Reminder:  GPLv2 does not purport to be a contract.  (Ergo, its validity
need not rest on the legal question of contract formation.)

> I generally agree that attacks along these lines (viral GPL will destroy
> commercial value) are FUD, it is worth putting yourself in the
> proprietary software company's shoes for a moment. I know someone at a
> fairly large software company that discovered that a key library
> statically linked in their product was licensed under the GPL a few days
> before the product was to be released. They had to scramble to replace
> the library with a public domain equivalent.

If they hadn't been able to do that, they might have been obliged to
underwrite creation of a replacement, and delay product launch until
then -- or purchase the right to have a proprietary fork from the GPLed
library's authors.  But note that this pitfall is exactly the same as
the problem such a company would have faced with any other library used
in violation of any other set of terms.

> I doubt the software would have lost "all commercial value" had it
> been released accidentally with the GPL library, but it certainly
> could have been a headache for the company.

It would likewise have been a headache had they used a third-party
proprietary library and discovered just on the eve of product launch
that the library's licence didn't permit that usage.

So, the risk of violating GPL code's terms of usage is pretty much
exactly the same, at a fundamental level, as any other sort of rights
violation encountered in the software industry.  It seems to have
special risks _only_ if your firm has never seen, in its entire
corporate existence, seen anything but BSD-licensed and public domain

This is why it's comical to encounter proprietary-software firms (and
law firms serving that industry) bellyaching about how treacherous the
GPL is.  If they can't quite grasp the notion of being obliged to
respect third-party rights, maybe they're in the wrong industry?

Rick Moen                                     Age, baro, fac ut gaudeam.

More information about the linux-elitists mailing list