[linux-elitists] Bizarre press release of the day

Adam Kessel adam@bostoncoop.net
Fri Nov 21 13:34:48 PST 2003


On Fri, Nov 21, 2003 at 01:12:28PM -0800, Rick Moen wrote:
> 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 understand that GPLv2 does not purport to be a contract, but (1) it may
be a contract regardless of what it purports itself to be, and (2) by
'contract around default copyright law,' I did not mean to limit the
analysis to the law of contracts.  Contracting around in this case simply
means applying some other set of rules than background law.

> > 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 think the more serious concern was that the product would have been
released and widely disseminated and the infringement might have come to
light much later in the process, in which case there could be serious
damages.

> > 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
> code.

Of course I'm with you on all of this, but I do think in practice it may
be easier for GPL code to slip in unnoticed or accidentally.  As I'm sure
you're aware, some developers don't quite appreciate the not-so-subtle
distinctions between GPL, BSD, and public domain, and just assume "free
is free."
-- 
Adam Kessel
http://bostoncoop.net/adam
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