[linux-elitists] Pushing GPL code into the public domain

Rick Moen rick@linuxmafia.com
Tue Oct 28 13:02:01 PST 2003

Quoting Jonathan Corbet (corbet-elite@lwn.net):

> Something that might be of interest: 
> 	http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20031028130705694
> It's a writeup by an IP attorney on SCO's attacks on the GPL.
> 	SCO has an implicit claim along with their explicit attack on the
> 	GPL. The implicit claim is that the GPL is not simply void but also
> 	that the act of releasing software under the General Public License
> 	is tantamount to having donated it to the public domain. They are
> 	asking the court to apply a common-law doctrine from the law of
> 	wills and estates to the law of copyright and software licensing.

The gentleman's argument is that SCO might be able to convince the court
not only that GPLv2 is for some reason void, but also that GPL-issuing
copyright holders' intent approximates a charitable gift.  If that
started looking even remotely likely, don't you think we could round up
a petition asserting the contrary, signed by prominent coders, within
around 30 minutes?

Also, there would be a less-drastic way the judge could shield
innocent infringers from liability resulting from distribution within
the three year statute of limitations:  Issue a writ removing that

But let's assume that a judge _did_ go down that route:  OK, SCO Group
(and everyone else) would gain access to a public-domain _fork_ of
current GPLed codebases such as the Linux kernel and Samba.  The actual
coders thereof would of course immediately create new releases under
some successor licence that is believed to not suffer whatever flaw the
SCO judge found in GPLv2.  (What sort of licence would that be?  It
would probably depend on the nature of the judge's decision.)

Meanwhile, good luck to SCO Group in maintaining the forked PD codebases
they received completely devoid of the mindshare and coder workforce
behind them.  I can't see they'd gain much from that.

And meanwhile^2, other people who _do_ have coding talent might be
having a field day.

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