[linux-elitists] GPL Violations [was Re: Mobile Phone Choices]

Shlomi Fish shlomif@iglu.org.il
Wed Jul 26 05:17:32 PDT 2006


Hi Mr. Corbet! (and all.)

I really like Linux Weekly News. I am subscribed but tend to get a large 
backlog. But your newswire and RSS feed is very good too. 

See below for my comments.

On Wednesday 26 July 2006 01:31, Jonathan Corbet wrote:
> Dave <dave@lab6.com> wrote:
> > I've seen a few press releases that say 'this phone runs Linux', like
> > http://www.imcosys.com/ and
> > http://mobile.haier.com/English/Product/GSM/N60/N60.htm but both
> > companies said that the phones software is not licensed under the GPL
> > or other Free Software license.
> >
> > Are there any phones which are, or will be?
>
> The best bet in this area, I think, is the Motorola a780; Harald Welte
> has figured out how to update the software and has been busily working
> on a port of the 2.6 kernel.  http://openezx.org/ for more information.
> If the phone itself were just a little smaller, I might have one by now.
>
> Incidentally, Harald has just posted that he has a big GPL hearing
> tomorrow:
>
>   http://gnumonks.org/~laforge/weblog/2006/07/25/#20060725-court_hearing
>

GPL hearing... yuck. %-)

There's a certain BSD developer I know, who is a mega-troll and tends to be 
an "idiot" in a sense (despite being very intelligent), but I am sometimes 
reaching some interesting insights from him[Fool]. In any case, he claims 
that sites like gpl-violations.org are the "anti-thesis of hacking", in which 
hackers instead of hacking on software, become lawyers and prosecuters who 
attempt to prosecute, defame and harass people who "violate" their 
open-source software. He said he's still waiting for the bsd-violations.org 
site.

I generally don't hold the view that the GPL is an evil licence or is not free 
enough. It is possible that some problem domains necessisitate GPLed or 
LGPLed code. However, one of the reasons that I've been using the Public 
Domain for my work, and am using the MIT X11 licence now, is because of the 
least-worrying principle: the more I allow people to "abuse" my code, the 
less I am worried about it being abused. In fact the COPYING file of my 
software, back when I still used the PD, used to read:

<<<<<<<<<<<
Relax, this is not GPL software, but rather it is distributed under the
public domain. It means it can be linked against anything, converted to 
any different license, freely used and distributed, and anything else
without any restrictions whatsoever. No Strings Attached!<tm>

Well, enjoy!

	Shlomi Fish
>>>>>>>>>>>

Several people told me what would I feel if someone took the code, 
incorporated it into a commercial product or even modified and extended it 
without releasing back contributions. What I said in this case is something 
along the lines of "all the power to them." I'd rather have such proprietary 
forks, which could prove to be a good inspiration (and I have garnered some 
useful ideas from commercial equivalents to my software, and heard that other 
people too), than make sure my licence does not allow such forks, which in 
case it happens, there's little I can do rather than feel disgruntled about 
the world and people at large.

One thing the FSF got right and the gpl-violations.org got wrong is that 
dealing with GPL violations should be done discretely, with respect to the 
violator, without much publicity (at least not until the case is resolved) 
and with as few negotiators as possible. (much less lawyers involved). This 
is because GPL violations are often done innocently because of ignorance or 
lack of knowledge due to the inherent complexity of the GPL.[GPL Complexity]

A company values its good reputation a lot, and even if it violated the GPL, 
we should not deprive it of it.

According to ESR (IIRC, I cannot find it anymore on Google) the FOSS hackers' 
ethics can be summarised as "Do and let do". Nevertheless, as expected 
there's a lot of people who are trying to prevent people from doing what they 
want to do. Such actions can be legal or ethical[Ethical], but they're 
certainly immoral and undesirable. And a restrictive licence is certainly 
very not "Do and let do"-ish. 

The "How to become a hacker" document ( 
http://catb.org/esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html ) says that "No problem should 
ever have to be solved twice.":

http://catb.org/esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html#believe2

One can philosophise whether the GPL helps this or not, due to the fact it 
discourages proprietary code, that often (but not always) have to be 
re-implemented as free software. However, one thing we cannot deny is that 
one has to think about whether making his software GPLed or LGPLed is in fact 
a good idea in accordance to it.

------------------

Well, enough blubbering for now - I've got work and lots of other stuff to do. 
I probably dropped a really large bomb here. I will try to stay and watch the 
fireworks. (I.e: read the responses). But I probably won't reply to each and 
every message, because as I've learned in trial by fire, is a very bad idea. 
That and continuing with my "Duke of Email" theme (see 
http://www.shlomifish.org/philosophy/computers/web/choice-of-docs-formats/ ), 
I'll probably create a feature out of this email in my homesite, after I and 
others edit it a bit.

Regards,

	Shlomi Fish

Footnotes:

[Fool] - As people say "A wiseman can learn from a fool, much more than a fool 
can learn from a wiseman."

[GPL Complexity] - See the GPL FAQ:

http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html

I'm not aware of any such FAQ for the BSD license, except for a few 
(relatively short) wikipedia pages. It took me several years to fully 
understand the GPL, while keeping discovering new things, and I'm still not 
sure I fully did. (IANAL). I know many people often make completely wrong 
claims about the GPL (such as "Microsoft cannot supply GPLed updates to 
Windows GPLed software as part of its Microsoft Update feature, because that 
will require them to make their software GPLed too").

I also once took the time to read the GPL (in English) from top to bottom, and 
did not understand it. I'm not saying that this complexity is naturally a 
problem. The GPL as a licence is certainly less complex than some FOSS and 
most non-FOSS licences. It's just that sometimes people read on the 
software's page that it's "open source" and think "Great! I can use it in my 
code."

[Ethical] - an unethical action is an immoral action that is viewed as harmful 
to other people, and generally undesirable. On the other hand, an immoral 
action, while being undesirable, can in fact still be allowed and ethical. 
Smoking is an example for an immoral (= harmful to self) action that is still 
ethical. (As smoking in private does not influence others).

---------------------------------------------------------------------
Shlomi Fish      shlomif@iglu.org.il
Homepage:        http://www.shlomifish.org/

Chuck Norris wrote a complete Perl 6 implementation in a day but then
destroyed all evidence with his bare hands, so no one will know his secrets.



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