Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Amit Gupta

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Software Licensing: "The GNU GPL Stood Up In Court," Says Richard Stallman

"The Idea That the GNU General Public License Would Never Stand Up In Court is Sheer Fantasy," RMS Says, Rebutting O'Gara Interp

Richard Stallman writes: Maureen O'Gara's review in Linux Business Week of Larry Rosen's book misrepresents the Free Software Foundation's views, when it says we criticized Rosen for "recognizing...licenses other than the GPL".

Recognizing other licenses as legitimate is entirely correct, and we have always recognized many other bona-fide free software licenses. See the Free Software Definition, http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html, and our license list, http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html.

We do have some disagreements with the Open Source Initiative, because its goals are different from ours. Whereas they recommend a development model for the sake of more powerful and reliable software, the goal of the Free Software Foundation, since 1985, is to give users the freedom to redistribute and change software. The GNU/Linux operating system that is popular today is the result of our idealism.

The idea that the GNU General Public License would never stand up in court is sheer fantasy. I wrote the GNU GPL with copious advice from copyright lawyers, who helped me design it to work with the generally accepted understanding of copyright law.

The FSF has never needed to go to court because violators know we could afford to pursue them. Harald Welte, developer of netfilter, was not so lucky: he did have to go to court to enforce the GNU GPL.

The GNU GPL stood up in court: the court granted a preliminary injunction that shut the violator down. Compliance followed promptly.

The GNU GPL is not the only legitimate license, but I designed it to do the utmost to protect users' freedom. That's why it is used for almost 3/4 of free software packages today.

More Stories By Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman is the founder of the Gnu Project, launched in 1984 to develop the free operating system GNU (an acronym for "GNU's Not Unix"), and thereby give computer users the freedom that most of them have lost. GNU is free software: everyone is free to copy it and redistribute it, as well as to make changes either large or small. He is the principal or initial author of GNU Emacs, the GNU C Compiler, the GNU Debugger GDB and parts of other packages. He is also president of the Free Software Foundation (FSF).

Any copyright notice in his articles supersedes all copyright notices on the SYS-CON and Ulitzer sites.

Comments (18) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Rex Ballard 03/28/05 08:03:43 PM EST

I was one of the many legal minds which Richard Stallman solicited in a the net.legal newsgroups back in 1984. Gosling, I'm not sure if that's the same Gosling of Java fame, had just come out with a version of emacs which supported some very popular printers. The price tag for this "enhanced" version was steep, something like $300/user. Many emacs users were sending Richard nasty notes, and even threats, because they thought he had deliberately ripped off the developers, thousands of whom had been working on and enhancing emacs.

When Richard approach Gosling, he was rebuffed. Because the original version was placed into the simtel-20 archives under a public domain license, Richard had no legal control over derivative works.

He approached us in this newsgroup, and about 50 lawyers and others experienced in copyright law went through the law books and legal judgements to research the most effective ways to satisfy Richard Stallman's goals of preventing people from simply taking the efforts of thousands of staff-years and making a 2 staff-week enhancement then selling it for some rediculous price to make $millions or $billions.

My own background was in performing arts management, where copyrights and derivative rights including performance rights are very carefully watched and monitored. There were others who were experienced intellectual property rights lawyers, and even a professor from Cornel Law School.

As we reviewed the goals, we drafted the language for what was first known as the "General Public License". A bit later, Richard Stallman formed the GNU project and renamed it the GNU Public License.

The goals were very simple. Protect the efforts of thousands of professionals, students, and hackers who had volunteered time, experience, training, and effort, to create quality software in a collaborative environment, by preventing the publication of proprietary variants.

Richard has been an outstanding guardian of that public trust, and now maintains control of one of the largest, most diverse, and most advanced software repositories in the world, surpassing even Microsoft's.

Not all of us agree with Richard on all points. I disagreed with his efforts to let BISON "take ownership" of code which had been originally been created as source code for commercial products such as compilers or intellegent software. Eventually the issue was resolved with byacc which was a yacc-like variant released under the terms of the BSD license.

At one time, the National Science Foundation's NCSA used a similar license. Under this open source GPL style license, the Web Browser and Web Server, along with thousands of other pieces of software commonly used today, were created and enhanced. But in 1994, Spyglass was granted permission to sell "Branding Rights" - the right to put a company logo and company sponsored bookmarks into the initial configuration files. When Prodigy tried to get rid of the ability to manually enter a URL, contributors balked, stating that this was an unacceptable change to the source code. At best, they wanted the source code so that they could put that address line back.

Spyglass secretly sold the rights to Microsoft, who added some last minute changes to their version of the license, including the ability to make proprietary, unpublished changes to the original Mosaic code.

When developers and contributors protested, loudly, the NCSA decided to rewrite the NCSA license, and retroactively license all of the software in it's archive under the new license. This was a bit like telling all of the people in a suburban neighborhood that they were building an airport that would have planes flying about 300 feet overhead, but offering nothing for the damages and lost real-estate value.

Because it was a government agency making this decision, efforts to reclaim the original rights under the original terms were quickly thwarted.

In retailation, contributors began publishing patches to the NCSA server, but under the terms of a "Forced Giveback" license similar to the GPL. Eventually, there were so many patches that the new server became known as "A patchy" server. The madison avenue types changed the spelling to apache, and this new server is still the most widely used server in the industry.

Richard has also been flexible. Under licenses such as the LGPL, it became possible to create libraries which could run under GPL software, but would allow commercial software to call these "bridge" libraries without having to give back their source code.

One of the problem today, is that there are thousands of patches and upgrades being released for Linux, which are only available under the terms of the GPL and LGPL. This means that proprietary products such as Microsoft Windows, SCO Unix, Apple OS/X, and numerous others, are unable to apply well-known patches and upgrades which are not available under their less restricted licenses.

Open Source has also been creating problems for those who are attempting to patent software. In many cases, software patents involve disclosures of source code, which often can be traced back to GPL and LGPL roots. This can often nullify a patent, or place the patent itself under the legal umbrella of GPL.

The problem is that companies like Microsoft and SCO want to feed from the GPL trough, but they want to kill off the very contributors who keep adding to and enhancing these GPL products.

jesse 03/25/05 11:40:27 AM EST

David....

If you USE GPL code in a non-GPL application then YOU CANT USE THE CODE.

MySql allows you to get NON-GPL LICENCED CODE to use in a non-GPL application.

In other words, the code belongs to MySQL, which they licens under the GPL for free use.

As soon as you try to violate that license, they REQUIRE you get a different license that WILL allow you use it the way you want.

Tough.

David 03/25/05 11:05:13 AM EST

What's the view of the GPL when it's used by companies like MySQL who say if you use you USE (not sell, just use) GPL code in a non-GPL application, you must BUY a license to the open source? People contribute code to projects under the GPL because they are sharing in the previous contribution while adding their own to make it better. That's what the GPL was all about. But now we have corporations taking that "open source" and saying you have to buy it to use it. That's not the GPL is it?

cat_herder_5263 03/25/05 06:30:10 AM EST

Daniel Wallace said, "Do you suppose there is another agenda at work here? The editors of LinuxWorld are spinning like a top. This is more blather directed at discrediting
fellow journalist Maureen O'Gara."

It's ludicrous to compare Mr Stallman's clear, logical writing to the blather spewed by Ms O'Gara in a sister SYS-CON eZine.

Mr Wallace is showing his agenda clearly. It's no secret he vociferously opposes the GPL and uses more than his share of selective quoting to promote his own biased views.

If anyone wants to see Mr Rosen's opinion of O'Gara's propaganda piece, check out:

blogs.zdnet.com/open-source/index.php?p=197

=^^=

jesse 03/23/05 02:20:39 PM EST

"It's an open question: would the Internet exist if the Berkeley stack had been GPL?"

Yes - because the code was developed with public funds via DARPA. And up until 1975 (or therabouts) the rules were that software developed under public funding was owned by the public. Therefore, the internet would have existed.

The GPL would only have re-enforced this ownership, by keeping all improvements/extensions also in the public.

"Would TCP/IP have seen broad adoption by commercial Unix vendors?"

Yes. Again, DARPA requirements, and it WAS included in parts of DoD/government purchase.

And nothing says that the code used by propriatary vendors would have to be made public. They could (and frequently did) re-implement the entire stack. Resolution of incompatibility was done by having a reference implementation.

Correction 03/23/05 10:06:13 AM EST

Large chunks of the Internet run on BSD-licensed code (or similar). It's an open question: would the Internet exist if the Berkeley stack had been GPL? Would TCP/IP have seen broad adoption by commercial Unix vendors? Or would we all be running X.400 email over a variety of cross-licensed proprietary implementations such as SNA and DECnet and [putatively] NetBIOS/NT? Whatever may be your opinion or mine about the goodness of the GPL, its effectiveness in library code is open to debate. In fact, that's what led to the LGPL, and to the bizarre loading of closed binaries into the Linux kernel.

an00n 03/23/05 10:04:30 AM EST

The question here is what is more important "People or Business"

Software is a unique thing. It is the first time that something can be made from nothing. Ideas and knowledge are like software, but ideas needs a need an extra step to do something. Software can be duplicated at near zero cost, making it a totally renewable resource.

Knowledge and ideas are not created in a vaccuum. New ideas and knowledge is built from older concepts. With GPL and Open Source software, the ideas and work of other people are added upon by new people build something from nothing.

Open Source is a way to give people more knowledge and power with out stealing it from others.

Bystander 03/23/05 09:56:28 AM EST

These comments seem wholly misdirected by Mr Wallace as the article in question is written by RMS himself.

Daniel Wallace 03/23/05 09:49:53 AM EST

The case to which Stallman refers occurred in Germany
and was decided under German law. It was very
disingenuous of the LinuxWorld editors not to mention
that Stallman omitted this fact.

Stallman is attempting to leave the impression
that the GPL's section 2(b) has been ruled
enforcable under United States law. It hasn't
and never will be... it's preempted under
U.S. copyright law.

As to Stallman's resorting to copious legal advice
here's some from Professor Micheal Davis of Clevland
State University that Richard chose to ignore.

http://lists.essential.org/upd-discuss/msg00131.html

Do you suppose there is another agenda at work here?

The editors of LinuxWorld are spinning like a top.
This is more blather directed at discrediting
fellow journalist Maureen O'Gara.

If you wish to impress upon readers the idea that the
GPL is enforceable, publish the article in the German
language... since Germany is where the ruling is
applicable.

Stallman and Moglen have artfully avoided *any*
meaningful court review of the applicability of the
GPL's section 2(b) under U.S. copyright law.

Larry Rosen knows and acknowledges this fact. Why can't
Stallman, Moglen and the LinuxWorld editors?

Daniel Wallace :)

Alan 03/23/05 09:34:17 AM EST

> It's like hiring police to prevent trespassing in
> a free access public park.

IIRC, the original GPL was written after two companies (Apollo and LISP Systems were names I remember but I'm not sure), took the LISP compiler written by Richard Stallman at MIT, modified it, copyrighted it (!), and resold it making many millions of dollars. Stallman and MIT never got a penny.

Naturally, any bug fixes or enhancements made to the compiler were never reported back to MIT and were hidden from other LISP users. Again, IIRC, other people making similar bug fixes and mods were sudddenly confronted with the commercial copyright claims and ordered to desist.

Pretty nasty wasn't it?

Brandybuck 03/23/05 06:44:38 AM EST

Why are so many people spending so much time tracking down violations of a *free* software license? It's like hiring police to prevent trespassing in a free access public park.

ites 03/23/05 06:16:13 AM EST

I've written many free software tools over the years. I've licensed these using the GPL, BSD licenses, and finally switched a couple of years ago to GPL for everything.

Why? There are several reasons:

1. I relicense the same source code commercially. This means companies pay for commercial licenses which do not have any GPL-like requirements. This is of course my right since I'm the author. It provides some nice income. Not possible with BSD licenses.

2. Other free software developers are given a competitive advantage when they use my GPL'd code. Commercial developers can choose to pay if they want to escape the GPL license. When I used BSD licenses, I was actually giving a competitive advantage to those who reused my source code in commercial products.

The GPL is a weapon, of course, and no-one likes being at the receiving end. But for any developer who has spent years (decades, even) writing open source, it's an excellent and far-sighted choice.

Sique 03/23/05 06:11:29 AM EST

Harald Welte mostly operates within german legislation. And in german civil law, the loser pays.

GPL violation 03/23/05 06:03:35 AM EST

]] ignorance is bliss commented on 23 March 2005:
So how does Welte fund this? [[[

Welte apparebtly donates his own time and takes all the financial risk...

ignorance is bliss 03/23/05 06:00:30 AM EST

So how does Welte fund this?

Kevin Bedell 03/23/05 05:15:14 AM EST

The SAE case involving the GPL is detailed on Groklaw as discussed in this recent /. thread:
http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/03/21/1822239&from=rss

Also, the gpl-violations project that the other commenter referred to is discussed in this /. thread:

http://developers.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/03/18/0315241&from=rss

DrewTech v. SAE 03/23/05 03:29:53 AM EST

Didn't the GPL GPL make it to court in the U.S. when Drew Technologies created some software under the GPL based on standards created by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the SAE then tried to pull a SCO, claiming ownership of the software because it was created using their material as a reference?

I know the legality of the GPL was not actually ruled on as part of DrewTech v. SAE, but did it not play a leading role in the settlement? Even if the case was settled without any ruling on the license itself...

quezztion 03/23/05 03:21:50 AM EST

Is this the same Harald Welte who was at CeBit to say he'd found 13 hardware companies who were violating the GPL of GNU-Linux by not releasing code based on it? The one who runs the GPL Violations Project?

@ThingsExpo Stories
Amazon is pursuing new markets and disrupting industries at an incredible pace. Almost every industry seems to be in its crosshairs. Companies and industries that once thought they were safe are now worried about being “Amazoned.”. The new watch word should be “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” In his session 21st Cloud Expo, Chris Kocher, a co-founder of Grey Heron, will address questions such as: What new areas is Amazon disrupting? How are they doing this? Where are they likely to go? What are th...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MIRAI Inc. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MIRAI Inc. are IT consultants from the public sector whose mission is to solve social issues by technology and innovation and to create a meaningful future for people.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dasher Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Dasher Technologies, Inc. ® is a premier IT solution provider that delivers expert technical resources along with trusted account executives to architect and deliver complete IT solutions and services to help our clients execute their goals, plans and objectives. Since 1999, we'v...
SYS-CON Events announced today that NetApp has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. NetApp is the data authority for hybrid cloud. NetApp provides a full range of hybrid cloud data services that simplify management of applications and data across cloud and on-premises environments to accelerate digital transformation. Together with their partners, NetApp emp...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM has been named “Diamond Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California.
SYS-CON Events announced today that TidalScale, a leading provider of systems and services, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TidalScale has been involved in shaping the computing landscape. They've designed, developed and deployed some of the most important and successful systems and services in the history of the computing industry - internet, Ethernet, operating s...
Infoblox delivers Actionable Network Intelligence to enterprise, government, and service provider customers around the world. They are the industry leader in DNS, DHCP, and IP address management, the category known as DDI. We empower thousands of organizations to control and secure their networks from the core-enabling them to increase efficiency and visibility, improve customer service, and meet compliance requirements.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM has been named “Diamond Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California.
Join IBM November 1 at 21st Cloud Expo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, and learn how IBM Watson can bring cognitive services and AI to intelligent, unmanned systems. Cognitive analysis impacts today’s systems with unparalleled ability that were previously available only to manned, back-end operations. Thanks to cloud processing, IBM Watson can bring cognitive services and AI to intelligent, unmanned systems. Imagine a robot vacuum that becomes your personal assistant tha...
In a recent survey, Sumo Logic surveyed 1,500 customers who employ cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). According to the survey, a quarter of the respondents have already deployed Docker containers and nearly as many (23 percent) are employing the AWS Lambda serverless computing framework. It’s clear: serverless is here to stay. The adoption does come with some needed changes, within both application development and operations. Tha...
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, will lead you through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He'll look at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Avere Systems, a leading provider of enterprise storage for the hybrid cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Avere delivers a more modern architectural approach to storage that doesn't require the overprovisioning of storage capacity to achieve performance, overspending on expensive storage media for inactive data or the overbui...
Widespread fragmentation is stalling the growth of the IIoT and making it difficult for partners to work together. The number of software platforms, apps, hardware and connectivity standards is creating paralysis among businesses that are afraid of being locked into a solution. EdgeX Foundry is unifying the community around a common IoT edge framework and an ecosystem of interoperable components.
SYS-CON Events announced today that N3N will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. N3N’s solutions increase the effectiveness of operations and control centers, increase the value of IoT investments, and facilitate real-time operational decision making. N3N enables operations teams with a four dimensional digital “big board” that consolidates real-time live video feeds alongside IoT sensor data a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that TidalScale will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TidalScale is the leading provider of Software-Defined Servers that bring flexibility to modern data centers by right-sizing servers on the fly to fit any data set or workload. TidalScale’s award-winning inverse hypervisor technology combines multiple commodity servers (including their ass...
As hybrid cloud becomes the de-facto standard mode of operation for most enterprises, new challenges arise on how to efficiently and economically share data across environments. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Dr. Allon Cohen, VP of Product at Elastifile, will explore new techniques and best practices that help enterprise IT benefit from the advantages of hybrid cloud environments by enabling data availability for both legacy enterprise and cloud-native mission critical applications. By rev...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend 21st Cloud Expo October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, CA, and June 12-14, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.
Join IBM November 1 at 21st Cloud Expo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, and learn how IBM Watson can bring cognitive services and AI to intelligent, unmanned systems. Cognitive analysis impacts today’s systems with unparalleled ability that were previously available only to manned, back-end operations. Thanks to cloud processing, IBM Watson can bring cognitive services and AI to intelligent, unmanned systems. Imagine a robot vacuum that becomes your personal assistant th...
Digital transformation is changing the face of business. The IDC predicts that enterprises will commit to a massive new scale of digital transformation, to stake out leadership positions in the "digital transformation economy." Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, Oct 31-Nov 2, will find fresh new content in a new track called Enterprise Cloud & Digital Transformation.
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...