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SCO's GPL Position is "Just Invalid" Says Professor

"SCO's arguments...concerning the invalidity of the GPL are just invalid. They're meant to scare people," says Eben Moglen

During the interview, LWM editor-in-chief Kevin Bedell asked Professor Moglen about his opinion of SCO's statements regrding the validity of the GNU General Public License, or GPL.

Here is Moglen's response:

"As to the actual substance of any claim that the GPL is an invalid copyright permission, it's foolish.

The GPL is not some contractual example of what these days is called a license in the IP world. The GPL is an example of a permission, what we used to call a license . If you take an ordinary first-year property class in law school, which I have sometimes taught, the word license is used in a particular way to describe permission to use real property.

The traditional example of the license is my invitation to you to come to dinner at my house. If I invite you to dinner and the minute you walk over my threshold I sue you for trespassing, you go to the judge and you say "Judge, I wasn't trespassing, I had a license to be there. He invited me to dinner." That's license - the unilateral permission to be on, or use, or possess, or do something about property.

That's what copyright license used to mean before the late 20th century - a unilateral permission. The GPL is a unilateral permission. It says, we as copyright holders have the exclusive rights under the law to copy, modify, and distribute this work. But we permit you, the licensee, to do any of those things. Please note that your right to redistribute extends only to redistribution, whether of modified or unmodified versions of this work, under this license.

That's all. It says: You're permitted to do these things. And if you want to redistribute, you're permitted to redistribute so long as you use this license and this license only.

There is no promise on the other side, no contract. There's nothing to be invalid in this story. We're simply giving permission.

And there's nothing in the copyright law, or for that matter, as SCO has even more wildly suggested, in the Constitution of the United States, which prevents us from giving permission to people to perform acts which would otherwise be unperformable under copyright law.

People give permission for use of copyrighted material every day, of all sorts, and there is no case anywhere that suggests that the giving of broad permission to use, copy, modify, and distribute copyrighted material can somehow fall afoul of the copyright act or the U.S. Constitution."

SCO's arguments, if they are to be dignified by the word argument, concerning the invalidity of the GPL are just invalid. They're meant to scare people.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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