Misunderstanding GPL's terms and conditions as restrictions (was: Re: Why is Fedora not a Free GNU/Linux distributions?)

Gordon Messmer yinyang at eburg.com
Mon Jul 28 00:30:54 UTC 2008

Antonio Olivares wrote:
> I have gotten more of an insight on this issue and I have to say that
> although you have many good points, Les has very good points as well.
> I have gotten some input regarding issues with GPL.
> /* name withheld to protect the identity of this previous GPL author
> */

You mean someone *other* than Les?

> As a GPL developer, he tried to sue some GPL violators and found that
> you cannot succeed. The majority of GPL violations is/was done by
> small companies that cannot be threaten by forbidding them to sell
> their products that are based on the violation.

That's exactly what copyright law offers.  If someone is distributing 
your software in violation of the license, the court can order them to 
stop distribution.  The GPL, specifically, will also terminate their 
rights to distribute as a result of their violation.  If they want to 
continue to distribute the software, they must negotiate with the 
copyright holder to restore that right.

> As you in general cannot sue people for GPL violations, why should we
> add restrictions to software that just hit the users but not the
> abusers?

That is a ridiculous assertion that has no foundation.  The GPL does not 
"hit" users in any way.  They don't even have to accept its terms unless 
they want to distribute the software.

If the GPL were ineffective against abusers, then it wouldn't affect 
anyone at all.  Portraying users as innocent victims of the GPL is an 
outright lie.

> The logical result from this question is to put software under a
> license that does not restrict collaboration in the OpenSource area
> (like the GPL unfortunately does).

That result is also illogical.  If your supposed GPL developer couldn't 
enforce the GPL against companies that violated its terms, then I don't 
see any reason to believe that he could enforce any other license, 
either.  He might as well put his software in the public domain and 
ignore licenses completely.

> In the early 1990s we probably needed the GPL, but now it is no
> longer needed because it does not  allow collaboration between
> different OpenSource communities.

More nonsense.  Nothing significant has changed since the 1990's.  If 
anything, there are now even more companies which would use code that is 
currently GPL licensed in proprietary products.

> The GPL is an  "universal receiver"
> of software from other licenses but it does not allow GPL code to
> move towards other projects.

That's not a fair characterization, either.  The GPL is not a "universal 
receiver".  It can only include software that is under compatible 
licenses.  Furthermore, the license itself does not prevent GPL code 
from moving into other, more permissively license projects.  It does not 
do so by default, certainly, but if there is good cause to contribute 
code to a project under a more permissive license (such as in the case 
that the GPL project used some code from the other, more permissively 
licensed project), then the authors of that project can ask for a copy 
of the software under a suitable license.

Negotiating.  We can all do it.  Licenses don't change that.

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