Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
GNU is Not Unix Your Rights Online

Author of ATSC Capture and Edit Tool Tries to Revoke GPL 472

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the no-takey-backsies dept.
The author of ATSC capture and edit tool has announced that he is attempting to revoke the licensing of his product under the GPL General Public License. Unfortunately it appears that the GPL does not allow this particular action. Of course in this heyday of lawyers and trigger happy litigators who can tell. What successes have others had in trying to take something they once operated under the GPL and make it private? And the more pressing question, why?
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Author of ATSC Capture and Edit Tool Tries to Revoke GPL

Comments Filter:
  • by kimvette (919543) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:23AM (#22190652) Homepage Journal
    FORK IT!!

    Thank God for the GPL!
    • by mdenham (747985) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:35AM (#22190730)
      He may be attempting to revoke the license for liability reasons (i.e., someone has made noises about suing him for having this software out there). Forking it means he's still liable, even if he's not associated with the fork at all.

      The fact that the GPL doesn't allow you to limit your liability in this manner is why I don't like the GPL. It's just another means to make the software non-free, despite its supposed intent.

      • by zippthorne (748122) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:42AM (#22190770) Journal
        Actually, there's a good question in there.

        The GPL states that if you are restricted from distributing a work due to other encumbrances, you must refrain from distributing under GPL as well. It's not intended to be a rights-laundering license.

        So the question is (or rather my question, since I'm sure actual legal scholars have already debated it to death) if it turns out that someone up the chain did not have the right to distribute under GPL, does that propagate down the chain to all those who unknowingly redistributed software for which the authority to actually do so was never transferred to them by someone who had it?
        • by MarkRose (820682) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:00AM (#22190892) Homepage

          Actually, there's a good question in there.

          The GPL states that if you are restricted from distributing a work due to other encumbrances, you must refrain from distributing under GPL as well. It's not intended to be a rights-laundering license.

          So the question is (or rather my question, since I'm sure actual legal scholars have already debated it to death) if it turns out that someone up the chain did not have the right to distribute under GPL, does that propagate down the chain to all those who unknowingly redistributed software for which the authority to actually do so was never transferred to them by someone who had it?

          Yes, it propogates. If the first person was not authorized to distribute the code, then the GPL does not make it valid. As the GPL prohibits licencing encumbered code, it does not apply, thus any distributions were not made under the GPL, and thus those distributions cannot be redistributed under the GPL as the original copy was never validly released under the GPL. Of course, IANAL.

          • And no one has posted the mirror?

            Is this Slashdot... or Wired? :-)
          • by gnasher719 (869701) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @06:13AM (#22191962)

            Yes, it propogates. If the first person was not authorized to distribute the code, then the GPL does not make it valid. As the GPL prohibits licencing encumbered code, it does not apply, thus any distributions were not made under the GPL, and thus those distributions cannot be redistributed under the GPL as the original copy was never validly released under the GPL. Of course, IANAL.
            In this case, the person who "revokes" the license claims that he is the sole author of the software in question (unfortunately, he doesn't write that he is the copyright holder, but if he isn't the copyright holder, then he doesn't have the right to give or deny permission to anyone, so we should assume he is the copyright holder).

            So according to what he says, everybody who has the code right now has it legally. He also says he is revoking the GPL, he doesn't claim that the code was stolen from him, so anybody who received the code has it under the GPL license.

            He has of course the right not to make any further distributions himself using the GPL, or not make any bugfixes available under GPL, or just not make any bugfixes available at all, and to ask people to please delete the software and not distribute it. However, anybody who has the software still has the right to distribute it, that is irrevocable. There is nothing at all he can do about it. If he tries to sue anybody for distribution, that would be thrown out of court in no time.
            • by zippthorne (748122) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @11:48AM (#22193538) Journal
              Yes, but if he's basically announcing that HE never had authority to distribute via GPL, and therefore everyone downstream has an invalid license, then the announcement is really an attempt to disclaim liability for the actions of people outside of his control.

              It may or may not be the case in this instance, but it's certainly possible to imagine scenarios where people distribute code they have written entirely, but whose subject matter was in some way restricted. If they were confused or unaware of restrictions in the initial license and released their code out of altruism, is it really fair to expose them to unlimited liability, with no method of mitigating that liability once they realize their mistake?
        • by irc.goatse.cx troll (593289) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:04AM (#22190918) Journal
          Kind of, Or at least thats what AOL claimed. See: http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/05/31/1259206&mode=thread&tid=120&tid=126&tid=187&tid=95 [slashdot.org]

          Short version: Justin Frankel/Nullsoft creates WASTE, an encrypted IM and p2p file transfer system. Releases it under the GPL.
          Next day, AOL's lawyers wake up and find out. They say Frankel made it on AOL's time so it is AOL's code, and that he did not have the authority to release it and any distribution is copyright infringement at this point.

          Not sure what happened to it then, I think the current version is a clean room implementation. It's kind of a moot point because theres better software out there from a security standpoint, but legality its kind of the exact precident you're looking for.

          Now that I think about it, didn't Nullsoft's gnutella have a similar backstory, only without sourcecode release?
          • that's different (Score:4, Informative)

            by nguy (1207026) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @03:32AM (#22191326)
            In that case, the author didn't own the copyright, so he never had the right to place the software under the GPL in the first place and the GPL never got revoked.

            In this case, the author does seem to own the copyright, so when he put the software under the GPL, it's valid and can't be revoked.
      • by Endymion (12816) <slashdot.org@tho ... t ['tno' in gap]> on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:42AM (#22190776) Homepage Journal
        someone has made noises about suing him for having this software out there

        That's a pretty good theory. This whole thing reeks of panic and trying to sweep something back under the rug. I don't really get why, though... from what I can tell, this looks like some drivers for a set of vid-cap cards, and unless he copied the source code itself, simply writing original drivers for something isn't really something you can sue over.

        Of course, it looks like this is some HD stuff (I see mentions of 720p and 1080i on a few pages...), so I wonder if there could be some MPAA pressure about not supporting some HDCP or other copy-restriction idiocy? Even so, unless he has a contract/nda/etc with them to not reveal such information, I still don't see how he could be liable in any way.
        • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @04:12AM (#22191532)

          someone has made noises about suing him for having this software out there
          That's a pretty good theory.
          It's a terrible theory.
          If he is doing it under duress, there is no good reason for him to keep the duress a secret.
          Worst case the people who are now scouring the net for previous copies just to spite him will do exactly the same just to spite whomever is threatening the author. Best case he gets sympathy from the community in general and less people decide to defy the revocation.
          • by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @06:48AM (#22192126) Journal
            I am guessing that he has found a new business model/investor and now wants to change.

            But he will not be able to revoke the GPL for the old work. The reality is that he used lower level GPL software to build with. As such, he entered into a contract that said, I am re-paying you by adding to the work. Once he released it, it was payment. Imagine if MS sold you an application, and then later decided to jack up the price you paid for it i.e. they charge you again. That is illegal (though you may have to pay for certain extras).

            In fact, if he could retract the license, then why do commercial companies with their big fancy lawyers not retract your right to use their software when they want you to upgrade? In particular, MS sells you a app say MS word. License says that if you paid us for you have the right to use this on one system. Later, MS wants you to upgrade. How do they encourage it? They stop support it for it. But if they could retract the license and say that you are now illegal and must get rid of this, don't you think they would? In fact, IBM and others would be doing it ALL the time. Point is, the GPL was legally applied to this app. It has been there for a long time.

            He has ZERO rights to pull it back. The only right that he has is change the license of future code.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by gnasher719 (869701)

            It's a terrible theory.
            If he is doing it under duress, there is no good reason for him to keep the duress a secret.

            Fully agreed with that. Let's say I wrote a tool that lets you copy Blueray DVDs and published it under the GPL. Some people would surely get very upset and threaten me - not because of any copyright problems with my code, but because of what the code does. And I start getting very, very afraid.

            Now I wouldn't post that I revoke the GPL license. Actually, I wouldn't even think of revoking it, because _I_ don't mind if you have my copyrighted code and distribute it further. However, I would publish that th

      • Or he is selling it to a company who doesnt like the idea of their software being free.

        If it was because of a liability there is no reason why he wouldnt say so.
    • by sglider (648795)
      That would help... *IF* we had the source code. Anyone have it lying around?
    • He needs to either get the permission of any other contibutors or re-write their contributions in a non-infringing way. This may be easy if not many others have contributed but could be a real bear if they have or if someone else made a fairly critical contribution. Any other contributors still hold the copyright to their contribution and may not like the idea of someone taking their code private.

      BTW, I seem to remember that the author of Snort took it "private" not all that long ago.

      Cheers,
      Dave
    • FORK IT!!

      No kidding. Mr. "Inkling", I'd like you to meet my old friend, Mr. XFree86. You two should have a lot to talk about.

    • GPL (Score:5, Informative)

      by Akaihiryuu (786040) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:15AM (#22190974)
      The author could conceivably release a *new* version under whatever license he chooses. There is nothing saying he has to continue to release under the GPL going forward. But the copies that have already been distributed under the GPL are out there and cannot be revoked. The people who have the code now can continue to legally modify and redistribute it under the GPL and there is nothing he can do about it. If the new version is closed source, people will simply continue developing the GPL'd version, and there is nothing the author can do about it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mrcaseyj (902945)
        Consider an original author releasing a work under the GPL. Then a small patch from a contributor is accepted into the project. If the original author then adds more to the project, then isn't the original author creating a derivative work? So after that point, the original author can't even relicense code that the original author adds to the project, because that code is a derivative of the GPL work, right? I think this is how it's supposed to work so that people wont waste their time contributing to a pro
        • Re:GPL (Score:5, Interesting)

          by cas2000 (148703) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @03:23AM (#22191276)
          > So after that point, the original author can't even relicense
          > code that the original author adds to the project,


          nope.

          the author of any piece of code retains the copyright on whatever they write (unless they assign it to someone else - like the project's lead developer or the FSF), so they can take their code (both the original code AND anything they've added to it after contributed code is accepted) and re-license it.

          they will, of course, have to delete or rewrite or negotiate a license for any code contributed by others.

          (actually, even rewriting may be difficult - "clean room" reverse engineering is extremely problematic for free software or any other code where you've already seen the source)

          NOTE: this still doesn't allow them to revoke the GPL on previous versions of the program.

          of course, this is a good argument for contributors to GPL projects to either retain the copyright in their own name (or assign it to the FSF who they can trust to keep it free) so that projects they contribute to find it very difficult to go closed-source. it's also a good argument for choosing not to contribute to projects that require transfer of copyright for contributed code.

    • Everyone that has the source, mirror it. Everyone that can get it, get it. Distribute it as far and wide as possible under the GPL.
  • Change the name, start a new project, abandon the old. Problem solved.

    • by glwtta (532858)
      Change the name, start a new project, abandon the old. Problem solved.

      I don't see how that solves the problem - he wants to revoke the license granted on previous versions of the software, abandoning it doesn't accomplish that. If all he wanted to do was change the licensing for future release, he certainly wouldn't need a new project for that.
  • It is not allowed. (Score:4, Informative)

    by osssmkatz (734824) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:24AM (#22190660) Journal
    You cannot revoke the license. IANAL, but the FSF makes this fairly explicit:
    http://gplv3.fsf.org/comments/rt/summarydecision.html?filename=3D%3C%25%25%20gplv3-draft-1%20%25%3E&id=917 [fsf.org]

    --Sam
    P.S Click the link; it's more complicated than I've laid out here.
  • I have no clue if this will turn out to be enforceable or not. If it is then it will certainly fuel concerns we have heard before about using GPL'd software in commercial applications.
  • by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:30AM (#22190692) Homepage
    READ the license before putting your code under it. I know the GPL is big, but you only need to do it once. You can change the license on future releases (assuming you own the copyright), but you can't revoke the rights the GPL grants to people using past releases.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AdrocK (107367)
      I find myself saying "RTF[Insert Acronym Letter Here]" every day. People sign acceptable use agreements, employment contracts, EULA's, policies, and a lot of other things without reading them. When they violate them they scream foul or "I didn't know I couldn't do that".

      People have always done this, but recently it seems that they are getting away with it. Expressed penalties or consequences are softened or overturned with an "Oh, no one actually READS that stuff".

      I'm not saying I read every single thing wo
      • by penix1 (722987)
        What your whole argument ignores is the question of the person releasing a program under a license that they had no rights to release. In the closed source world that person would be sued off the face of the planet and the program goes with him. In the case of the GPL, the person is sued off the face of the planet and the true rights holder is screwed. Again, it goes back to the question of what do you do when the genie can't be put back into the bottle?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:31AM (#22190700)
    we say "is good if man eat lots of pussy but if he suck one cock then he will always be cocksucker." GNU is like being cocksucker, always GPL
  • by Endymion (12816) <slashdot.org@tho ... t ['tno' in gap]> on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:31AM (#22190702) Homepage Journal
    How is it possible that people still don't get how the GPL works, and still think they can treat it like a contract or something?

    I would think that it would be obvious, after reading the FSF web site or even just the news about the GPL, that stupid tricks like this not only don't work, but are the very thing the GPL is intended to prevent.

    Even more strange is that people seem to think they can write up these fancy-sounding letters as if they were a lawyer. Did they somehow miss that law is complicated and we have lawyers go to school for many years to properly understand all this? (note: if it actually /was/ a lawyer that wrote this, that's even more insane. Fire that incompetent freak!)
    • Even more strange is that people seem to think they can write up these fancy-sounding letters as if they were a lawyer.

      What I think is strange is that some people seem to think there is some magical property of lawyers, that makes whatever they write special. If the letter written is true and correct, and legal, then it has all the value of one written by a lawyer. If the letter is false, then it's just as useless no matter who the author is.
      • by Endymion (12816)
        If the letter written is true and correct, and legal

        Sure, IF it's true and correct. The problem is that many non-lawyer types tend to fail on that, thinking they know the law.

        It's the same idiocy as, say, someone with no plumbing training going and re-piping their house, or someone with no medical training trying to cure their own cancer. They may get it right, and more power to them if they educate themselves and do it properly, but most people will screw things up.

        As is obvious in this case. It's more an
  • Good luck with that (Score:2, Informative)

    by CSMatt (1175471)
    IANAL, but I don't believe that you can change the license of an existing version of your software. Every case I've ever seen a software license change has resulted in the developer releasing an updated version for the new license, even if there were no other changes in the code.
    • by XaXXon (202882)
      You don't "change" the copyright on something. You just grant a different type of license for newly made copies (copyright - right to copy). This is where this guy has lost touch with reality. Once you've allowed a copy it stands alone. As some other posters mentioned, it's not a contract.
  • GPL is not the issue (Score:4, Informative)

    by h4rr4r (612664) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:33AM (#22190722)
    If you release code under any license that version is still that license. Any new versions can of course be any new license you want, but people can continue to use and indeed fork the old one if that license allows it, which in this case it does.
  • by crankyspice (63953) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:35AM (#22190740)
    But the horse is out of the barn insofar as existing code goes, if it's been distributed to anyone. Probably (I don't have the GPL in front of me, but I've worked with it a lot; IIRC the grant of rights is for the duration of copyright and is non-revocable). There's no tool he can use to rescind the rights so granted, and anyone who has a copy of the source from before this change of heart can continue to distribute under the terms of the GPL, as can anyone who gets a copy from one of those distributors.

    As the owner of the copyright in the code, he doesn't need the GPL to make derivative works, etc., so anything he works on moving forward he can license how he chooses.
  • For example, he could have been approached about buying his project and continuing it as a closed source under some corporate umbrella. Or he is one of the founders of a new startup and needs to throw something in to get some shares. One thing is likely, though - money is involved somehow.
  • Anyone have the previously GPLd source they could share with the rest of us?

    From the various screenshots and etc that I've found, it doesn't look like anything groundbreaking. Am I missing something, or are all of the features already covered by other media libraries?
  • Wiggle room (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Spazmania (174582) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:41AM (#22190766) Homepage
    Its not entirely impossible that he could make it stick, just unlikely. For example: Was he over 18 at the time he released the code under the GPL? If not, he might not have been competent to enter in to a licensing agreement. If that's the case then the original grant of license under the GPL is void. Technically that's not the same as revoking it, but it has the same effect.
    • A very good point. If, for whatever reason, the author's original grant of the license was bad...

      A good lawyer would look long and hard for such a technicality.
  • Request Denied (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ewhac (5844) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:08AM (#22190942) Homepage Journal
    If revoking the GPL were possible, Microsoft could simply buy the copyright to any GPL project it deemed a potential threat and revoke the licensing (existing users would get a license pricing break 12 months later on Microsoft LS, Microsoft CAT, Microsoft FIND, Microsoft IFCONFIG, etc...).

    Frankly, I wonder what the causative factor was. Did someone threaten to sue him unless he pulled the code down?

    Schwab

  • I know the FSF likes to say that the GPL is not a contract so the ordinary contract rules don't apply, but the courts have tended to see free software licenses as in fact being contracts. So I think we need to operate under the assumption that it IS a contract and this is a contract issue.

    It gets interesting then. If he sues someone for copyright violation, I think it might end up coming down to whether they had already started using the software before he attempted to revoke the license or not, and if no

  • Tuxracer (Score:3, Informative)

    by ashridah (72567) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:09AM (#22190956)
    This has already been tried. Tuxracer was originally licensed under the GPL [wikipedia.org]. After it became a bit more complete, the original author formed a company, and tried to make it closed source. End result: fork. He commercialized the code he owned, legitimately, and others took the GPL'ed source, and continued with it.
  • Revoke your right (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mistlefoot (636417) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:13AM (#22190968)
    I hereby give you the right to read and/or reply to this post.

    By reading this post and/or replying to it you agree to the terms.

    , um, no. I've changed my mine.

    You are no longer allowed to read and/or reply to this post. If you have already read and/or replied to this post "it is in your best interest to remove the" ..... memory ..... "from your" ..... brain ..... "and"/or destroy all ..... memories of it ..... "in your possession".

  • by linuxguy (98493) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:15AM (#22190976) Homepage

    On a similar note, I (Linus Torvalds) have revoked the GPL license for my code in the Linux kernel, effective immediately. If you are selling Linux, you are required to destroy all copies of unsold software and contact all your past customers and get back the copies you sold them and destroy those as well. I you are running workstation or servers even in critical enviroments, you are required to immediately turn off the power to these systems and destroy the hard drive on them. If you are selling or have sold systems with Linux embedded in them (e.g. Linksys routers and Tivos etc) you are required to destroy all unsold systems and re-acquire all systems sold in the past and destroy those too. If you have a Tivo or a Linux based router or other Linux based embedded systems at home, you are required to immediately power these off and destroy them. Please keep ample evidence of the destruction of this property so that you are properly able to defend yourself in court at a later time.

    Thanks and God bless America.

    America #1.

    -Linus
  • A little more info (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lightn (6014) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:21AM (#22191014) Homepage
    I've been wondering what happened to the project. I upgraded from pchdtvr about a month ago and shortly thereafter the project was deleted from sourceforge. Is that even normally possible? I though I had heard comments to the contrary. His web page is also gone. The only remaining info that I can find is here [penlug.org].

    The software is not bad, but I've found it a bit buggy, especially compared to pchdtvr, which was pretty solid. It is surprising that he would do this now, pchdtvr has been out since at least 2005. I notice that it is still available from pchdtv.com [pchdtv.com].

  • Does this software have an dependencies on other GPL code? Did it ever? If so then the author needs to call a whaaambulance and shut up about the whole idea before he gets sued for copyright violation.

  • Correction (Score:3, Informative)

    by Secret Rabbit (914973) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:43AM (#22191116) Journal
    For the future, yes, they can. Retroactively, not so much. The copyright holder(s) can change the license should they want to, to any other license. This includes closing the source. Of course, this cannot be done retroactively, but they could take down CVS/tar balls/etc under there control and continue with the different license. This, of course, is played down by RMS and the GPL zealots because it isn't there agenda.

    http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/gpl-faq.html#DeveloperViolate [fsf.org]

    But, I think that this highlights the need to choose your license(s) carefully. I'll also note that a gigantic warning appears when one chooses a license when registering a project at sf.net... which is where this was posted... god this guys a dumbass.

    """
    And the more pressing question, why?
    """

    Because, most people's agenda doesn't coincide with RMS' and situations can and do change.
  • Isn't he now no longer eligible for sourceforge hosting?
  • It's Meaningless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @04:35AM (#22191620)

    He can certainly relicense the code, but he can't revoke the license for existing code. From #4:

    However, parties who have received copies, or rights, from you under this License will not have their licenses terminated so long as such parties remain in full compliance.

Real Users hate Real Programmers.

Working...