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GNU is Not Unix Open Source Programming News

Emacs Has Been Violating the GPL Since 2009 295

Posted by Soulskill
from the source-of-conflict dept.
Digana writes "Emacs, one of GNU's flagship products and the most famous software creation of Richard Stallman, has been discovered to be violating the GPL since 2009-09-28 by distributing binaries that were missing source. The CEDET package, a set of contributed files for giving certain IDE functionality related to static code analysis, has distributed files generated from bison grammars without distributing the grammar itself. This happened for Emacs versions 23.2 and 23.3, released during late 2009, and has just been discovered."
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Emacs Has Been Violating the GPL Since 2009

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  • by YodasEvilTwin (2014446) on Friday July 29, 2011 @10:36AM (#36921912) Homepage
    ...there are people to whom this matters.
  • Re:Oh, FFS... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anrego (830717) * on Friday July 29, 2011 @10:38AM (#36921934)

    The fact that no one noticed until now is pretty strange, though.

    Does anyone care?

    The fact that no one has noticed/complained would to me indicate that no one wants them. If someone wanted them, they would look for them, not find them, inquire, and it would probably have been fixed.

    Yes they should be there, and yes this should be fixed but is an (assumably) reasonable mistake this big a deal?

    Would be different if someone was refusing to provide the source material or something, but this just seems like a case of “oops, forgot.. give me a sec..”. Certainly not what I would consider a VERY BAD MISTAKE!!! Can they be sued for this or something? Then maybe its bad

    Then again this is RMS, and as we know he kind of sees things in a different .. reality .. then most of us.

    Any before anyone accuses me of being a fanboy/astroturfing I _hate_ emacs. I’ve tried to learn to like it (it was used as the standard editor at a previous employer, with a variety of in-house plugins that made life easier) but I can’t.

    For that matter, I’m not really a big fan of the GPL either in that I think it does more damage than it prevents in terms of wide scale open source adoption and especially compatibility.

  • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Friday July 29, 2011 @10:38AM (#36921944) Homepage
    I was really under the impression that the GPL said you had to distribute the source to anyone you sent the binaries if they actually bothered to request it. I mean, usually that means you publish both, just as a matter of convenience, but not of necessity.
  • Overblown (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Spazmania (174582) on Friday July 29, 2011 @10:39AM (#36921956) Homepage

    The source code is included. Just not the source for the source code.

  • by Enleth (947766) <enleth@enleth.com> on Friday July 29, 2011 @10:45AM (#36922054) Homepage

    The problem in this case is that the concepts of "source code" and "object code" are a bit fuzzy with generated code that is GPL-licensed.

    Someone wrote the bison grammar files (which are the missing source code in this case) and "compiled" them, by running bison over them. The resulting files were "object code" in the light of GPL, as they're not really intended nor suitable to be read or edited by a human (and the GPL's definition of source code is "the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it"), but at the same time, they were still technically source code, as in something that can be fed to another compiler, together with the actual source code of Emacs to build the executable Emacs binary.

    Thus, the final binary can be recreated from those tarballs just fine, because *technically* it's the full Emacs source code all right. Legally, though, it's not, because of the definitions in GPL.

  • by xouumalperxe (815707) on Friday July 29, 2011 @11:00AM (#36922274)

    because *technically* it's the full Emacs source code all right

    Except that, if I wanted to change the grammar, I'd have to plod through the horrid code bison generated rather than the bison grammar files (which are the "true" source) so even technically it's no more the full Emacs source code than releasing the unassembled ASM output of gcc would be the full source for a C program. In this case, the common technical definition and the legal definition seem to be in unison.

  • by anyGould (1295481) on Friday July 29, 2011 @11:06AM (#36922368)

    Because no one uses Emacs any more ;D

    I still use emacs from time to time. My biggest complaint is that it's not particularly friendly to occasional users. When I used it full time at university, I developed a fairly solid grasp of it. Now that I live in a world that expects Office, I find I have a heck of a time going back - if you don't remember the shortcuts, you're fairly SOL.

  • by AdamWill (604569) on Friday July 29, 2011 @11:08AM (#36922400) Homepage

    Yes. And this is what happens all the time in F/OSS license violation cases. No-one pays out zillions of dollars: they fix the infringement. Happens to hardware vendors who haven't got a clue, malicious software vendors who got caught, well-intentioned ones who made a mistake...happens all the time. I dunno why this is suddenly news.

    (For example, I suspect it's somewhat unlikely that any Linux distribution's 'F/OSS only' repositories are actually F/OSS only. The distros which take license compliance most seriously - Debian and Fedora/Red Hat - actively search out licensing issues, find them all the time, and get them resolved. This is a deeply un-sexy ongoing background process which most people are shielded from by the power of not giving a crap. But yeah, since we've been finding licensing issues that affect all distros that haven't been caught in years _all the time_, it seems unreasonable to assume that the last big one we found was the last one and everything's fine now.)

    tl;dr summary: licensing is hard, mmkay?

  • by Beelzebud (1361137) on Friday July 29, 2011 @11:22AM (#36922586)
    People seem to love hating on this guy, but let's look at how he handled the situation:

    "We have made a very bad mistake."

    No PR bullshit, or excuses, just acknowledgment followed by a suggested solution. In this day it's not often you see that above-quoted sentence. Especially from know-it-alls on the internet who just shoot spitballs at people who get things done.

"Why can't we ever attempt to solve a problem in this country without having a 'War' on it?" -- Rich Thomson, talk.politics.misc

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