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GPL'd Code Finds New Home 202

A few days ago, we were contacted by one of the developers of Everybuddy, a "universal" instant messenger client for Linux. It seems that they were scoping out the competition, and found a Windows-only program offered by a company called DSF Internet. Many users of Everybuddy had asked for a Windows version of the software, but none of the Everybuddy developers were very familiar with the Windows platform, and so a port had never been completed. This program, MessengerA2Z, seemed to offer all the functionality of Everybuddy for Windows machines. Probably because it was based on Everybuddy's GPL'd code.

The proof was in the pudding, so to speak. Or at least, the proof was in downloading and installing the Windows version, then running the strings command against their compiled binary. Lo and behold, some of the strings of text included such gems as "Visit the Everybuddy website at". Now how did that get in there?

(You could go a step further and dissassemble the Windows executable, examining the flow of their code and comparing it to the Everybuddy code. But it seems to me that the reference to Everybuddy is sufficiently damning already.)

Someone at DSF Internet took a shortcut to developing their own interoperable instant messenger client, and ported the Everybuddy code instead of starting from scratch. This isn't a bad thing - it's the whole purpose of open source, duh - but since the code was licensed under the GPL, a price was demanded in return: the Windows source code should be made available. It wasn't, of course.

Both Slashdot and the developer contacted this company, which is based in New Delhi, India. They initially denied that there was any GPL'd code in their product, but when presented with the evidence, the story changed, and it now seems that they're going to take some action. The final outcome isn't known - perhaps they'll publish the Windows code, perhaps they'll rewrite the whole thing from scratch, perhaps they'll just edit out the Everybuddy references and recompile. <shrug>

This situation seemed to be one tailor-made for the GPL. Code existed for one platform, there was the desire but not the ability to port it to another, and someone else saw the same opportunity and the usefulness of the code base, and had the ability to port the code. In theory, this should have been a win-win: the company in India gets a fast-track to development, and the open source project gets a Windows port of their code. But there isn't much of an enforcement mechanism to make everyone play fair.

Are the developers of Everybuddy likely to file a suit in India for violations of their license agreement? My guess is, no. Protest march outside their offices? Brick through the window? Hire some guys named Guido, errr, Rajanav, to go and break some kneecaps? No, and no, and no. The only real enforcement mechanism is a sort of peer pressure or the threat of public exposure, and this may or may not be sufficiently persuasive.

Incidents like this are only going to increase. There's at least a few possible responses:

  • Just ignore it. The objective is to get the code out there, that's working, and generally enough people will obey the rules that the GPL will be effective in its goals.
  • Spaz out over it. Scour the web looking for possible GPL-infringers and mailbomb them into submission.
  • Send email to slashdot. Preferably misspelled email with unique grammatical qualities.
  • Send email to Richard Stallman. Don't use pine to send it.
  • CowboyNeal.

Seriously, this is an open question which needs to have some thought put into it. I can imagine some possibilities - perhaps a sort of "GPL Insurance", where GPL'd projects can pay into a pot of money to be used for sending legal nasty-grams and other enforcement. But I'm not sure that that's really the right course of action. Fundamentally, enforcing the GPL would be an extraordinarily difficult task - it's very difficult to detect abuses in the first place, and then you face national borders and other obstacles. Perhaps it is better to not worry about it too much, to save the collective energy of the community for more important purposes, and to simply realize that there will be abuses.

Update: 01/02 01:02 PM by michael : About five minutes before this story went live, I heard back from Ben Rigas of Everybuddy that DSF Internet is going to do the Right Thing and post the source code to their messenger program. This is excellent news, and hopefully will result in a robust cross-platform instant messenger program. However, I think the point I made above still stands: there will be cases where persuasion doesn't work, and the community should have a plan for dealing with those (even if the plan is "do nothing").
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GPL'd Code Finds New Home

Comments Filter:
  • run 'strings' on Microsoft's latest products.
  • My friends intro to law class had the project of finding "exploits" in the GPL. It's hard to prove that there was a violation unless you get one of the developers to sqeal =)
  • by Syberghost ( 10557 ) <> on Tuesday January 02, 2001 @09:16AM (#536926) Homepage
    Since then, they've taken the download down, and put up a message about "enhancements".

    I wonder what kind of enhancements; the inclusion of source code, or the removal of distinguishing marks...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    doesn't Jabber do the same thing as Everybuddy on Windows?
  • by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <> on Tuesday January 02, 2001 @09:19AM (#536928) Homepage
    You have almost no recourse if you have not registered the copyright on your software. It only costs a few bucks, and you have to disclose the first fifteen and last fifteen pages of your source code like that's any big deal. Once you have a registered copyright, you can sue the bastards for treble actual damages PLUS statutory damages.
    p.s. been there, done that.
  • by graniteMonkey ( 87619 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2001 @09:19AM (#536929)
    Caught red-handed, and now they're ready to cooperate. The ultimate noble gesture, sorta. The fact remains that these people(or someone in the company) tried to rip-off open source. What kind of punishment is it to let them get off with doing what they should have done in the first place?

    I mean, really. Suppose the punishment for stealing was being forced to return the stolen goods, end of story, no ostricizing, no apology. Where's the accountability? Where's the programmer or manager who did this crawling around on his hands and knees with "Traitor" written all over his forehead? Where's the remorse? I don't want to see blood, but I do want the name of the responsible party made known to the community, maybe even for blacklisting at open-source shops.
  • "About five minutes before this story went live, I heard back from Ben Rigas of Everybuddy that DSF Internet is going to do the Right Thing and post the source code to their messenger program. This is excellent news, and hopefully will result in a robust cross-platform instant messenger program."

    Absolutely fabulous! Do we get to party? Is there some sort of theme music that could convey the happiness? No offense, but Jabber is several years from being usable (will check out Jabber for BeOS when I go on vacation next week)... TiK r0xx0rz, but whoever designed the UI needs a spanking. A high quality non-AOL messaging client can only be a Good Thing.
    Lord Omlette
    ICQ# 77863057
  • Email the developers of the GPL'd app, and the developers of the closed source app that is ripping off the GPL'd code, about the violation.

    If you're the GPL code developer whose stuff was ripped off in a closed source app: sue the infringer. (If financially possible).

    I have just 1 question:
    What is the penalty for violating the GPL?
    63,000 bugs in the code, 63,000 bugs,
    ya get 1 whacked with a service pack,
  • by Mtgman ( 195502 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2001 @09:23AM (#536932)
    Slashdotters: CowboyNeal! CowboyNeal! CowboyNeal!

    DSF Internet: No, please! No more!

    Slashdotters: We will say CowboyNeal to you again if you do not appease us.

    DSF Internet: You are most gracious oh Slashdotters. What must we do?

    Slashdotters: You must release the source for your instant messager or re-write your own without any GPLed code.

    DSF Internet: Oh yes, gracious Slashdotters. It shall be done.

    Slashdotters: And then you must take down the largest corporation in the world. With.....A HERRING!!!!

  • Open source really is at a terrible disadvantage compared to proprietary code when it comes to copyright and patents.

    If companies take open source software and incorporate it into their products in violation of the license, that's quite difficult to detect. Even if it is detected, it takes a lot of legal muscle to actually prove (which involves getting the company to let someone look at their source code).

    On the other hand, any claim of copyright or patent infringement can be easily supported by examining the source code of open source systems. In fact, since open source code is often indexed by search engines, just searching the web for a good combination of keywords can give companies quick hits on potentially infringing systems.

    Of course, in theory, open source code should not be able to violate the copyright of proprietary source code: if it isn't published, it shouldn't be copyrightable, and if it's protected by trade secrets, it's the companny's problem to protect it. But I doubt that's going to work in practice. And it still leaves open source open to patent infringement claims.

    Maybe it's time for the law to recognize and encourage free, open source software and create specific protections for it.

  • Actually, it was quite easy to prove a violation. The CEO basically admitted that they'd stolen the code (although he was just *full* of justifications). Could have gotten thousands of dollars if I'd known what I know now. Also helps to know a copyright lawyer, hehe.
  • Not just the authors of EveryBuddy should be ticked off, but the authors and contributors to every GPL/LGPL library USED by EveryBuddy. i.e. libyahoo, libfaim, etc.
  • ...but organized protests might. I know email-campaigns can be less than effective, but in the crush of modern software design, companies large and small spend a lot of time defending themselves against potential "problems" which might affect both their customers and investors.

    Just the potential stink of a lawsuit will make many of these shops, large and small, come crawling back to the table. Like the public humiliation sentences of the eighteenth century, we have our modern versions of the pillory. Put up a web site with blatant violators of standards, code rip-off artists and...

    Oh, right. /.

    Regardless, isn't it fair play to rip them off in return? Put up their port, for free, under your name. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Put up the reason you did it too. That will bring them to your door, for good or ill. At least next time they'll be careful about ripping off code.

    Seriously, if all you do is try to ignore them, you will be as successful as King Arthur was against the French in the Holy Grail movie. It just doesn't work. Call them out, it's the only way to deal with sneaks and bullies, believe me. Next time, win or lose, chances are you will not be bothered by them again. Probably the worst that will happen is a lot of shoving and a bloody nose.
  • exactly the problem. the developers should collaberate and work together and not try to make a competeing project. Why make two programs that do exactly the same thing?
  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2001 @09:27AM (#536938)
    > Once you have a registered copyright, you can sue the bastards for treble actual damages PLUS statutory damages.

    One wonders how the courts would calculate triple damages for the bootlegging of something you're already giving away for free.

  • The company should only have stolen BSD licensed code if they were't planning on making the source available. Sheesh.

    How many other companies are doing the same thing?
  • Just a question, how do you register your copyright in India? Russia?
  • The FSF have much experience dealing with GPL
    violations. I don't know if they can assist if they
    dont have the copyright on the software, but if
    you transfer them the copyright even after the violation
    has occured they are still legally able to file a suit, provided that the code was under the GPL at the time of the violation.

    DISCLAIMER: IANAL. In fact, I'm probably wrong.
  • Sorry I know jack about this but I always though you automatically own the copyright to anything you author, or does this vary from country to country.
    Of course India is not a country that greatly respects copyright.
  • > If companies take open source software and incorporate it into their products in violation of the license, that's quite difficult to detect. ... On the other hand, any claim of copyright or patent infringement can be easily supported by examining the source code of open source systems.

    Worse, suppose they steal your GPL'd code, leave it in their application for a year or two, and then send you a Cease & Desist letter about the code you "stole".

  • Who cares about revenge or remorse as long as you get the desired outcome? We don't want to scare companies away from using GPL'd code, we only want to make them return their changes. Now if they do it again we bust their kneecaps and take crowbars to their car windows.. :)
  • I know that everyone hates lawyers; however, commercial entities will not respect the GPL unless there are consequences. Just look at how hard it was to get companies to respect "closed" patents and "closed" copyrights. Yes, we want everyone to use GPL code, but some companies will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into compliance with everything using GPL'd code means.
  • but only if you live in the USA - the UK (at least) has no such concept...
  • What would registering get you except to possibly make it slightly easier to prove your case in court?

    Do you submit a separate copyright application for every version? Every CVS nightly build?

    Even if you haven't registered the copyright you still have a copyright and can sue just fine; I've known people who have done it.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You could put a key in your code. For example, in a critical piece, put some integer constants that would be unique to what you are trying to do. Then write a program to search for that. If you were copied, you could find those keys and have a smoking gun (or smoking NSA_KEY).
  • by magic ( 19621 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2001 @09:33AM (#536949) Homepage
    Since 1976, anything created in the United States is automatically copyrighted to the author, regardless of registration. -m
  • I believe everybuddy supports multiple IM systems at the client level (ie, it connects to multiple services) whereas Jabber works at the server level. That is, you connect ONCE to the jabber server, and the Jabber service in turn connects to the different IM services (via "transports")

    A subtle difference, but the idea is that by keeping everything at the server end, you don't have to update the clients every time an IM service changes its protocol.

    There are other differences, of course (jabber uses XML to encode messages, etc) but just wanted to note there were some design differences.
  • Are the developers of Everybuddy likely
    to file a suit in India for violations of
    their license agreement?

    Would it have been hard to go after them just because this company's based outside the West? The same problem's happened before [], except it was a Chinese company that time; Bruce Perens commented at the time:

    Not that I am holding forth any hope about suing in China, but suing a Chinese company that does business in other nations is certainly possible.
    (comment #77-- I can't link to it :( )

    On quite a separate point, the idea of a "GPL insurance" reminds me of RMS's idea [] for a "software tax", which would fund the development of free software... perhaps, in the end, it would need to be used both for attack and for defence.

  • ending legal nasty-grams

    Dont we all rage against Big Co. everytime they pull something like that - micheal; what are you thinking? Im not sure what should be done - but thats not it.
  • AFAIK, if you have a copyright in any signatory of the Berne convention on intellectual property then you have a copyright in all other signatories. I don't know who exactly is and isn't a signatory, but I get the impression it's most countries. Whether the copyright is actually enforced is another story....
  • You have to give them some credit...they were caught red-handed, sure. But they could have just as easily told Everybuddy and the Slashdot community-at-large to go fuck our collective selves.

    Let's just look at this as a 'close call', then sit down and figure out how to deal with this in the future. If the GPL isn't legally enforceable, there really isn't any point to it.

    --Just Another Pimp A$$ Perl Hacker
  • Nothing like bringing stuff to light on /.. People fear the dreaded /. effect enough, but they fear us all calling, emailing, etc. even more.
  • IANAL, but I doubt anyone will ever be sued for "violating the GPL". Instead, people who violate the GPL will be sued for copyright infringement. The defendant will then have to argue
    1) that the GPL is valid but flawed ("yes, I'm bound by the GPL, but I found this loophole")
    2) code released under GPL is actually public domain, despite prominent copyright notices.
  • In the UK, anything that you create that is capable of being copyrighted, is automatically copyrighted. There is no need to register it.

    On the other hand, my brother (who writes a little), was once advised to mail himself a copy of anything he writes, by recorded delivery, and leave it sealed in the envelope. That way, he has at least some proof that the document existed at a given point in time (the day it was posted). Maybe something similar could be done for disks/printouts of source...


  • Can someone run the strings command on the other software provided by these nice folks? They have a lot of modules to their portal system, if we know they are using gpl'ed code in one module, what about the others?
  • Because:
    1. Competition is often a Good Thing. Look at the KDE/Gnome [] split.
    2. One of them is free software [], the other isn't (or, at least, wasn't). Note that this was originally a cause of the KDE/Gnome split.
    3. They might do the same thing in different ways. Consider:
      • ease of use for novices vs. speed of use for experts
      • looking or working more like like this, that or the other existing client
      • eye candy [] vs. uncluttered
      • more features vs. more speed and less disk space
    4. And if they were both GPL []d, they could borrow code from one another anyway-- theoretically, at least.
  • Remember when warez was cool? The FSF has always been an apologist for warezing. They come oh so close to advocating piracy on their website, without actually crossing over that fine line of advocating breaking the law.

    When IP is a burden to the left, they are willing to circumvent it via warez. When anti-IP is a burden to the right, they ware willing to circumvent it via GPL violation.

    These types of incidents may or may not accelerate if the economy heads into a recession. On one hand, socialism is one of the answers people grope for when the economy heads south. Socialism tends to level the playing field. Thus, the more people below the economic mean, the greater mass appeal of socialism. In a bad economy, you might imagine that the GPL would fare better.

    On the other hand, software is not rice or heating oil. The only people that really need software are people in the IT industry. Socialism's tendency to regress all players to the mean is actually bad news for these guys, because they were on top before. They were willing to bear the cost of socialism when they were flying high, but when times are tight they are going to look for ways to cut costs, and releasing code is a cost.

    IANAEconomist, but this is all very interesting. I guess I'm somewhat of an "armchair economist". Another way to view the GPL is as a price ceiling of zero (the bit about selling free software trumpted by Free Software adovocates is utter bollix to an economist). Now, what would happen if the government set a price ceiling of zero on wheat? You can bet your sweet bippy there would be plenty of guys with trucks on the corner going psst--, hey buddy, wanna buy some? Same thing goes here. If the legitimate channel won't put out, the black market will.

  • by Christopher B. Brown ( 1267 ) <> on Tuesday January 02, 2001 @09:54AM (#536966) Homepage
    Registering the software with the appropriate office will lead to being able to demand triple "damages;" the problem is that of determining precisely what that amount should be.

    On the one hand, the original software is being offered "free of charge," which means that one could assume that "damages" are $0.

    On the other hand, the GPL is an interesting license in that it does not necessarily prevent the authors of software from simultaneously licensing under some other arrangement.

    How about this for an entertaining scenario:

    • Software is licensed under the GPL;
    • If you want to use some other licensing arrangement, you can contact the authors to make an arrangement;
    • There is a default offer that if you do not offer the software explicitly under the GPL, and do not wish to contact the authors, you are free to deploy the software, At A Price.

      That price (heh, heh!) being $50,000 USD payable to each author for the source license, plus $5,000 USD payable to each author for deployment of each binary copy of the software.

    Thus, if the gentle folk in New Delhi (having been there recently, it is really just the "newer" part of Delhi :-)), in not making arrangements, they would start by oweing $50,000, trebled to $150K, plus a not inconsiderable sum based on the number of copies of the software sold :-).

    The "each author" part would need to be more clearly nailed down; it would mean that the company making the mistake of "pirating" the Linux kernel would owe payments to (at recent count of /usr/src/linux/CREDITS) 293 people, thus making the penalties owing not too distant from $1B, and giving those 293 people a tidy sum of money :-).

  • That's correct, but registering your copyright gives you a better legal advantage, since a third party (the US govt) has proof that you created it.
  • I am entirely for enforcement of the GPL. And I think that what this company did (if true) is reprehensible.

    But what about the possibility that another course be taken which simply puts market pressure against the company instead of legal pressure? What I'm thinking is that the reason that this company had an oppurtunity is that the market was ready for everybuddy to run under winders but no one was doing it.

    I've seen ports of a few GTK+ based programs, most notably nessus. Someone has ported GTK+ to winders, and that with cygwin apparently made the winders port of nessus quite easy. I would think it would also make a winders port of everybuddy equally easy because all of the basic stuff is there.

    If that happened, then everybuddy running natively on winders would always be one step ahead of this theiving company's product. All the enhancements of an entire league of open source programs would be able to make everybuddy better and contain more features, and this company's product would always be trying to catch up with those features. Wouldn't it be better punishment to let the market ignore all their efforts? Or at the very least to make it so that whatever work they did is better spent by giving the work back to the open source project?

    I don't have a clue about how easy it would be to port everybuddy to winders. But, doesn't this event necessitate it's being done? And if so, then would that fix the problem? And if so, is this a general course of action that could be taken to alleviate problems with GPL enforcement?

    (Please remember before flaming and moderating me into oblivion that these are questions. If I knew the answers, I wouldn't have asked.)
  • There's a lot of information on the subject in the Copyright FAQ [] that's floating around. What you said seems to tally with this: in most countries, including the UK and the US, you have copyright in programs simply by creating them. BUT there are legal advantages in the US in registering your copyright.


    You can read the full text of the Berne Convention [], if you like.

  • This is one of the things the FSF [] is good for. They have lawyers and such, and they have a history of contacting companies infringing on GPLed code and fixing the problem without making it into a public brouhaha.

    It may be, for example, that the company (particularly if its Indian developers' grasp of English doesn't extend to legalese) doesn't properly understand the difference between GPLed code and public domain code. In the case that the company doesn't want to cooperate, the subsequent wrangling will go better if the FSF still has the "We'll go public with this" bargaining chip on their side.

  • I can see now what would happen if we took the "CowboyNeal" route:

    Slashdot_user: *crackle* Unit leader, we are surveying the suspect app.
    Unit_leader: Roger that, keep me informed.
    Slashdot_user (a few minutes later): Uh oh. We have confirmation; GPL violation at 9:00. Repeat, we have confirmed GPL access violation.
    Unit_leader: Shit. I had hoped it wouldn't come to this. All right. Switch to plan Taco, that's tango alpha charlie omega.
    Slashdot_user: Switching to plan Taco. Now deploying the trolls. God rest the souls of those poor bastards for ever thinking they could defy the GPL.

  • This is known as a "Post Office Patent", but it won't stand up in court. The reason is, you could mail yourself an un-sealed empty envelope, then at some later date, put someone elses work in it, seal it, then clame that as proof you initiated the work first.

    As to the original topic of why to register your copyrights... when it comes to court, if you don't have a registered copyright, the burden of proof is in you, whereas a registerd copyright puts the burden of proof on the other party.

  • Slashdotters: And then you must take down the largest corporation in the world. With.....A HERRING!!!!

    But WAIT! Isn't that what penguins eat? Herring? And isn't taking down the largest corporation in the world at least one of the goals of many Linux developers out there?

    It's all so clear to me now...


  • Sorry, this method is useless, as it has no proof at all that the document existed at time of posting. You see, there is nothing which proves the envelope was sealed when it was posted.
  • Maybe it went something like this, and the company really was ignorant.

    Company: Write us a messenging program, oh wise coder, and we shall grant thee a bag of cash.

    Coder: Tis a daunting task, requiring many brain cells and a case of Penguin Mints. Fret not, Company, for thy will be done.

    [Coder steals GPL code, changes some stuff, and waits. 1 week later, Coder returns looking bloodied and beat.]

    Coder: Dear Company, twas a fearsome and gruelling campaign. I toiled night and day. Bedsores nave grown on by buttocks. But, fear not! For I present to thee....the Program! While your bag of cash is not nearly enough to cover my pain and suffering, I am a most generous and loyal Programmer and will accept it, nonetheless.

    Company: Oh programmer, you are wise and god-like! You have invented glorious and unique code! We adore and fear you! Have two bags of money.

    Or, maybe not...

  • It would be nice if the update on this article was displayed along with the headline instead of buried at the bottom of the article. Sounds to me like this company wasn't being slimy, just incompetent and/or unaware. Here's how I see what happened:

    1. DSF is contacted by Zealous Open Source Rep.
    2. DSF manager does initial ass-covering by stating, "Of course we don't use other peoples code!" He says this because that's probably what he believes and has been told.
    3. Zealous Open Source Rep. sees plot to overthrow the Open Source movement and provides DSF Manager with evidence of his company's wrongdoing.
    4. DSF Manager actually goes to the basement and asks DSF developper if this is true.
    5. DSF Developper hems and haws and finally admits that he was lazy and used GPLed code for something that was supposed to be developped internally.
    6. DSF Manager fires DSF Developper.
    7. DSF Manager admits to world that the code was copied and takes down the code.
    8. DSF Manager gets ass chewed out by DSF CEO for nearly getting the company into a legal mess.

    Folks, 99% of these kind of violations are not due to intentional slimyness, just incompetence and lack of knowledge. No right minded company would even run the risk of getting sued over this kind of thing. Even one in India.
  • I mean, really. Suppose the punishment for stealing was being forced to return the stolen goods, end of story, no ostricizing, no apology.

    Not quite. Since they'd be posting the source to the windows version of it, they've just become contributors to the project, and their work is included with it. It's more like someone stealing a car, fixing and/or replacing a few broken/non functional/missing parts, and THEN being forced to give it back, upgrades and all.

    Personally, I'd rather see the added source material being made available than someone being punished for what may have been simple ignorance or incompetance.

  • by dangermouse ( 2242 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2001 @10:31AM (#536989) Homepage
    The GPL is quite clear on this. They released binaries, and thus are legally bound to release the source to anyone who asks for it, up to (I believe) two years later. Simply pulling the binaries was never a legal option.

    Just a clarification, as the Slashdot story indicated that would be an option.
  • I don't agree with everything you said but I wish I had moderator points to mod you up.

    The obvious rebuttal, of course, is that the FSF is forced to play under laws which they don't believe should exist. They believe in all code being free, including theirs. The IP-enforcement part of the GPL exists only because they live in a world where the laws don't agree with their beliefs in software being fundamentally free.

    That being said, I think it would be very interesting to see the GPL actually going to court. Is the GPL a legally enforcable agreement? If so, what kinds of damages can you claim on a product that you don't make any money off giving away? Is the GPL just an agreement which people honor "on their honor" to not look bad and because of their principles or is it more than that?
  • And the obvious rebuttal-rebuttal is that the FSF is attempting to subvert the capitalist system. Upon explanation of the GPL to certain individuals on the right, their moral mandate to violate it is just as strong as the FSF's moral mandate to promote it!

    For the time being, wheneve I mention GPL to certain Republicans I know, their reaction is mostly one of incomprehension (like most people, you first have to explain what "source code" is, and by the time you finish with that, the conversation has turned elsewhere). Because it is shrounded in the mystique of technology, the GPL has evaded much scrutiny from mainstream politicians. When the veil is lifted, we find nothing more than the same old left vs. right debates.

  • Better way, which is a little more expensive: Go to a notary public and have them stamp, sign, and date the document and a statement saying that you presented said document to them on that date. It's usually about $20 and can save a lot of trouble. All you're doing is verifying that the document existed in your hands at that time, not proving authorship or originality, but it's better than nothing.
  • Well, you can be put on a list to be notified when the "enhanced version" is available by sending mail to [mailto]

    Bet they just GPL it, though.

  • Ah, but if you haven't disclosed the source, then you obviously didn't use the code under the terms of the GPL.

    You were free to choose the GPL, but, since the software was not documented to be available under those terms, evidently you didn't.

    As a result, the GPL terms don't apply, and since you didn't negotiate a contract for other terms, you must have felt amenable to the Big Bill License.

    Ignorance is no excuse; Pay up! :-)

  • Don't bother downloading that, unless you want to set your system clock back to November, 2000 -- it's a time-limited install image.
  • At the request (via e-mail) of an upset (but very cordial) FSF volunteer, here are some citations where FSF apologizes for warez: l# Piracy

    The website links to:

    Like I said, they walk a fine line, stopping short of actually advocating
    warez. Their intent seems pretty clear to me though.

    Here's another one grepped from:

    "And above all society needs to encourage the spirit of voluntary
    cooperation in its citizens. When software owners tell us that helping our
    neighbors in a natural way is ``piracy'', they pollute our society's civic


  • If you do, be sure to use a SneakEmail address [] to prevent spamming. *Jumps for Joy*

  • Although the company has removed the 'messengerA2Z' client from thier web site, you can still get a copy here at ZDNet India, [] if anyone wants to check it out and see how it works (or download it now in case it goes away forever.)
  • Well , talking of nobility how do you know that this wasn't just a case of misunderstanding ?

    Open source licensing probably hasn't got that great a mindshare in the Windows development world and maybe they thought the licence was a spoof, or simply couldn't be bothered to read it or take the time to consider the issues completley I'm not condoning their actions, my point is, you just don't know. A little benefit of the doubt can be quite helpful

    They should be supported for their stance in ultimately doing the right thing, hopefully acting as an example to others to follow in their footsteps on similar issues.

    Here's hoping that their product and company does well out of this decision , and pray that they aren't snowed under with hate mail and pestered by outraged small minded slashdot-reading script kiddie zealots (you know who you are)

  • by Masem ( 1171 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2001 @11:18AM (#537008)
    This reminds me of a similar story that was up at the rinkworks computer stupidities section: a professor had developed a set of programs (in the 80s, so archaic language), and released freely to academia. A few years later, at a convention, he saw a company demoing their product that looked suspciously like his, save that his name wasn't there. In the middle of the public demo, he asked the demostrator to hit a certain key combo; the demostrated blurbed that it wouldn't do anything, the professor demanded it, and the demostrated did so, bringing up a nice little easter egg screen that basically had the professors name all over it. Ooops.

    Maybe GPL'd code needs something similar: not necessarily a backdoor but some easter egg that isn't easy to strip from the code but is sufficient enough that if someone did what this story talked about, it should be relatively easy to find a fingerprint of the source. "strings" works, but only if the GPL abuser forgets to check this, though I can think of several ways to hide snippets of strings in #define's throughout the code that look meaningly alone but can be incriminating when put together.

    Mind you, it's not perfect, but this is where the GPL has a weakness -- without court order it's nearly impossible to prove that GPL code was used incorrectly. For all we know, Win2000 may be a wrapper around a linux kernel ( doubtful, of course), but the possibility is there.

  • First of all, they aren't distributing it any more (go to and check out the message). So that makes it hard for me to figure out whether there was a GPL violation or not (no more info on the damned thing at all).
    Second of all, it's not clear that the webplayer software was anything but an application running on top of GNU/Linux/XFree86. They may or may not have ever touched kernel code. They don't have to distribute application code under the GPL. It would be nice of them if they did, but we have no right to demand that.
    If they made modifications or linked to GPLed software directly from their code (and we all know that "linking" is a touchy issue even within the Free Software/Open Source community, since we often don't even agree on what linking means), then their code must be released. If they wrote application code that runs on an Open Source operating system (The Webplayer Software described above in the license), they can license it however they want.
    If they are using a stock Linux kernel, I see no realistic need for them to rerelease it, but I suppose they should at least put it up on their FTP site and say "this is the kernel source tree we are using in our device".
    Assuming the worst is a bad tactic, a bit of pleasantry and explaining what can and can't be kept secret, and they will usually comply.
  • What this does is to impose significant danger to those that would be cavalier about pretending to ignore the license.

    Note that the Linux kernel is a somewhat pathological case in that it has a quite entirely huge number of independent contributors. Which has the implication that if someone takes the cavalier action of ignoring its license, they're not offending one person, but hundreds.

    A more logical scenario is for a software package with somewhat fewer contributors.

    Let's say GnuCash, [] where the major contributors amount to maybe a dozen people, some in a role of agent of the "Gnumatic" company. If someone grabbed the sources, and started selling a thinly veiled version, the license arrangement that I outlined might result in the "grabber" being assessed direct damages of maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars, trebled to something under $1M. Plus something for the number of copies of the software sold :-).

    That seems to me to be a not unreasonable sort of "damage" to have associated with misuse. It seems reasonable to me to have an "economic stick" associated with this in addition to the "legal stick."

    A company may not wish to release their modified version under the GPL; it seems not unreasonable to me for them to be able to, for a significant price, do so.

    If Intuit grabbed GnuCash code (not a likely thing to have happen, mind you), I don't think a judge would have any problem with imposing a judgement of a few million dollars.

    It may appear to you that a $1B judgement for "ripping off" the Linux kernel seems high; I would suggest the rather contrary position that with the amount of money NASDAQ investors saw fit to drop into Linux-related enterprises in the last couple years that $1B is not necessarily the slightest bit outrageous.

    Supposing Microsoft ripped off OS software from, oh, say, Digital Equipment Corporation, would you find it "outrageous" for there to be a settlement amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars of value? There are some entertaining theories out there surrounding just that sort of scenario that happen not to involve any legal judgements but rather some interesting "negotiated settlements."

    In short, most projects wouldn't result in $Billion judgements, and for those that would, such large sums do not seem desparately ludicrous...

  • now that would be funny (in a sick sort of way). it's entirely possible too: incompetant coder A steals GPL code to write a program, then is later fired or resigns. after many moons, coder B is put in charge of the project and discoveres that a GPL program has the same code. this person could very easily decide that coder A (or anybody else really) leaked this code to the GPL program and gets lawyers A through ZZ to take care of the problem.

    in a situation like this, who will win? the GPL programmers or the big software company with the cash and the lawyers?

    at any rate, i'm very interested to see what the future will bring with regards to the GPL.

    - j

  • And since the buggers never asked, you get to make up your own number and convince the judge that that's a reasonable one. Probably based on how much work you say it was to implement and how much extra cost that would have incurred on the project to do it themselves. Easily you could convince them that a few hundred grand is fair. Then treble that and add in punitive. Hehehe....
  • most likely you're an idiot. what are you talking about? is it possible to copyright filenames? has microsoft copyritten the string "cdrom"? who knows.
    a funny comment: 1 karma
    an insightful comment: 1 karma
    a good old-fashioned flame: priceless
  • You can always use the PGP Timestamping Service [], which *does* prove you sent it at a particular time and that the contents existed in the original form.
  • And the obvious rebuttal-rebuttal is that the FSF is attempting to subvert the capitalist system.

    Ummm...well, attempting to subvert the "intellectual property" system maybe - which *isn't* the same thing as the capitalist system.

    Whereas "real" capitalism is based on the exchange of real-life goods & services, "intellectual property" laws have created artificial "goods & services".

    I find it highly amusing (and annoying at the same time) at how many so-called conservatives scream about wanting to reduce government intervention, but when you point out that means you should get rid of intellectual property laws, they immediately label you as a commie.

  • It's making the product available that requires the source to be released.

    The idea of the GPL is that nobody should run code that they don't have source code to. So if the NSA wants to rewrite Linux and only use it internally, they have the source code to their modifications, and it's find both legally and in the spirit of the GPL. But if they try to give it to the general public without source, then the public is being asked to run code for which they don't have the source, and that IS a GPL violation.

    If you're genuinely curious about this, you might want to check out the various documents that the FSF has on their Web page [], in particular the GNU Manifesto and the GPL itself.

  • Actually, treating intellectual property as property is definitely part of "real" capitalism. Having this enforced by the government is also part of capitalist principles.

    Capitalism is based on giving people the ability to sell goods, services, whatever for money. It is also important to capitalist principles that the government should protect these properties from "theft". Capitalists are very much FOR a government role in this area - in fact that is the only area which they are for a government role in at all. Insisting that these bitstreams, which other people are willing to pay for, are not real property and therefore should be subject to a price ceiling of 0, as the previous poster mentioned, is very contrary to capitalist principles.
  • That's what I was implying, that a compentent programmer would say "Hey, that looks like it doesn't do anything", and would be able to work out exactly what the easter egg is , and could strip it, even it if it was as complex as one which ran through every source file to split it up. An easter egg as such in GPL code has no guarentee to survive in each generation of the code.

    The question becomes, is a company that wants a free base to start to release a commercial product from going to have a) compenent programmers that could find it, and b) the time that would be necessarily to strip out that code? The larger the code base, the less likely that it will be found *AND* fixed.

  • I think this demonstrates why it's important to turn the copyright of your copylefted code over to the Free Software Foundation. []

    The Free Software Foundation has a very respected attorney [] for dealing with violations of the GPL but it can only enforce the GPL if the copyright is held by the Free Software Foundation.

    The authors of Everybuddy are very fortunate in this case that the infringers cooperated. What if they hadn't? What would you do? Sue in an Indian court?

    Please see what to do if you think you see a violation of the GPL, LGPL, or GFDL [] and note what they say:

    Once you have collected the details, you should send a precise report to the copyright holder of the packages that are being misused. The copyright holder is the one who is legally authorized to take action to enforce the license.
    It may do no good to turn the copyright over to the FSF after releasing your code, if an earlier version of your code will serve the infringer's needs - they'll be infringing on your earlier license, not the FSF's later one that they didn't use. That's why you should attend to this right away.

    To make the Free Software Foundation the copyright holder of your package, please see the FSF's info on legal matters [] and how to apply the GPL license terms to your new programs [].

    I don't see it in the FSF's pages, but I read that when those folks cracked that censorware program and released it under GPL, that they thought they were off the hook after they settled with Mattel because the code was copyrighted by the Free Software Foundation, so it wasn't their code to withdraw from circulation. But the problem was that they had not sent the FSF a legal written document transferring the copyright. I read in "Legal Care for Your Software" that copyright can only be transferred in writing, I think it may be insufficient to simply state the copyright holder in the source files if it is someone other than yourself.

    Michael D. Crawford
    GoingWare Inc

  • The product has no cost for unlicensed use, though. The cost is "free" but only in association with the use of the product under the GPL. Unless, like some projects, there is a precedent for relicensing under a non-GPL license (i.e. allowing use in a closed source product), then there is no actual basis for determining cost of product.
  • But you're missing a vital point. To find out if a commercial product contains GPLed code, you first have to do some sort of reverse-engineering on it. This is rapidly becoming very illegal. Pretty soon it will probably be illegal to even posess a copy of "strings". This is a point which needs to be brought up more in defense of reverse-engineering toolkits.

  • by Christianfreak ( 100697 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2001 @01:37PM (#537037) Homepage Journal
    The problem with that is the fact the company selling the software is making money, therefore they have advertising power. Everyone hears about this company's crappy product and knows nothing about the good windows version of Everybuddy. Its the basic problem with open source software, there's not enough money to tell the public how much better it is, therefore no one but the handful of geeks are using it.

    Never knock on Death's door:

  • The entries to the International Obfuscated C Code Contest [] frequently have the effect of printing out a text string that is not readily apparent from the source code.

    In many cases you could change the text to say "Copyright (c) 2000 Free Software Foundation. This program is free software; yadda yadda".

    If you're program is a GUI program, it may not be too hard to obscure the generation of this text and show it in a message box.

    One thing I suggest though is that if you do this, you split up the code that does it and distribute it all over your program, and include several independent ways it can be done with independent implementations.

    Michael D. Crawford
    GoingWare Inc

  • No right minded company would even run the risk of getting sued over this kind of thing. Even one in India.
    If paying the legal fees is cheaper than doing the 'right thing,' then that's what they'll do. Hell, one could argue that any publicly traded company is, in fact, legally bound to break the law, if it will result in increased profits after all is said and done.
  • It is the opinion of the aforementioned FSF acquainted individual that these citations are insufficient to conclude that the FSF sympathizes with the warez people.

    He has asked me to withdraw my original statement. I will not do that, however I agree with his contention that fellow Slashdotters should form their own conclusions based on the facts presented. I trust they will.

  • OK, so lets say DSF didn't cooperate with the Everybuddy people what exactly would they sue them for? See there ARE a couple of limitations on copyright lawsuits. If you sue someone for violating your license agreement you have to prove that by reproducing your copyrighted work the culprit was going to put your company out of business and rape your girlfriends. In the case of GPL projects, you can't really lose money as you're usually not even acknbowledged as an organization by the IRS. By letting your copyleft be handled by the FSF you can take legal action. How come? The FSF (IIRC) is filed as a non-profit and by violating their licensing agreements you're essencially commiting fraud. You're undermining their source of revenue (donations) by using their intelectual property in a competitive manner.
  • We weren't really looking for this, we were notified by a competing company of DSF Internet that they were doing this. We looked in to it and found out that it was true, so we started talking to DSF, GNU, and Michael from slashdot. We wanted to wait until we had some closure, or a refusal to comply with the GPL before we posted this on slashdot. DSF was very responsive and they did the right thing by GPL'ing their messenger.

    I am glad that things turned out the way they did, but all the points Michael makes are good ones. If DSF had refused to do the right thing, I don't know where this would have gone. We need to answer the question of 'what to do if this happens and the Bad Guys don't turn around and do the Right Thing?'

    Thanks to everyone who helped us get this worked out, hopefully it will lead to a win32 version of everybuddy a lot sooner than we had planned before.

  • I don't; in fact I think it would quite enforcible. Too bad I didn't push the issue -- it could have been the first GPL court case.
  • Actually, treating intellectual property as property is definitely part of "real" capitalism.

    And this is exactly the fallacy which so many "pure" capitalists stumble into. (Note: just in case you missed it, I'm saying you're wrong :)

    Capitalism is based on giving people the ability to sell goods, services, whatever for money. It is also important to capitalist principles that the government should protect these properties from "theft".

    And if ideas actually had some resemblance to "goods" or "services", then your argument would be worth something. Unfortunately, they don't. Only the initial cost of coming up with the idea is worth anything, plus the incremental costs of transmitting the idea through society. You can charge for THOSE services using a supply & demand model, but you're going to have trouble convincing somebody not under legal threat that the idea is worth paying more than it will cost to receive it.

    Getting back to reality, providing a good or service to someone requires a physical exchange of something. "Goods" are made out of physical components, "services" require time & effort of the people who are involved in the exchange. You wouldn't argue that a person who provided a doohickey for your thingamajig is entitled to a another payment EVERY TIME the thingamajig changes hands - they already got all the money they're going to get when they sold the doohickey in the first place.

    Capitalists are very much FOR a government role in this area - in fact that is the only area which they are for a government role in at all.

    No they're not. Pure capitalists only really see one role for government - enforcing contracts. Certainly not enforcing an arbitrary classification on something as abstract as an "idea".

    Insisting that these bitstreams, which other people are willing to pay for, are not real property and therefore should be subject to a price ceiling of 0, as the previous poster mentioned, is very contrary to capitalist principles.

    Insisting that "ideas" are real property is very much against capitalistic principles.

    They're not real property. In the absence of legal enforcement, the only amount people would be willing to pay is for the initial cost of coming up with the idea, and then the incremental cost of distributing the idea. Under the laws of supply & demand, untouched by government influence, no rational capitalist would be willing to pay any more. Therefore you are wrong.

  • Yes, it's copyrighted by default, but the US courts let you sue for triple the damages if you have registered the copyright with the US Copyright Office.
  • That's not the point. The US Federal court system will not enforce treble damages unless you have registered the work with the US Copyright Office.
  • But it gives you something to wave at the judge and say "I was damaged to the tune of $50K".

    Shrink-wrap licenses have nothing to do with the GPL. The code is copyrighted. Absent a license, you have no right to redistribute it. The GPL is the only thing that grants you that permission. If you refuse to agree, you have no permission.

    A shrink-wrap license, on the other hand, claims that you have no right to use something you have purchased if you do not agree to the license. If you *really* didn't agree, why did they take your money?
  • It's only your limited mind that cannot distinguish between something that is tangible and something that has value. ClueStick: Society has evolved beyond assigning values to physical goods only.

    Capitalism is about allowing people to create wealth based on their efforts and endeavors and to have the government protect this wealth from usurpers. It was the whole basis behind allowing land claims in the old wild west. "If you took the trouble to go out there and find what you did then you have the sole right to benefit from what you found."

    Yes, intellectual property enforcement is the same as enforcing a contract. If, for example, I allow you to buy my music under the contract that you will use it for yourself alone then I expect you to honor that contract and for the government to enforce it. Intellectual property is released under this implicit contract. Note that not all contracts have to have every word of the conditions stated explicitly as long as they are covered by aspects of existing law.
  • um...

    LGPL can be used in proprietary software.

    So no. You are wrong. Just the EveryBuddy programmers should be ticked off.

  • It's only your limited mind that cannot distinguish between something that is tangible and something that has value. ClueStick: Society has evolved beyond assigning values to physical goods only.

    My "limited" mind says that the value of a good or service is what I'm willing to pay for it, without somebody else telling me I have to pay more for something than I think it's worth. _THAT'S_ capitalism - _NOT_ using the law to create artificial scarcity & then pretending like you're a real capitalist.

    Capitalism is about allowing people to create wealth based on their efforts and endeavors...

    Capitalism is about supply & demand. I want this, you got more of it than you need, we trade for mutual benefit (in the best case). In the worst case, capitalism can create class inequity. In no case, does "pure" capitalism require that an external agent be used to force people to give money to other people that they don't want to.

    Yes, intellectual property enforcement is the same as enforcing a contract. If, for example, I allow you to buy my music under the contract that you will use it for yourself alone then I expect you to honor that contract and for the government to enforce it. Intellectual property is released under this implicit contract.

    This parallel almost works, until you get to something like patents. For that kind of "intellectual property", it doesn't matter whether you signed a contract or not with the originator of the patent - the government stops you from pursuing your independent development of that idea (or rather stops you from benefiting from the development of that idea). There is no "chain of implicit contract" from the originator of the idea.

    In this manner, law is used to create an artificial scarcity so that people who don't really believe in pure capitalism can take money from people without providing any additional value to them.

  • ...For all we know Win2k could be a wrapper around the Linux kernel...

    -23235: Flamebait ?

    Oh but wait.. heres a step I secretly captured from a Win2k build log!! Lets see what is revealed!!

    gcc -DUSE_REAL_SMP \
    src/arch/x86/hal.cpp \
    -o '\\w2kbuild20\dailydrops\hal.o'

    Man... i wonder if i can get any of these options to work in the normal linux builds ?
  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2001 @06:00PM (#537071) Homepage
    Boy am I getting tired of slashdotters who give out misinformation. Often it comes with profanity or insults. Check out this [] site, or anything in the relevant DMOZ category []. In the U.S., you do automatically own the copyright on everything you write, but registration strengthens your legal options against pirates.
  • LGPL can be used in proprietary software.


    LGPL libraries can be dynamically linked with proprietary software. So unless these other libraries were distributed as dll's, they violate the licenses of any LGPL'd libraries.

    Not to mention many libraries are GPL'd anyway.

  • Really, you were very lucky to find out about this at all. I think the first line of defense against this kind of abuse is to make sure people know where to find actual copylefted stuff. The more visible the project, the more immune to abuse it is. Linux is so highly visible, it's completely immune. I mean, imagine somebody trying to sell a proprietary unix clone that was really just Linux. Good luck! But with a less visible project like yours, it could easily have happened that nobody would have run strings on it, or would never have realized the significance of the results.

    As the author of a free book [], worries about this kind of abuse are one of the most common reactions I get when I talk to people who aren't familiar with free information. The crucial point is that the internet is the perfect tool for publicizing free information projects and giving people a place to check whether the thing they're paying for might really be available for free. In the case of books, people should know to check the IPL [], On-Line Books Page [], Andamooka [], and the site immodestly listed in my sig. I'm not as familiar with the equivalents for software, but I imagine SourceForge would be a good starting point.

  • This download is only any good if you set your clock back to before 29th November 2000. After that date, it can't be installed.
  • Funny, according to our lawyers the LGPL/GPL allow us to link to the libraries in a "normal" fashion without either giving credit or providing source.

    Since when does using a precompiled library make you responsible for distributing it and publishing source?
  • Company executives who knowingly break the law on their companies behalf are personally liable for their actions.
  • In some cases, management are the ones asking that they steal the code, and programmers might intentionally leave those easter eggs in.

  • Poster 1: an argument could be made that corps are legally bound to break the law if it results in increased profits after all is said and done.

    Poster 2: Your comment makes me wonder if you're willing to put commerce and legality above morality and ethics

    I think you (Poster 2) are assuming that Poster 1 believes this statement to be true.

    I merely interpreted Poster 1's remark to mean that some (hypothetical) people would argue that corps are bound to break the law. I did not infer, as you seem to, that P1 personally believed that corps should be breaking the law.

    Finally, I believe that some corps actually do believe that they should break the law if it is more profitable. At least some corps act like they believe this. And how should I interpret their beliefs except by their actions? IBM back in the 50's thru 70's. Microsoft in the 80's and 90's. The Ford Pinto exploding gas tank, cheaper to settle than recall fiasco. Likely there are abundant other examples.
  • Just to throw a monkey-wrench into things...

    We don't actually know that the terms of the GPL apply. This may be a copyright violation instead of a GPL violation, and the nasty thing is that there is no way for anyone on the outside to be able to tell the difference.

    GPL is similar to click-through EULAs, in the sense that there is never any proof that the person who received the GPLed code has actually agreed to the license. It's a contract that no one ever really signs; it's just assumed to have happened. The difference between a typical EULA and GPL is that GPL grants additional rights (the right to redistribute) that the user would not otherwise have under copyright law. So when the user exercises those rights, it implies that they must have agreed to GPL, since the alternative is that they are committing a copyright violation.

    But it's just an implication, and it's based on the assumption that violating IP is worse (and subjects the violator to more liability) than violating a contract. An interesting idea is that there may be countries where the laws are different, and IP violations are more tolerated than contract violations. In such a country, it may be in violator's interest to declare that they did not accept the GPL, and are therefore violating copyright instead of license.

    Just something to think about, if there aren't enough cans of worms in your life.

  • If Internet pressure fails, the the most obvious other alternative is to bring together a group of developers that port the code themselves. Then figure out where the product is being advertised, and give away the code for free

    Seems like an excellent idea, at first. But if the violator is rich enough, they can then invest real $$ to do real actual work on the product and enhance it significantly. So you end up with GPL'd program +++ lots of cool features, but no source available. People will want the commercial product, not the ported GPL product that has source available. So the good guys who re-ported the code didn't accomplish anything, plus they expended redundant effort re-porting the code. Seems counterproductive.

    Seems profitable for big nasty corp to violate GPL to get a good head start, significantly enhance product. In court show how much $$ they've invested in development and enhancements. Who knows, they can probably convince a stupid judge they shouldn't be punished. They should just have to re-release the GPL'd code that they started with. You know their lawyers are going to use the most outlandish extreme legal theory, trickery, distortions, etc. possible to benefit their client. What a nightmare scenerio.
  • Since when does using a precompiled library make you responsible for distributing it and publishing source?

    RTFL. It specifically states that 'Linking a "work that uses the Library" with the Library creates an executable that is a derivative of the Library (because it contains portions of the Library), rather than a "work that uses the library". The executable is therefore covered by this License. Section 6 states terms for distribution of such executables.'

    Since the library is combined with your executable either at run-time or compile-time, it is legally a derivative work, and subject to the terms of the license of the library.

    Funny, according to our lawyers the LGPL/GPL allow us to link to the libraries in a "normal" fashion without either giving credit or providing source.

    RTFL, I'm not going to do your work for you.


VMS must die!