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GNU is Not Unix Your Rights Online

GPL Violators On The Prowl 636

ravenII writes "GPL Violations.org are looking after the GPL. Warning letters were personally handed over to companies at their CeBIT booths by Mr. Harald Welte, free software developer and founder of the gpl-violations.org project. It seems big boys like Motorola, Acer, AOpen, Micronet, Buffalo and Trendware seem to violate GPL. Please visit the site for more information on GPL enforcements and violators."
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GPL Violators On The Prowl

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  • That'll show them!

    Whats next, rude phone calls? Or how about ringing the door bell and then running away?

    Sorry, but its not like Motorola is going to stop because a group they never heard of handed them a letter.

    • Re:Ooohhh.. Leters! (Score:5, Informative)

      by tabkey12 ( 851759 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:23AM (#11943255) Homepage
      Well, actually if you looked at their site you would find that they have already had considerable success against companies such as Asus [gpl-violations.org] & Sitecom [gpl-violations.org]

      Remember kids, read before you post!

    • Re:Ooohhh.. Leters! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Speare ( 84249 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:24AM (#11943261) Homepage Journal
      In many cases, the letter will likely be forwarded to the internal legal department for review, which may spark questions and conversations internally. In many other cases, the letter will likely be found in some rarely-used briefcase several years after the earnest, booth-attending middle-manager has left the company.
    • by hot_Karls_bad_cavern ( 759797 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:24AM (#11943266) Journal

      Since more than one year, the gpl-violations.org project tries to bring vendors who use GPL licensed software in their products into license compliance. To achieve this goal, it uses a number of measures, ranging from warning letters over public documentation of GPL violations, up to legal proceedings. In this year, the project managed to conclude more than 25 amicable agreements, two preliminary injunctions and one court order.

      Sounds like some folks are paying attention to this guy.
    • by suso ( 153703 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:34AM (#11943360) Homepage Journal
      Whats next, rude phone calls? Or how about ringing the door bell and then running away?

      Heh, that would be kinda funny actually. Like in one of those made for TV movies, could you imagine someone calling some female CEO of company X in the middle of the night and saying in a dark voice:

      Dark voice: "We know where you got your source code, so you better put it back."
      Female CEO: "Who is this?"
      Dark voice: *pauses*
      Female CEO: "Who is this? You better stop calling me"
      Dark voice: *click*
      Child: "What's wrong mommy?"
      Female CEO: "Its ok honey, go back to sleep."

      suso.org website/email hosting [suso.org], no disk space quotas and personalized support.
  • "Seem to" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@AAAtpno ... inus threevowels> on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:21AM (#11943236) Homepage
    We don't know?

    If someone is acting on "our" behalf, I think "we" should know fully what is going on before hand.

    For all we know, this could be a scare tactic by MS to worry people back to their side of the fence.
    • Re:"Seem to" (Score:2, Interesting)

      GPL-Violations should GPL their processes.

      In any case, I doubt this is an MS tactic. They've actually settled the majority of the cases amicably. Microsoft does nothing legal amicably.

      Also, where's Groklaw when you need it?
    • They are not acting on "our" behalf unless you are the author of the GPLed software being used in violation of the license. Remember, the GPL does not bequeath ownership of the code to the public domain. If it did, then the code would no longer be subject to the GPL.
    • "For all we know, this could be a scare tactic by MS to worry people back to their side of the fence."

      I wouldn't rule out Romulan involvement...
  • by JamesP ( 688957 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:21AM (#11943240)
    It'll be good to see GPL violators being held responsible. We can start with CherryOS.


    Violators will be shot
    Survivors will be shot again

  • Court? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by j.bellone ( 684938 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:22AM (#11943243) Homepage
    If nobody is going to take these people to court then there is absolutely no reason to hand these people warning letters. They have no intention of changing their practices unless they are taken to court: they are no better than Apple or Microsoft.
    • RTFA (Score:4, Informative)

      by soft_guy ( 534437 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:56AM (#11943535)
      I know this *is* slashdot and all, but according to the article, the group last year reached 25 amicable conclusions, 2 preliminary injunctions, and 1 court order. That would lead most *readers* of the article to conclude that in fact they do take people to court. That is the usual way that you get injunctions and court orders.

      Often companies start with warning letters too.

    • Re:Court? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MrLint ( 519792 )
      Which GPL license violations are Apple and Microsoft alleged to be guilty of?

      (I think this needs clarification instead of my mod point on it.)
    • by schon ( 31600 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @12:35PM (#11943938)
      .. assuming that there is willful infringement in every case, and that the companies involved will not comply with the letters. This is a pretty big assumption.

      I guess you flunked out of charm school, and I guess you've never heard of the old adage "you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar", so I'll spell it out for you here:

      Making threats against a neutral party will usually make them a hostile party.

      If they are neutral and you threaten them, you're damaging your own cause, because you'll be souring them on OSS and the GPL.
      If they're hostile and you threaten them, then you don't gain anything.
      If they're neutral and you ask them nicely, they just might comply.
      If they're hostile and you ask them nicely, you haven't lost anything.

      By sending the letters, the companies who are doing this understand that we're not all rabid loser anti-corporate zealots. Making threats will do nothing more than sour them on the GPL and open source in general.
  • by jaymzter ( 452402 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:22AM (#11943246) Homepage
    GPLviolations.org was served with a patent infringement suit from the BSA
  • Giving a legal letter to some booth lackey at a convention is NOT how you get a company's attention. Send it to the CEO, the resident agent, the law department, heck ANYONE who won't simply throw it away.
  • No teeth (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 )
    They can't do anything but send letters.

    They have no standing - only the copyright holders have this, and if they don't do anything then nothing will happen.

    They might be able to whip slashdot into a frenzy though.. maybe that's all that it's all about?
    • actually they do have teeth.

      they've gotten some injuctions, iirc(seems slashdottted can't confirm).

      gpl sort of gives teeth to even those who are not the original writer.
    • Re:No teeth (Score:5, Informative)

      by why-lurk ( 252433 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:33AM (#11943350)
      If you RTFA, you would see that Harald Welte is a developer and copyright holder of netfilter, which is used in a number of commercial firewall products. He also has license to prosecute the copyrights of some other developers.

      So yes, he has standing to both warn and sue the companies he has given notice to (as well as the companies that have settled with gpl-violations.org).

  • all negative (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fr1kk ( 810571 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:26AM (#11943284) Homepage
    Is all the feedback going to be negative? Everything has to start somewhere, and frankly I applaud the efforts of this guy to at least start enforcing a license that many companies do not take seriousley. If nothing else, it brings to light the face that many legit companies in fact do not care to honor the GPL, but benefit from the software that is covered by it.
    • Re:all negative (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ajs ( 35943 )
      If goal is to enforce licensing, then handing flyers to booth-babes isn't the way to go about it.

      Score 0 for the geeks :-/
  • Mirror link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:26AM (#11943294)
    Since it looks like GPL violator's website is down, here's a mirror:
    http://mirrordot.org/stories/c00f3d2fd6588c34ae25f f3409b0475e/index.html [mirrordot.org]
  • by British ( 51765 ) <british1500@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:27AM (#11943302) Homepage Journal
    Let me guess.

    1.2-300 pounds
    2.black duster or trenchcoat
    3.t-shirt with either Star Wars or some free 4.computer-related shirt acquired from a trade show
    5.big beard. Mandatory
    5.telltale fedora
    6.2 cellphones on belt pocket. One might be a Treo.
    7.Lifetime membership to RenFair

    You don't want to mess with these guys. :)
  • Wait (Score:5, Insightful)

    by northcat ( 827059 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:30AM (#11943319) Journal
    Before making nonsense, worthless comment, wait till the site gets unslashdotted and READ it. Most of you question might be answered there. Many other questions being asked are just stupid or have obvious answers. Like, how can you prove that the violaters are indeed using GPLed software. Many of the violaters are openly using GPLed software. Like using the Linux kernel. And then some question are very silly/small minded. Please.
    • Re:Wait (Score:4, Funny)

      by mvizos ( 622166 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:42AM (#11943423)
      Whoa Whoa Whoa...You know you're on slashdot, right? And yet you expect people wait to read an article before commenting? WTF. Again, I state, this is slashdot. People don't read. The ones that DO read DON'T comprehend. It's just pretty characters on the screen.
  • by Deep Fried Geekboy ( 807607 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:31AM (#11943333)
    ... for him to serve one to SCO.
  • How can they tell? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fitten ( 521191 )
    How can they tell that a binary has GPL code in it? I mean, do they use strings or something? If that's it, then it's pretty easy to defeat their GPL detection. Looking at the assembly isn't telling because some simple algorithms will be written the same and produce similar assembly, and optimizations will mangle all that anyway.
    • If people worked enough to change all the strings in the code to be different, they'd probably just write their own software and not deal with the hassles.

      What's probably going on in most of these places are lazy engineers using code from the net and not pushing the whole thing through management to get buy-in on using GPL stuff. They aren't going to bother to change all the strings around.

  • It'll take just one serious error/mallicious report/misidentification to be cause for libel and bring a suit that takes this site right out of commission.
    • Re:Won't last (Score:3, Informative)

      by Entrope ( 68843 )
      A private letter to the party involved is not libel. Remarking on indisputable facts[1] is not libel. Publicly claiming somebody infringes your copyright before you have a court ruling generally is libel, but I see no evidence that GPL-Violations.org does that.

      [1]- Examples that are defensible in the US would include "We found strings in Xyzzy Router that almost exactly match strings in our software" or "We believe it is unlikely to produce this machine code without using our code as the source." Europe
  • What about Iomega (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nberardi ( 199555 ) * on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:40AM (#11943410) Homepage
    I have seen violations at places like Iomega for there NAS drives. It was one of the issues that I brought up durring beta testing. And they said it wasn't an issue that they were using Linux with out releasing the source because their firmware developer for the embeded Linux told them it wasn't a problem and they weren't going to release the source. This little product only costed about 200.00 for network storage, and it has the potential to hit the market like the Linksys WRT54G did with custom firmware.

    If anybody is interested in pursing Iomega about this let me know because I will sign a petition.
    • It's too bad this is happening, but give it some time- evolution will stop them from distributing the product without the source, becuase Iomega is a dead company that just doesn't know it's dead yet. The best thing they could do for their investors is close up shop, fire everyone, and start selling off their assets. I mean, come on, Zip disks? That was a great idea, 10 years ago when CD burners cost $500 and blank CD's were $5 each.

      Now the zip disk format is the storage equivalent of the green-screen V

  • GPL for Patents? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pherthyl ( 445706 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:43AM (#11943442)
    I wonder if some company may eventually say:

    "We won't sue you for infringing on our patents if you don't sue us for infringing on the GPL"

    Also, would that even be legal to accept an agreement like that? Nevermind that it would probably be a bad thing for OSS.
    • Re:GPL for Patents? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by swillden ( 191260 ) *

      I wonder if some company may eventually say: "We won't sue you for infringing on our patents if you don't sue us for infringing on the GPL"

      That license would only be possible if all of the contributors to the project, aka all of the copyright owners, agreed. That much is obvious.

      The interesting question is whether or not the company would have the leverage needed to get them all to agree. If I write an application that infringes on a patent, and Bob and Alice contribute small UI enhancements to it

  • by blueZhift ( 652272 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @11:44AM (#11943450) Homepage Journal
    This opens up another front on the OSS battle so to speak. While some posters here question the value of informing companies that they may be in violation of the GPL and claim that they can simply ignore it, companies that ignore such warnings do so at their own peril. Why? Because from a legal standpoint they can't be sure who will hit them with a suit or when. There are all sorts of questions about who would have legal standing to bring a suit, and this itself would vary from state to state and country to country. If I'm a company bent on violating the GPL, defending that could be difficult especially if a GPL backing company like IBM or Novell decides it's in their best interests to get involved and bankrolls the lawsuit.

    Given this, I think few companies will intentionally violate the GPL. So I think that most smart companies if informed of a problem, will probably rectify it one way or another rather than risk an uncertain threat of liability. Certainly any high profile organization with a smart legal counsel would. The not so smart ones are another story!
  • weaseltronics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @12:17PM (#11943761) Homepage Journal
    This is one of the instances in which geeks are naive to the weaselly, successful ways of lawyers and politicians. The geek instinct is to first survey the complete territory: "how many violations can we grep across the Net?" The lawyer or politician would first identify a few highly vulnerable violators, and take them out, before hinting that perhaps "everyone does it". They'd build momentum, gaining mindshare for the idea that "you better not do it". By the time they did their "complete survey", they'd have already shrunk that population through intimidation. Before creating more, by promoting the idea that it's widespread.

    Geeks have to start thinking more about "social impedence" feedback problems. Maybe all the recent work by programmers in modelling social networks, filled with live normals, will create some conventional Usenet-style wisdom. We've got to learn through data what the accomplished weasels seem to know by instinct: defining the scale of the problem prematurely can increase its scale. Computers are sitting ducks - solving people problems requires a much more dynamic approach.
  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @12:18PM (#11943774) Journal
    sveasoft (gpl-violations is slashdotted, so maybe they are listed)
    • by McFly777 ( 23881 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @02:17PM (#11945060) Homepage
      Parent implied Sveasoft is violating.

      IIRC, Sveasoft cleared their current distribution policy with the FSF. In other words, just because you may not like it doesn't mean that it is violating.

      For those who don't know, Sveasoft charges for support and access to their latest product. Under the GPL you are legally allowed to redistribute said GPL'd Sveasoft product, however doing so cancels your support contract with Sveasoft (and access to the latest from Sveasoft).

      I believe that this hinges on the point that while you are required to provide source to anyone who you distribute a binary to, you are not necessarily required to provide binary to anybody in general.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @03:12PM (#11945626)
        Sveasoft has a history of misrepresenting the facts and deliberately misinterpreting the GPL. He invented the "in development source need not be released even if the binaries are out there" bullcrap. The FSF did not have access to the whole story and clearly did not see that James Ewing is not willing to have "his" software redistributed. The FSF's approval appears to be solely about Sveasoft's direct duty: Whether or not they have to provide source to anyone. It is clear that, under the assumption of source and binaries being delivered together, they are not obliged to provide source to anyone but their subscribers. That is not what the debate is about. The GPL is about freedom of reuse and redistribution of modifications which are not entirely in-house. James Ewing does whatever he can to restrict that freedom. He does not provide source in time (before the pay scheme he did not release the source to certain versions at all), he only provides source that compiles to binaries which are deliberately different from the ones he distributes, he threatens users who use their GPL given distribution rights. If that is not breaking the GPL, it's an utterly useless license.
  • by dolmen.fr ( 583400 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @12:40PM (#11943989) Homepage
    Harald Welte did a very interesting presentation about GPL Enforcement [fosdem.org] in Germany at FOSDEM [fosdem.org] two weeks ago.

    He is one of the few, with Theo de Raadt, who really fight against proprietary software. See this Kerneltrap.org feature about OpenBSD fight against closed source drivers for wireless [kerneltrap.org].
  • by Amadawn ( 43796 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @01:10PM (#11944370)
    It is good to see someone doing something about GPL violators, but what happens when the violators are other GPL developers?

    I contribute (a little) to a project called AutoIt3 (http://www.autoitscript.com/ [autoitscript.com]). They make a really useful scripting language for Windows.

    Until recently they were using the GPL license. However some people took big chunks of the code, ripped it and repackaged with a different name. They only mention "based on AutoIT" or something similar on the Readme.txt but not in the code and of course they do not mention the original authors of the original work nor on their web page.

    Some of the AutoIt developpers were so pissed that now they have changed the license (for their newest releases only, of course) and do not distribute their code until some months later.

    Perhaps what these guys did is legal, I don't know, but if GPL developpers dishonor the heart of the GPL, then why use it and how can we expect for commercial companies to abide to it?
  • by netringer ( 319831 ) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `todhsals-rddaam'> on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @01:45PM (#11944720) Journal
    The GF bought a Sony HDTV [sonystyle.com] which of course, the resident geek BF set up. I was amused to see a full printed GPL license in the included paperwork. I gather it uses a GPL-derived photo viewer program to display the content from media inserted into the Sony-proprietary (irony!) Memory Stick slot on the front.

    I wonder if should I ask Sony for the source code for the TV.

    I searched for some kind of adapter that would plug in the Memory Stick slot and take a Compact Flash card with no joy. There is an adapter that goes the other way, fitting the Memory Stick into CF slot, but the BF hesitates to recommend buying a memory stick just to make the TV happy. *sigh*

  • Shoes on other feets (Score:3, Informative)

    by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2005 @04:39PM (#11946520) Homepage Journal
    What about GPL developers who violate the BSD license? Why does the GPL using community tolerate members who violate other licenses? What makes it's okay to violate the copyright and license of non-GPL software? Why does the GPL community tolerate such behavior in its members?


Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.