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Will cphack be a legal test of the GPL?

By dieman in News
Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 03:57:59 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)
Freedom

cphack, the recently released application that allowed people to view Cyber Patrol's 'blocklist', was recently sold to mattel by one of the authors for one dollar. The thing is, it was released as GPL.


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This brings up very interesting issues. It seems as the time has gone on, that there has been more and more reasons for the GPL to be tested in the courts. Could this be a good thing? I think it could be. But do others have total faith in the legality of the GPL?

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Will cphack be a legal test of the GPL? | 15 comments (15 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
I don't think the GPL has any power... (none / 0) (#1)
by rusty on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 09:55:28 AM EST

rusty voted 1 on this story.

I don't think the GPL has any power here. It's a license, granted by the license holder to licensees (i.e. users or redistributors of the software). Mattel is now the license holder, and is free to revoke all previous licenses if it chooses to do so (and I assume it does). The GPL does not circumvent copyright law. It is itself a copyright.

____
Not the real rusty

Re: I don't think the GPL has any power... (none / 0) (#7)
by Matthew Guenther on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 04:09:41 PM EST

I don't think the GPL has any power here. It's a license, granted by the license holder to licensees (i.e. users or redistributors of the software). Mattel is now the license holder, and is free to revoke all previous licenses if it chooses to do so (and I assume it does). The GPL does not circumvent copyright law. It is itself a copyright.

Actually they can't revoke the license, go read Section 6 of the GPL.

MBG



[ Parent ]
Re: I don't think the GPL has any power... (none / 0) (#8)
by rusty on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 04:16:57 PM EST

Ah ha. Right you are. I feel kind of silly about the comment now, because after posting it I read Eben Moglen's excellent article, wherein it becomes clear that Mattel in fact doesn't appear to have any power to revoke the license (he doesn't, obviously, address this case, but the gist is pretty clear). I stand corrected. Or, really, I sit corrected, as the case may be.

The question remains, though, that the GPL has never been tested in the courts. It does say you can't revoke GPL rights, but is this enforceable, and will it in fact be enforced? Copyright law is almost unbelievably convoluted, and finding one clause or another unenforceable or illegal does not void an entire license (AFAIK, IANAL, and other such disclamatory acronyms).

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Re: I don't think the GPL has any power... (none / 0) (#13)
by Matthew Guenther on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 06:13:34 PM EST

I'm not sure why people are so worried about the GPL being tested in court. It's much fairer/more enforcable than most licensing agreements for proprietary software. It doesn't seem to me that there's any hint of inconstitutionality or violation of the spirit of copyright in the license, so I'm not sure on what grounds it could even be overturned.

MBG



[ Parent ]
Re: I don't think the GPL has any power... (none / 0) (#10)
by Skippy on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 04:21:22 PM EST

IANAL. While true that Mattell may re-license the code, I don't believe they can summarily revoke the previous licenses. This comes up every time that a formerly proprietary solution is GPLed. The folks who licensed it under a commercial license may continue to use the code they licensed before in a proprietary product. Those who obtain the code after it's been GPLed must abide by the terms. I seem to recall one of the "experts" being quoted around saying something to the effect of "Mattel may have payed to much with that dollar."
# I am now finished talking out my ass about things that I am not qualified to discuss. #
[ Parent ]
Re: I don't think the GPL has any power... (none / 0) (#14)
by ebunga on Thu Mar 30, 2000 at 12:28:59 PM EST

That's correct.  Usually, if a company has had something that is open source,
but later want to close it, they do it with the next release, because it is
hard to go out and say, "Okay, you're using what used to be Open Source, but
isn't. Sorry, you must destroy any and all copies of this."  That is just too
hard to do.

Also, remember, the licensor may grant different licenses to different
individuals.  Let's say, I wrote a new os called EbungaOS.  I can grant Rusty a
license, that allows him to play with the source (assuming the OS is written in
perl), but he can't distribute it.  However, since Omar's mother is so famous,
she needs to be able to restribute modifications, so I give her permission to
play with the source, and give her permission to redistribute modifications,
but say, in binary only form, as I don't think I want to release my code as
open source.  And then, since Bob is such a nice guy, he can have a copy of
EbungaOS for free, but only in binary for.  Three licenses for the same thing.

Now, let's say I start getting greedier.  I can revoke all previous licenses,
and demand that all licensees pay a yearly fee of $10,000,000.43, or stop using
my software.  Although I probably just lost any chance of getting any more
customers, and lost all customers, except for that one large corporation that
depends on my software for everything.




[ Parent ]
If version X of some software is re... (none / 0) (#2)
by hattig on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 11:12:12 AM EST

hattig voted 1 on this story.

If version X of some software is released under the GPL, then version X is always under the GPL, thanks to its viral nature. Version X+0.00000001 can be rereleased under another license by the Authors (unless it uses other GPL software).

How does the GPL stand up to the copyright of the code being transferred? With the GPL the copyright is with the authors, but they released it under the GPL. Does transferring the copyright of version X of the software from one person to another allow the license to be changed? How does it affect the previous versions of the software (which Mattel would also like to quash). I don't think that Mattel want to go to the trouble of taking this through court though, they just want it to die down (as it should, the security on the software was not very good, but the software wasn't meant for the kind of applications where that level of security is required!

Re: If version X of some software is re... (none / 0) (#9)
by bmetzler on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 04:17:13 PM EST

If version X of some software is released under the GPL, then version X is always under the GPL, thanks to its viral nature. Version X+0.00000001 can be rereleased under another license by the Authors (unless it uses other GPL software).

Actually, the copyright holders can release version X as GPL *and* another license.

-Brent
www.bmetzler.org - it's not just a personal weblog, it's so much more.
[ Parent ]
Re: If version X of some software is re... (none / 0) (#11)
by Inoshiro on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 04:24:44 PM EST

Viral nature?

No. It's just a semi-restrictive licence (code rights wise) designed to allow the end user to always copy, modify, re-release, sell, and otherwise have absolute freedom to munge with the code. As long as they do not keep that right from other people (by not releasing the source code, perhaps).

All in all, it is effective. Mind you, the BSD licence seems to work as well, because the people who fork the code and try to resell it generally give up trying to make money off of selling binaries, and switch to support for all their revinue stream (like that company that tried to fork OpenBSD).

It's just another approach to keeping code in the hands of the coders, not the PHBs and other drones who would shove a knife in your back if it added another K or two to their salaries. I, for one, am glad. I like being able to do what I want with the code for my operating system :-)



--
[ イノシロ ]
[ Parent ]
Knowing little to nothing about the... (none / 0) (#6)
by dgfitch on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 11:32:13 AM EST

dgfitch voted 1 on this story.

Knowing little to nothing about the legal aspects, this should be interesting. I don't even know what exactly it is about the viral GPL that's considered risky.

Well, technically, only a new code ... (4.00 / 1) (#4)
by fluffy grue on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 12:04:08 PM EST

fluffy grue voted 1 on this story.

Well, technically, only a new code fork written entirely by the original authors could be sold to Mattel. Any already-available GPLed code is completely unaffected by any sale of the software. So, yeah, we can now see whether Mattel will try to expunge CPHack like the RIAA is trying to do with DeCSS based on a licensing issue.
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

I don't know what happened behind t... (none / 0) (#5)
by pulsar on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 12:37:35 PM EST

pulsar voted 1 on this story.

I don't know what happened behind the scenes here, but I am SO tired of the big corporations/agencies beating the little guy almost blind! This might be a good time to test out the GPL in court, this is a small "annoyance" and is not community threating. So why not test it in court now so we can fix any problems that might arise in a future, serious, court battle?

This probably won't test the GPL it... (none / 0) (#3)
by bmetzler on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 03:09:58 PM EST

bmetzler voted 1 on this story.

This probably won't test the GPL itself, but software licensing in general as it relates to 'questionable' activity. Just because the GPL is found to not be legally binding here, may not mean that it isn't anywhere, just that no software license is legal in this situation.
www.bmetzler.org - it's not just a personal weblog, it's so much more.

Re: This probably won't test the GPL it... (none / 0) (#15)
by ebunga on Thu Mar 30, 2000 at 12:33:42 PM EST

This is a great point.	


[ Parent ]
Re: Will cphack be a legal test of the GPL? (3.50 / 2) (#12)
by Verement on Wed Mar 29, 2000 at 04:55:42 PM EST

Not all of the "cphack" package was released under GPL. This home page of one of the authors is quite informative. -v

Will cphack be a legal test of the GPL? | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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