Another Reason GPL is a Bad License

Another Reason GPL is a Bad License


While the government-funded academic programmers is fully embracing GPL license, the professional software communities are increasingly rejecting GPL. As an example, you can click on the popular packages at this list and check their license progression. All of the GPL-licensed codes were re-released under MIT-license over the last two years (example: swiftmailer, dbal). GPL is dead in the real software-land. Isn’t that puzzling? Unlike academics, these people do not write code for government money, and often their software programs are what they earn money from. So, if at all, they have more reason to release code under GPL than MIT license, and yet they are moving in droves toward MIT- license !

The reason is simple. GPL license has been disastrous for small software companies, which are often run by three or four programmers. Their model for building code is through extensive amount of sharing, whereas the idea of sharing code is often spurned in academia. As an example, when FPGA programmers wanted to build better HMMER, Sean Eddy was threatened and went to the extent of copyrighting HMMER. The linked blog post shows that the academic mentality is quite against sharing the code with the purpose of someone else doing better than the original programmer.

Getting back to the original tweet, here is the latest example of why GPL is not working for real programmers.

German Court Finds Fantec Responsible For GPL Violation On Third-Party Code

“Are firms responsible for GPL violations on code they receive from third parties? A German court thinks so. The Regional Court of Hamburg recently ruled that Fantec, a European media player maker, failed to distribute ‘complete corresponding source code’ for firmware found in some of its products. Fantec claims its third-party firmware supplier provided the company with appropriate source code, which Fantext made available online. But a hackathon organized by the Free Software Foundation Europe discovered that this source code was incomplete, and programmer Harald Welte filed suit. He won. Mark Radcliffe, an IP expert and senior partner at DLA Piper who specializes in open source licensing issues, has analyzed the caseand argued that it underscores the need for companies to implement internal GPL compliance processes. ‘Fantec is a reminder that companies should adopt a formal FOSS use policy which should be integrated into the software development process,’ he writes. ‘These standards should include an understanding of the FOSS management processes of such third-party suppliers. The development of a network of trusted third-party suppliers is critical part of any FOSS compliance strategy.’”

Also, the following discussion from the same thread is insightful:

Actually at the core of the issue here is not really the GPL. At the core is that they got the code from another company and relied on that company adhering to the license.

Basically the ruling says that when you got the code from a third party, you cannot rely on the third party acting correctly when determining whether your use of the code complies with the license. If the third party violated the license (in this case, by not providing the complete source code), it doesn’t protect you from the responsibility of checking the correct licensing yourself when redistributing the code.

That it was about GPL code is only tangential to the issue (although it’s almost certainly the reason why it ended up on Slashdot).

Basically the scheme is the following: A gives code to B under a given license. B then gives the code to C in a way that violates A’s license. C relies on B having followed A’s license and figures out that redistribution in a certain way would not violate A’s license. However since B’s analysis rests on the false assumption that B complied, it turns out that C’s redistribution of the code also violates A’s license. But with a closer inspection, C could have found out that B didn’t comply. The court ruling now says that C is responsible for violating the license.

Here A is whoever owns the copyright for the code in question, B is Fantec’s firmware supplier, C is Fantec, the license is the GPL, and the violation is not distributing the complete corresponding source code.

Written by M. //