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GNU is Not Unix Software Linux

Enforcing the GPL On Software Companies? 480

Posted by kdawson
from the four-words-software-freedom-law-center dept.
Piranhaa"I currently use an IPTV box that runs software by Minerva Networks. When you ssh into the box, you are greeted with a BusyBox v1.00 (ash) shell. It's clearly running a flavor of Linux (uname -apm outputs: Linux minerva_10_0_3_99 2.4.30-tango2-2.7.144.0 #29 Wed Mar 16 16:16:16 CET 2005 mips unknown). However, when you look at their Web site there is no publicly available source code. Since the GPL in both BusyBox and the Linux kernel require that anyone using and distributing the binaries of this software make source available to everyone, what would one do in order to enforce this? I've personally emailed Minerva and left voicemails with no reply."
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Enforcing the GPL On Software Companies?

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  • Write to the FSF. (Score:3, Informative)

    by V!NCENT (1105021) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @05:37AM (#23892719)
    The GPL itself says you should write to the FSF when someone is violating the GPL.
  • by tolan-b (230077) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @05:37AM (#23892721)

    IANAL but as I understand it the GPL requires that source is made available to customers, not everyone. Of course in this case they don't appear to be making it available to customers either.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @05:42AM (#23892743)

    most STBs that i am familiar with are largely stock linux builds, running a proprietry IPTV application on top. The GPL does not requre a standalone application that sits on the linux box be distributed as source code

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @05:44AM (#23892753)

    that's a lie. You can't point at someone else's FTP site, there's also requirements for being able to reproduce binaries (this can include system images). They don't have to provide the sources for free, but they can't charge a profit for it.

    Giving someone the binaries means you need to make the sources availiable to them, including build tools a lot of the time.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @05:45AM (#23892755) Homepage Journal
    They are distributing the software and have to provide an offer of the source. I am sure this came up with distributions who were basing their distro off Ubuntu and assumed their customers could get the source from there.

    When you think about it, it makes sense. Even if they base their software off a distribution from a known source that source might not be around when it is needed.
  • gpl-violations.org (Score:2, Informative)

    by stefankoegl (687410) <stefan@sk[ ]l.net ['oeg' in gap]> on Sunday June 22, 2008 @05:47AM (#23892771) Homepage
    Maybe the guys at http://gpl-violations.org/ [gpl-violations.org] can help.
  • Re:To quite true (Score:5, Informative)

    by Max Threshold (540114) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @05:48AM (#23892775)
    He requested. Read the summary.
  • Re:Write to the FSF. (Score:5, Informative)

    by kie (30381) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @05:48AM (#23892777) Homepage Journal

    http://www.gpl-violations.org/ [gpl-violations.org]

    might be a good place to start.

  • Notify the authors (Score:5, Informative)

    by mikrorechner (621077) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @05:52AM (#23892791)
    You could notify the authors (and copyright holders) of BusyBox [busybox.net].

    Unlike Linus, they are pretty strict on companies infringing on the GPL, and have sued (and won) several times.

    Take a look at gpl-violations.org [gpl-violations.org] or google "busybox gpl violation" for more information.
  • by AuMatar (183847) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @05:53AM (#23892793)

    No you don't. If you distribute any version of a GPLed piece of software, you must make the source available upon request to the person you distributed it to. Modification is irrelevant. Modification only matters when you modify something for your own use and do not distribute it- then you don't have to provide source because there's no one to provide it to.

    However, this does not mean you need to put it up on a webpage for everyone to download, or provide it on the disk. The GPL requires only a written offer of source code upon request, at a cost of no more than shipping and the media. I have no idea if this particular vendor is complying, but not having a link on their webpage does not mean non-compliance.

  • by BokLM (550487) <boklm@mars-attacks.org> on Sunday June 22, 2008 @05:57AM (#23892819) Homepage Journal

    It depends. If they give the source code with the programs, then they can give it only to their customers, and they don't have to give it to anyone else. However if they decide instead to only give a written offer to ask the source with their programs, as allowed by the GPL, then they should give the source code to whoever is asking, not only customers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @06:04AM (#23892849)

    From busybox.net:
    "The email address gpl@busybox.net is the recommended way to contact the Software Freedom Law Center to report BusyBox license violations."

    Contacting the busybox developers and the SFLC is the first to do. Then post all information you know at the technical mailing list of gpl-violations.org.

    thats at least what i did to get to the Hammer MyShare GPL sources -> http://blog.nas-central.org/2008/06/18/on-the-news-gpl-violation-of-bell-supermico/

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @06:06AM (#23892855)

    If you distribute someone's code which is under GPL, then you have to make available the source code.

    You don't have to make available your own source code unless your code is a derivative of GPL code.

    In this instance, they should be supplying the source code to the kernel and any other GPL applications they have bundled. That's the whole point to OpenSource and the GPL.

    If they have altered the Kernel or BusyBox, which are both GPL'd, they have to release those alterations when they distribute. They don't have to release their application unless it was built using a GPL library, and that sort of kicks in at about readline, most of the basic libraries are LGPL.

    LGPL you can link to and include without, having to release the source code of your library. Though if you alter a LGPL file though, you have to release your alteration, when you distribute. You still have to distribute (or make available) the source code to the LGPL when you distribute the binary.

    So, yes where is the source code is what a lot of customers may be wondering, and any developers who have copyright over the code, may also be wondering why their code is being used outside of the license they gave for the use of it.

    A developer who owns the copyright to GPL code, can distribute the code under another license if they so choose, they don't GPL it to themselves, They are the copyright holder, they can use it anyway they see fit inside of the law.

    Often you will see copyright taken by the project lead on a GPL project because of this, but it doesn't always happen. At which point you sort of run the gauntlet of tainted copyright code, unless you keep clear distinction. So, if you distribute your code under a different license, but part of the application is GPL'd and someone else's that could be problematic. Linus would find it hard to sell Linux under a License other than the GPL, because not all the code is his.

    So, there are two groups that are put out here, the consumer and the developers of the GPL code. The rest of us can just munch popcorn, and watch from the sidelines, we don't have a stake in it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @06:08AM (#23892863)

    The FSF will of course normally help, but the companies license is with the author of the software. The FSF can't do any enforcement and can't really help if they don't own the copyright to the code. Do clear work to prove the case and then contact the authors of the software with all he information you have. One important thing to do is to ensure you request the source code in writing in a registered letter and keep a copy of it.

  • Re:Really now... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @06:10AM (#23892867)

    It said it the original post that he contacted them and received no reply. So, yes you are right, but he has already tried that angle.

    Thanks for playing.

  • by Piranhaa (672441) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @06:11AM (#23892871)
    # ls /src ls: /src: No such file or directory

    First place I checked actually =)

    The system only comes with 60MB of non-volatile flash on a jffs(2) filesystem and 32MB are free.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @06:39AM (#23892977)

    If you use GPL'd source code in your application, the whole application needs to be GPL'd if you release it. This is the same situation with any source code: you can't for example take parts from Microsoft Windows source code and include those in your application without following the license conditions given by the original author.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @06:40AM (#23892987)
    Correct -- only the copyright holder can actually take this to court. They can do this with the assistance of their FSF legal representative though :)
  • Re:PHB (Score:5, Informative)

    by djcapelis (587616) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @06:40AM (#23892989) Homepage

    I know you're joking, but section 6 of the GPL prevents this most commonly by using the phrase: "on a durable physical medium customarily used for software interchange."

    The GPL is a very carefully written document.

  • Not the first time (Score:5, Informative)

    by l2718 (514756) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @06:44AM (#23893001)
    Last year BusyBox successfully enforced their copyrights in at least two [groklaw.net] instances [groklaw.net]. While the terms of the settlements have not been disclosed, I'm sure the SFLC will be happy to get involved again.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @06:49AM (#23893023)

    If I use GPL code, I must provide the GPL code that I use.
    If you distribute GPL'd code to someone, you must make the source code available to that person.

    If I code my own stuff using GPL, my code isn't automatically GPL too.
    If your code contains any lines taken from GPL'd source code, your code is a derivative project and can only be distributed under GPL.

    So if I make an game with security through obscurity, but use GPL code, I'm fine right?
    Assuming that part of the obscurity is hoping that no-one who plays your game asks for the source code.

    Or am I wrong, and all code I write using GPL code suddenly becomes GPL too?
    You're wrong. The whole point of GPL, as opposed to any other open source license, is for a first developer to be able to force all subsequent developers to release their source code.

    Just linking to a GPL'd library does not necessarily constitute derivation (see Limited GPL), and using GPL'd tools (eg: EMACS, gcc) to create your code does not necessarily constitute derivation. GPL is written in pretty plain language. It's worth reading; it's worth understanding your rights; it's very important to understand your responsibilities.

  • Re:Write to the FSF. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Sunday June 22, 2008 @06:57AM (#23893037) Homepage

    The GPL itself says you should write to the FSF when someone is violating the GPL.
    GPL version 2 (which Busybox 1.00 uses, and also Linux) doesn't say that anywhere. Nor does version 3. What part are you looking at?
  • License enforcement (Score:5, Informative)

    by jogu (236017) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @07:13AM (#23893089) Homepage

    As the parent says, only the copyright holder can actually take any legal action.

    For busybox, you can see on http://busybox.net/license.html [busybox.net] that:

    "BusyBox's copyrights are enforced by the Software Freedom Law Center (you can contact them at gpl@busybox.net)"

    This an effective process, but a slow one (expect it to take 6 months+ for any response on past experience).

    For the linux kernel, lkml is perhaps an appropriate place.

    FSF can't help, since they don't own any of the software.

    You perhaps want to consider how you're wording your requests. If a polite (or impolite) request for source code has been refused, you might want to try a different track, pointing out that the hardware contains software that they have no valid license to distribute and is hence illegal, and would they like to discuss this further before you contact the copyright owner.

    Under copyright law, there is absolutely no requirement for them to provide the source code. One possible legal conclusion is that they pay court decided damages to the copyright owners for illegal distribution to date, and cease further distribution. If they wish to continue distribution, it's likely that they're only available option is to open the source code, especially since their are often multiple copyright holders, especially in the linux kernel.

    (Disclaimer, I'm not a lawyer, and some points will vary between jurisdictions.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @07:24AM (#23893129)

    The GPL doesn't state that the source should be downloadable from a website, but it should at the least be distributed (at cost) to anyone who requests it.

    The vendor is required send you the sourcecode for example burned on a CD, and can charge you the cost for the CD and the postal services they used.

  • by Tony Hoyle (11698) <tmh@nodomain.org> on Sunday June 22, 2008 @07:35AM (#23893181) Homepage

    Irrelevant. If they distribute binaries without providing access to source they violate the GPL. The 'We only do hardware' argument is utterly bogus.

    If they shipped copies of Windows on there in violation of the license do you think that Microsoft would accept such an argument? Same thing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @07:40AM (#23893201)

    Why not just get the code from the respective sites? Ie, the original free source, or any of the plethora of free mirrors that people seem to love supplying. Sure, I can appreciate if the software is not available ANYWHERE online - then its beneficial having it supplied. What would you use the "supplied" code for?

    Would you go and use the source of a linux kernel you got from from a disc that came with your IPTV, or would you go find it on the web from the creator?

    The GPL requires that if you make small changes to the code (that may or may not be beneficial to others) and you want to re-distribute the result ... since the vast majority of it is still the work of others then you are obliged to give out the source code as you modified it. BTW ... this is the only "cost" of using GPL code ... you are not allowed to obscure it.

    It is not sufficient to say ... we got it from this link ... it must be possible for anyone who asks to get the code from you as you modified it, and they must be able to compile it and end up with the same binary executable as you are distributing. Those are the terms of using GPL code in the first place. If you don't like those terms ... don't use the code.

    BTW: If the source isn't available anywhere ... then it isn't GPL code! GPL code is, by definition, released as source code to the public by its author. Clearly then if the author hasn't made the code available ... then it isn't GPL code in the first place.

  • by MathFox (686808) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @07:45AM (#23893219)
    LIBERTYVILLE, IL - 15 May 2006 - Motorola (NYSE: MOT) today announced the launch of opensource.motorola.com, a new resource aimed at sharing source code, original open source projects and new ideas and information with open source developers around the world.

    more... [motorola.com]

  • by Tsunayoshi (789351) <tsunayoshi@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Sunday June 22, 2008 @07:46AM (#23893233) Journal

    But making available does not imply you have to put a link for the srouce code on your website.

    If you had a process where someone had to fill out a form, include a product receipt, send $5 for shipping and then the party was sent a DVD in the mail with the source code, you would be meeting the requirements of the GPL.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2008 @07:52AM (#23893265)

    Try /usr/src

  • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Sunday June 22, 2008 @08:50AM (#23893525) Homepage
    You may want to send your legal department a copy of the GPL [gnu.org], and possibly a copy of the accompanying FAQ [gnu.org], which explains things in terms simple enough for non-lawyers or even just really confused lawyers to understand.
  • Re:Write to the FSF. (Score:2, Informative)

    by V!NCENT (1105021) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @09:00AM (#23893569)

    You're absolutely right. I made a mistake. I just grabbed a hardcopy of the GPLv2 and it says:

    You should have recieved a copy of the GNU General Public License along with this program; if not, write to the Free Software Foundation"

    Apparently my memory doesn't serve me well.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @09:00AM (#23893573) Homepage

    If you distribute any version of a GPLed piece of software, you must make the source available upon request to the person you distributed it to. (...) However, this does not mean you need to put it up on a webpage for everyone to download, or provide it on the disk. The GPL requires only a written offer of source code upon request, at a cost of no more than shipping and the media.
    You are confused, there are three alternatives:
    a) Provide the source with the binaries or a download next to the binaries - only needs to be available for those you give binaries to and as long as the binary download is up.
    b) Provide a written offer for source - must be available for 3 years and for anyone, since the offer may be passed on under c)
    c) Non-commercially and occasionally - to pass on an offer as given in b)

    So you can give it just to those with binaries, but then you must give it or make it available for download immidiately. If you go for the written offer, anyone can ask for the source.

  • by jonbryce (703250) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @09:14AM (#23893661) Homepage

    They can do that because they own the copyright because they wrote it. It may or may not violate Sourceforge's TOS, but that's a completely different matter.

  • by Paul Jakma (2677) <paul+slashdot@jakma.org> on Sunday June 22, 2008 @09:17AM (#23893671) Homepage Journal

    They need to provide only in case if it was modified.

    This is completely false. A distributor of GPL software must *ALWAYS* provide sources, in some way acceptable to the GPL. Whether the software is modified or not is irrelevant.

    The only case where this duty can be discharged without actually providing source-code, on media or download, is not open to commercial redistributors OR to redistributors who had the source. So an STB manufacturer is disqualified, independently, in two different ways from availing of this.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @09:26AM (#23893737) Homepage

    I think it's real easy:

    If you're an end user of GPL code, you're always free to modify and improve it.
    If you're an end user of BSD code, you can't do anything with it. Oh sure I can maybe somehow, somewhere find the BSD source code that the proprietary tool is using somewhere, but I still couldn't incorporate any changes in any way. With BSD you only have freedom if you use pure BSD software with source. If you restrict yourself to pure BSD software, the BSD license works like a really crappy version of the GPL. The BSD license benefits those who produce software, for each non-free software copy the company sells the company and its employees benefit and the end-users and society loses. Thanks, but it gives me no comfort to know this leash was made with Open Source(tm).

  • by schon (31600) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @09:35AM (#23893807)

    Under copyright law, there is absolutely no requirement for them to provide the source code.
    Wrong. The OP received the binary in a product he purchased from them. By the terms in the GPL, they are required to make that source available
    Sorry, but exactly when did Title 17 begin including or referencing the GPL?!?!?

    Copyright law does not say anything about providing source code. It merely says that you must have a license. It does not dictate what the license says, nor does it say you must follow the terms of the license.

    If you get a license and then don't follow the terms, the copyright holder (or their agent) can sue you for breach of contract - but (again) copyright law says *nothing* about this.

    OP is correct, and you are very, very wrong.

  • by Courageous (228506) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @09:48AM (#23893887)

    Copyright law cannot require them to provide source code; however the terms of the license can, and therefore one particular possible outcome of court action for the GPL is requiring this company to provide the source to the public. IOW, yes, it really is true that a court can make a party of a contract do what they said they were going to do.

    C//

  • by Watson Ladd (955755) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @10:01AM (#23893985)
    IANAL, but according to the FSF's lawyers the GPL is not a contract. It is a license. It grants additional rights to Minerva networks, and if they do not comply with the conditions placed on exercise of those rights they lose the ability to exercise them.
  • by ZachPruckowski (918562) <zachary.pruckowski@gmail.com> on Sunday June 22, 2008 @11:33AM (#23894631)
    Busybox is a more space efficient version of a lot of the common Unix tools ('grep', 'ls', 'cd', etc.). As one executable, it shares a lot of the same code between components, reducing the size. In embedded platforms, saving 10 MB of code just on your basic toolset with basically no other work required is a massive boon. They need every MB they can get, since they use the bare minimum of flash.
  • by Dr J. keeps the nerd (1061562) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @11:54AM (#23894769)
    Minerva is attracting your attention because they like to advertise themselves. The box is made from some reference design (the ones I'm familiar with are based on a Sigma chip) that a hardware vendor makes light modifications to (there are several candidate companies for your box). The Minerva software is put on top of that, and it's possible - but unlikely - that other software from your ISP or a system integrator acting for them - has been included. Sigma has opened much of its code, and the uclinux site hosts a Sigma variant (the Sigma chip is a SoC processor / video decoder). You will need an arm cross-compiler. You can then see for yourself how much of the rest of the code on your box has changed. Certainly busybox won't have. The GPL violation, in this case, is mostly that not everyone in the distribution chain is hosting the modified software. http://www.uclinux.org/pub/uClinux/ports/arm/EM8500/ [uclinux.org]
  • by DamnStupidElf (649844) <Fingolfin@linuxmail.org> on Sunday June 22, 2008 @01:37PM (#23895601)
    Sorry, but exactly when did Title 17 begin including or referencing the GPL?!?!? Copyright law does not say anything about providing source code. It merely says that you must have a license. It does not dictate what the license says, nor does it say you must follow the terms of the license.

    Quite simply, if you are not following the terms of a license when distributing a copyrigthed work, you are in violation of copyright statutes and can be held civilly and criminally liable.

    If you buy a dvd or cd, you are granted a license to perform the work non-publically, and not make and sell copies. If you violate the license by publicly performing the work or copying it and putting it on a P2P network, you've violated both copyright law and the terms of the license. Criminal penalties apply to the violation of the letter of the law (no distribution or performance without license) and civil responsibility results from the breach of license terms.

    More to the point, if you buy a volume licensed Windows CD, you can make as many copies as you need to within your business to support installation activities. You will still get busted by the FBI for uploading the CD ISO to a P2P network. Just because you are licensed for SOME redistribution or copying rights does not mean you have ALL rights and no criminal responsibility if you violate the license.
  • by compro01 (777531) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @07:58PM (#23898341)

    Competitors can also get their hands on the source code. Also, anyone that downloads the source can also compile it and release it for free.
    And then under the GPL, they can get their hands on the competitor's source and improve upon it.

    Also, unless I'm greatly mistaken, they don't have to release the source to the entire world for free. They are only required to release it with the binaries, so they can give the source only to people who buy the product.

    In addition, these people are not just selling the software. They're selling a physical object that uses that software, so the software in of itself would be of little use to someone without that device.

  • by jmkrtyuio (560488) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @09:26PM (#23898933)

    Your premise has absolutely nothing in modern copyright law to stand on, its silly and stupid.

    I have a business proposition for you. Why dont you go into the business of selling "music appliances"?

    See, now you dont actually need to license the distribution rights from the RIAA!

    Good luck with that.

    The rest of your post is just nonsense tripe.

    You are a troll or an idiot or both.

  • Making available... (Score:3, Informative)

    by mengel (13619) <{ten.egrofecruos.sresu} {ta} {legnem}> on Sunday June 22, 2008 @09:35PM (#23898983) Homepage Journal
    I believe the GPL requires you to make the source code "available". Many folks choose to implement this by putting the code on their website; but you can send a CD-ROM to folks who ask, or even (I think) a paper listing...

    And if they aren't making any modifications to said source code, they may be able to get away with referring you to somewhere else that the code is available...

    Oh, and you're only required to give source code to people to whom you give binaries; not anyone else.

  • Re:Write to the FSF. (Score:3, Informative)

    by michrech (468134) on Monday June 23, 2008 @08:50AM (#23902019)

    If you had read even the summary, you'd see that he has already tried contacting the company and has received no reply.

    "I've personally emailed Minerva and left voicemails with no reply."

    Wouldn't contacting the company be a better place to start? They are not required to put the source code on the website.
    Also if they don't modify the source do they have to make it available? Does Dell offer Ubuntu for download?

  • by mhall119 (1035984) on Monday June 23, 2008 @12:51PM (#23905277) Homepage Journal

    GPLv2 [fsf.org] says:

    3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it,
    under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of
    Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following: ...

    c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer
            to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is
            allowed only for noncommercial distribution
    and only if you
            received the program in object code or executable form with such
            an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

    Since this was distributed as a commercial product, they have to make the source available, they can't just pass on the offer.

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