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GPL Case Against Danish Satellite Provider 297

Posted by timothy
from the hey-bub-that's-a-license-you're-sittin'-on dept.
Rohde writes "The number of satellite and cable boxes on the Danish market using Linux has significantly increased during the last couple of years. The providers Viasat, Yousee and Stofa all provide HD receivers based on Linux, and all of them fail to provide the source code or make customers aware of the fact that the units are based on GPL licensed software. I decided it was time to fix this situation and luckily the Danish legal company BvHD has decided to take the case. We are starting with Viasat, which distributes a Samsung box including middleware and security from NDS, and you can follow the case here."
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GPL Case Against Danish Satellite Provider

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  • Re:Positive move? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blackraven14250 (902843) * on Sunday August 16, 2009 @01:27AM (#29081333)

    I'm guessing sarcasm. If it's not, ignore this.

    It may actually get media attention to Linux, which is always good. It's definitely not hard for them to provide source either; simply have something in the manual stating "source available at [url]". I don't see why this would be a problem for Linux, at all. If anything, it's free advertisement to communities that normally wouldn't have the first idea about its existence.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @01:42AM (#29081385) Homepage Journal

    Everything which you distribute which is GPL licensed puts an obligation on you to distribute the source code.

    If I sell a computer with ubuntu installed I have offer ubuntu sources to the customer. Its not good enough that the source could come from canonical.

  • Re:Positive move? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @02:31AM (#29081511) Homepage Journal

    ``This is going to be great for the uptake of Linux, and will really encourage people to use open-source tools instead of rolling their own proprietary black box. Keep up the good work!''

    Rather than ... take the hard work of many hands, without compensating them or abiding by their terms, and using that to make your proprietary black box? Because that's what these companies have done.

    The fact that the black box runs open source software means nothing when you don't get your Four Freedoms [gnu.org].

  • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @02:53AM (#29081589) Journal

    some other toolkit with no ogligation to share modifications should be preferred.

    Perhaps. But I don't actually see this problem a lot...

    For example, if they're actually modifying the kernel, they could use whatever trick nVidia uses to get around the GPL and insert binary blobs. But most of the time, they shouldn't need to modify the kernel, or at least, any modifications they do make wouldn't be considered "secret sauce" anyway.

    But in most of these cases, it's reasonable to put most of it in userland, and to link only against LGPL stuff, if that -- plenty of BSD and MIT stuff that might be useful.

    And I'm making my living with GNU/Linux tools only ;-)

    That makes your post particularly disturbing.

    Perhaps it wasn't your intent, but you've given the impression that simply using Linux will force everything to be open source, and that's simply not the case.

  • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @03:00AM (#29081609) Journal

    I put cash money down on a physical server with 1T of 15k rpm spinning disks 3 days ago. If said server gets here in 6 weeks I will be happy.

    Erm... Why does your supplier suck so much?

    Seriously, Newegg carries this kind of stuff, and I've never seen them take more than a few days. Granted, Newegg also doesn't provide the kind of service I'm sure your supplier does, but really, six weeks? WTF are they doing for six weeks?

    To be frank, the world works slower than you do, get used to it.

    An appropriate response here is often: s/get used to it/do something about it/g.

  • Re:Positive move? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @03:07AM (#29081633) Homepage Journal

    And, why, exactly, can you not modify them? Any box I've ever touched had an option to "update firmware". Granted, I haven't touched them all, but I can't imagine one without the option. If your box is using open source, people can build their own firmware - look at all the WRT firmwares available, starting with Tomato, DDWRT, OpenWRT - and there may be more.

    A bright individual might roll his own, or not.

    Actually - it might be to the ISP's advantage to allow this sort of thing. Some people are going to brick their boxes while tampering with them. Warranty is void, of course, if the box has been tampered with. So, the ISP gets the opportunity to sell another 20 dollar (or Euro, kroner, or whatever they use up there) box for 50 dollars.

    Inform people that they have options. I'm all for that.

    On the other hand, I wonder if pursuing these sort of actions might not scare vendors away from open source?

  • by BiggerIsBetter (682164) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @03:24AM (#29081683)

    However , i doesn't favor developers or companies ( who are forced to share their work for free ) .

    Only if you're deriving your work from other GPLed work. If it's entirely your own work, you're 100% free to keep the code closed-source and/or use whatever license you see fit.

    I'm so sick of hearing people crying about how they can build on another's work at no cost, but then have to reciprocate. Either call the friggin whaambulance, or STFU and code it all yourself.

  • by thebjorn (530874) <bjorn@tkbe.org> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @03:42AM (#29081747) Homepage

    ...Simply put : GPL favors mainly the end users :

    by ensuring that derative products are also open source , you ensure that a product will stay open source.

    However , i doesn't favor developers or companies ( who are forced to share their work for free ) .

    I'm not a GPL fan at all, but it is a straight-forward non-gratis license. The cost is providing your own source-code. It is up to you to decide if you want to "pay" that "price" -- but you have to pay to play, or else don't play (tertium non datur!). There is nothing different, in this respect, to any commercial license: if I wrote a software library, made it available on my website for download and licensed it for $649, you couldn't legally download it and use it to create your own product without paying me (no pay: no play).

  • by IBitOBear (410965) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:06AM (#29081819) Homepage Journal

    In point of fact there is _nothing_ "hidden" about the cost of using GPL software in a product.

    If you go the Microsoft Wince (I didn't name it 8-) route, you pay many dollars up-front, and some dollars per-unit.

    You go GPL you pay nothing up front and pay full disclosure on the back end per unit.

    The whole problem is the perception that this is "hidden" in the first place. When the tech people sell the GPL software to their managers they, in their naiveté, usually don't know to make a distinction between free(beer) and free(open).

    Once the programmers, and indeed people like you, understand enough to present the cost/benefit analysis as it truly is, then this may stop happening.

    Don't even think _hidden_, don't fool yourself or others. It's right there in the language of the GPL plain as day. Just like it's supposed to be. And thats the good thing that separates it from the BSD license which has no cost at all. That is the _whole_ reason to pick one over another as a licensor.

    Hence "copyleft" instead of "public domain" etc.

  • by JohnFluxx (413620) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:28AM (#29081871)

    > For example, if they're actually modifying the kernel, they could use whatever trick nVidia uses to get around the GPL and insert binary blobs

    It's not clear that what nVidia do is actually legal, and nVidia have a fairly strong case that it's legal because they have cross-platform code which originated in Windows. This brings a strong case that they aren't derived from the linux kernel.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:40AM (#29081909)

    If the creators are legally a separate organization, they would be obligated to offer the source to the Ministry of Defense who would presumably be their customer. They aren't obliged to offer the source to random internet users. Of course it may be the case that under Russian law the obligations of the GPL are not entirely binding - AFAIK they do have Westernized copyright and contract laws these days, but who knows about their laws on national security?

  • Re:Positive move? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:57AM (#29081975)
    If the company picked up the source code for the linux kernel, altered (extensively or not) to their liking, built an OS based on that kernel and started distributing the binaries without any hint it was linux and much less publishing the interfaces and even the source code then how exactly is it any different than "rolling their own proprietary black box" ?

    Moreover, if someone picks up a copyrighted work and intentionally breaks the license agreement that made it possible for them to access that copyrighted work to begin with then that person just set him/herself for a lot of legal pain. That is true for any type of copyrighted work, including open source and any flavour of proprietary software. So no, it doesn't affect the uptake of linux, as any copyright dispute involving proprietary software affects the uptake of proprietary.
  • by chrb (1083577) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:33AM (#29082077)

    However , i doesn't favor developers or companies ( who are forced to share their work for free ) .

    The GPL can accelerate software development around a product. I think it was IBM's Linux head who made the point that the GPL is what ensures that IBM, Novell, Sun, Red Hat, etc. all cooperate on the Linux kernel rather than producing proprietary forks, or having to sign individual contracts with each other to license each piece of technology that they each contribute. The GPL simplifies the entire legal process, which in turn speeds up software development, which reduces time to market which ultimately benefits companies selling Linux solutions. Looking at the changelogs for the Linux kernel over the past 18 months it appears that the speed with which new features are added to the kernel is increasing if anything. And this stuff just appears in the kernel tree, completely bypassing the traditional legal process, with the participants having contractual obligations but not having to negotiate any contracts. It's a good system.

    To say that the GPL doesn't favour developers or companies is completely wrong. It doesn't favour some developers or companies - the ones that want to take the work of others, modify it, and then sell it without reproducing the source of their modifications. If you look at the profits and market capitalisation of IBM and Red Hat - clearly they have benefited greatly from GPL software.

  • by itsdapead (734413) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:53AM (#29082127)

    What does the community get out of the fact that YouSee, Stofa, and Viasat use Linux?

    It gets valuable proof that Linux is a serious industrial strength system, making it hard for critics to portray it as a homespun system for hobbyists. Even (especially?) if Joe public hates these firms, businessfolk will respect them.

    Market share also means that component manufacturers will have an incentive to support Linux (I doubt these firms make their own chipsets).

    The programmers working on these devices will get Linux experience, and put it on their CVs. "5 years Linux experience with major company" reads better (to a suit) than "hack with Linux a bit on my own time".

    Perversely, even a well-spun lawsuit might help (it shows that Linux is valuable enough to be worth defending). Especially if the publicity points out how little it will cost the culprits to comply vs. how many millions they would have been liable for had they breached a license for proprietary software, and points to all the other big, ugly firms that comply without going bust (even 800lb gorillas like Apple and IBM manage not to cross the line).

    Quite honestly, though, the community still gets the benefit of market share if some of the users fail to comply. Its one of those awkward questions - do you want "four freedoms" and an OS that nobody uses, or "three-and-a-half freedoms" plus a fighting chance of being a major player in a field where the competition offers "minus six freedoms"?

  • by anarchyboy (720565) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @06:11AM (#29082175)
    Ok but you only have to have the source code available, so as long as you keep a copy you can sit back and do nothing while canonical are still in buisness then if they go bust make your copy available. Also notice that you can charge for the copy of the source code to recoup your loses from burning and posting a dvd. Depending on what your distributing how many requests for the source are you realistically going to get espicialy if you havent edited the source yourself theres probably a good chance it would still be available from where ever you got it. If you do have a large number of requests for your source on the other hand from people who have bought your product, well clearly you've been sucessful in selling it to a lot of people so should be able to afford distributing the source.
  • by cas2000 (148703) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @06:19AM (#29082201)

    at some stage, manufacturers will realize the hidden cost of using GNU/Linux in their embedded platforms..

    what hidden cost?

    it couldn't be more fucking obvious what the "cost" of using GPL software is - release the source under the same conditions (GPL) that you got it under.

    these companies just want to reap the benefits of GPL software without living up their part part of the bargain.

    they are parasites.

    ps: you're right. linux is not "freeware". freeware is proprietary garbage that happens to cost nothing. linux is Free Software instead - high quality open source.

  • Re:Positive move? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RichardJenkins (1362463) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @06:32AM (#29082241)

    Yes, but the progressions from Meeting->Dinner->Wait->Lawsuit seems a bit quick to jump into court.

    Maybe he's just too pissed at this companies behaviour (which does seem pretty bad), but it seems to me the reasonable approach would have been to send a few letters explicitly asking for the code and seeing what -if anything - they respond with. If they don't give a satisfactory response then you think about using the courts.

    Lawsuits are only good for lawyers. They should be a last resort.

  • by DaleGlass (1068434) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @06:52AM (#29082309) Homepage

    Well, if I was doing a router I wouldn't go with BSD, because:

    1. If you contribute back, any contribution is going to be free for all. Which means that if Linksys contributes something, Netgear automatically gets to use it without any strings attached in their next product. If it happens that Linksys got something almost right, and Netgear managed to polish it to perfection in a few days, then Netgear just gained a really cool feature, courtesy of Linksys, and Linksys doesn't get to see how they did it.

    2. If you don't contribute back, you now have to maintain an internal fork. This is not very easy, since the people doing the public development don't know or care about what you're doing, and are perfectly free to introduce changes that completely break your modifications.

    3. If you release your changes under the GPL, the BSD supporters will whine about it for weeks.

    4. A lot of stuff out there is targeted to Linux. There's lots of software that doesn't build cleanly on Solaris due to applications using GNU extensions. I imagine the same goes for BSD as well.

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@slashd[ ]org ['ot.' in gap]> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:13AM (#29082401)

    It's not a hidden cost. It's the (arguably hidden) protection from the company scamming you and locking you in, etc.
    You just can't do some things, when everybody can read the source. But that doesn't mean that it is acceptable to do those things in the first place. To me they are crimes. And in closed source products they are only more easily hidden.

    I'd go so far as to say, that if a company uses closed source, it is a big indicator, that they want to rip you off and somehow trick you in some crooked way. A big red blinking warning sign.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:59AM (#29082653) Journal

    For example, if they're actually modifying the kernel, they could use whatever trick nVidia uses to get around the GPL and insert binary blobs

    No they couldn't. The legality of nVidia's trick hinges on the fact that:

    1. Their code is not Linux-specific (except the shim, which they do open source) and so can not be argued as a derived work of Linux.
    2. They do not distribute the Linux kernel itself.

    Point number one means that they don't need to abide by the GPL to distribute just their code. The second point is also important because, even though they don't need to apply the GPL to their own code to distribute it, they do need to apply the GPL to the combined work of Linux and their driver (and, therefore, a GPL-compatible license to their own code) if they want to distribute them together. This company is distributing Linux and so has to apply a GPL-compatible license to any modifications that they do distribute.

  • by itsdapead (734413) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @12:24PM (#29084573)

    While Apple is heavily involved in several Open Source projects like WebKit, CUPS etc. they do not use Linux in any way.

    They may not use the Linux kernel, but OS X includes a metric shedload of GNU and other o/s code including, for example, samba, bash and gcc, which are also critical parts of many Linux-based OSs. (and how many suits make the distinction between the kernel and what you get in a full distro?)

    The point is that, while IBM seem to have renounced their wicked ways and become born again FOSS evengelists, Apple are still notoriously secretive, litigious, and protective of their IP (and maybe not particularly liked by the FOSS movement) yet even they manage to at least provide source code [apple.com].

  • by RiotingPacifist (1228016) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @02:00PM (#29085341)

    You have a point , offcourse.

    But my claim was not to say no companies could benefit from it , just that the benefit is mainly aimed towards the end users , who can be ensured that the software will remain free.

    You completely missed his point, his point is that the companies benefit because the software (and any improvements made by competitors) will remain free!

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @09:38PM (#29087961) Homepage

    > And as Joe Public, why do I care?

    As a "consumer" sheep you don't really need to be. When phrases like
    "industrial strength" are bandied about it is pretty obvious that the
    consumer sheep are not the intended target. Of course the intended
    target are those companies and management that make the devices that
    consumer sheep aren't interested in really having any insight about.

    Ultimately this will lead to better, more interesting and more robust
    devices but even that may be meaningless to "Joe Public".

    Although it's nice for those of us that do care and might look under
    the covers or read the ingredients on a label.

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @09:46PM (#29088009) Homepage

    If you can't provide the necessary source to comply with the GPL then you
    don't really have the necessary source to rebuild your complete environment.
    You aren't really in a good position to ensure anything with regards to QA
    of your entire "product" because you can't recreate the entire user
    environment.

    If you are in a position properly test your product based on BSDL or GPL work
    then you are in a position to pass that source along to any customer that asks.

  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Monday August 17, 2009 @12:06AM (#29088615)

    Btw I forgot to thank you for pointing out the fact that NDS has thought about the GPL and for confirming the box indeed carries GPL'ed software.

    But it's not very useful coming from an Anonymous Coward, unless you intend to subpoena Slashdot...

    By the way, I'd like to humbly suggest as a general bit of informal advice: Please proceed as politely, obligingly, and scrupulously methodically as possible, so that your case is as strong as possible. For example, even though you may be quite justified in expecting a response to a letter in 13 days, give them 30 days (or more!) to respond anyway so they have no excuse to even try to complain about it in court. As another example (the one which prompted this post), taunting an (alleged) representative of the defendant on Slashdot could give them an opportunity to argue that you're acting maliciously rather than in good-faith, and thus be counterproductive.

"Why can't we ever attempt to solve a problem in this country without having a 'War' on it?" -- Rich Thomson, talk.politics.misc

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