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Australia Open Source Linux

Telstra Violating the GPL? 197

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-playing-by-the-rules dept.
daria42 writes "It looks like Australia's largest telco, Telstra, hasn't exactly been paying attention to its responsibilities under the GNU GPL. Australian coder Angus Gratton has been investigating the company's branded T-Hub, T-Box and T-Touch products — all based on Linux, and all without any source code or GPL license attached. Naughty. However, it's not as though Telstra is the only one to blame — the goods are manufactured by Sagem, Netgem and Huawei respectively." Telstra responded quickly to Gratton's claims, saying they would work with the vendors to straighten out the licensing situation and fix any compliance issues.
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Telstra Violating the GPL?

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  • by abhi_beckert (785219) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @07:06AM (#34171782)

    How could they not have known? You don't spend a hundred million dollars promoting a product without hiring competent lawyers to cross your t's and dot your i's.

    Any IP laywer would check the origin and license of the software.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @07:24AM (#34171842)
    Having contracted for Telstra for 7yrs on one of their mission critical system I can say without hesitation you give them way too much credit in the due dilligence department.
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @07:44AM (#34171912) Homepage Journal

    My LG Android phone has a long file of OSS licenses which detail which binaries the licenses apply to. At the bottom of the list there is a statement from LG that they will provide the source code to me on CDROM. It gives an email address I have to contact with my request. For me they are fulfilling with the requirements of the GPL by doing that. Now I wonder if the Telstra products have the same license window and if the ultimate supplier has filled in the statement at the end with the offer of the source.

    My guess is that Google actually take care of some of this and provide a procedure to follow and boilerplate documents with some CM work thrown in. They don't want Android to get a bad name, I am sure.

  • by contra_mundi (1362297) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @07:53AM (#34171992)
    There isn't much cognitive dissonance. GPL just uses the strong copyright to keep itself and derivatives one sort of free.
    A much stranger position to me is hating copyright and GPL, because you at the same time hate the former which takes away freedom (to use and copy) and the latter which gives freedom (to use and copy).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @08:21AM (#34172140)

    > But in this case, it is not really their problem. They paid some OEM for a branded product

    This is not the way that the GPL works, however. The copyleft requirements within the GPL, that require source code to be made available to downstream recipients, apply to the act of distribution of the GPL code.

    It is not Telstra's code, and it is not the code of the OEM. The code belongs to the original authors, who wrote it. They get the rights awarded to them by Australia's copyright law.

    The authors have stipulated that anyone may distribute this code as long as they provide the source code.

    Telstra are distributing the code (that is not Telstra's code). This is the crucial bit. Telstra are the distributers.

    Therefore, Telstra must either provide the source code as they used it in their products to any customer who asks for it, or they are in violation of Australia's copyright law.

    It is not sufficient to merely provide links. Telstra must provide the source code.

    However ... since the source code is open source anyway ... where is the downside anyway? Telstra simply provide it to anyone who asks for it, and everything is perfectly sweet.

  • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @09:17AM (#34172492) Homepage

    Ignorance of the law is indeed no excuse (though it is often a mitigating factor), but in this case I'm not sure Telstra has broken a law. They sold and/or rented these devices to their customers as a reseller. Are they responsible for GPL compliance or is the original manufacturer? They slapped their brand on the things, but had nothing to do with design or manufacture. I honestly have no idea what their legal responsibility is, and I doubt anyone but an Austrailian IP attorney could offer a valid opinion. To my mind this is the OEM's problem not the reseller. After all we don't go after Best Buy if some product on their shelves is violating the GPL.

  • by AmElder (1385909) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @09:45AM (#34172758) Homepage

    My first thought was, like yours, that it might be better to give Telstra a chance to bring itself into compliance before hitting it with the bad publicity stick. However, after reading TFAs, I think Angus Gratton (the one who noticed the violations) did this right. He tried to contact the company first and got no response, so he's leveraging the power of the community and Telstra is responding. The blog post linked to in the summary explains how he went about it all.

    Emphasizing compliance over prosecution should make Free Software less threatening to companies (says a guy who's never worked for a big organization). It's the right way to go about things.

    If you read Gratton's post, he doesn't write with any rancour. He's sketches the simple steps Telstra can take to become compliant. By they way, he anticipates most of what people are saying in this thread and gives his own pre-emptive responses.

  • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @10:20AM (#34173212) Homepage

    I'd accept that now that they've been made aware of the infringement they have a responsibility to make the information available. I don't know that there's any case for any sort of retroactive damages or anything like that. There's a legal difference between ignorance of the law (no excuse), and ignorance of what you're doing (typically considered excusable). If I'm selling stolen goods in my shop, but can make a reasonable case that I didn't know they were stolen, I'm typically not held responsible. I can't keep selling the items in question of course, but I'm not going to be fined or sent to jail. In this case, if Telstra makes a good faith effort to correct the problem (which it seems like they are doing), I don't think they did anything "wrong" per se.

  • by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 @10:37AM (#34173446) Homepage Journal

    It is not sufficient to merely provide links. Telstra must provide the source code.

    Huh? If this were literally true, then an N-level distribution chain would require separate copies of the source on machines owned by every part of the distribution chain, including the delivery companies that merely transport the physical packages, or the customer's ISP if the product is downloaded. It's fairly common for GPL-compliant suppliers to merely link to the source on a web site owned by one company in the chain. As far as I know, this has generally been held acceptable.

    If every company involved in the distribution has to have a separate source repository, it would seriously interfere with the distribution of GPL'd software. It would be quite reasonable for a distribution company to refuse to deliver GPL'd products if they were required to supply the source to software inside packages that they were delivering. Here in the US, I'd expect that USP and FedEx would be very unhappy about being required to run source repositories, as would every ISP (though the ISPs would at least have employees who know what software source code is ;-).

    I hope this isn't an actual requirement of any version of the GPL. Has anyone collected a list of the wording of various versions, with explanations of their legal implications? If some version does actually have such a stringent requirement, it would be useful to know about it, so we can avoid using that version with software that needs to be "delivered" in physical or electronic form.

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