More about GNU licenses

Posted on 2003-10-31
Last Modified: 2013-11-15
My company is afraid to allow Linux because of the fear of license violations. (not to mention SCO) I thought that was an ultra-conservative attitude until I tried to read the license documentation. Really, I can't understand even the FAQ's!

So help me get the general concept.  I don't have a model of the general principle.

Let's say I want to write a program in C++ and then sell it to various customers. I'm going to use the compiler, I'm going to link in the libraries. I don't want to give the software away as open source.

I can't do it, right. Even if I'm willing to pay some licensing fee. I shouldn't use open source to develop commercial software? Is that right?
Question by:rfr1tz
  • 2

Accepted Solution

shaic earned 100 total points
ID: 9659482
This is answered in the FAQ:
Can I use GPL-covered editors such as GNU Emacs to develop non-free programs? Can I use GPL-covered tools such as GCC to compile them?
Yes, because the copyright on the editors and tools does not cover the code you write. Using them does not place any restrictions, legally, on the license you use for your code.
If a library is released under the GPL (not the LGPL), does that mean that any program which uses it has to be under the GPL?
Yes, because the program as it is actually run includes the library.
LVL 22

Assisted Solution

pjedmond earned 100 total points
ID: 9670004
The issue with SCO is that they are claiming that Linux includes some of their proprietary code, and therefore if people are using Linux, there is a chance that they are running SCO code, and hence they are claiming that anyone using Linux should pay them a licencing fee.

The problem is that SCO are refusing to reveal which bit of the code is theirs. The reason they are doing this (IMHO) is that the moment they reveal which bit of code they have claim to, then it will be almost immediately recoded by the open source community.

As for risk of bein prosecuted by them for using Linux, it depends on the juristiction that you come under. Again, IMHO, in the UK, the change of any successful litigation against a user (who has installed Linux in good faith on the basis of the GPL that came with the distribution that they installed) is nil, provided SCO provides notification of which bit is in breach of their copyright, and it is replaced on  notification. (The moment SCO notify anyone as to which bit of the code is theirs, I suspect that alternatives will be available almost immediately!)

As for the USA, the 'copyright argument' is being fought by the commercial companies involved with Linux (the Redhats of this world). If they are penalised by the courts for this infringement, then SCO should not be able to go after the users of the software as well, as they would already have received compensation for the infringement.

Effectively, my view on the current situation is that SCO is scaremongering, and going after the big corporations and 'encouraging them' to pay a licencing fee. t is also doing all sorts of things to the SCO share price, so I'm sure that there are other 'strategies' being played out at SCO. My general feeling is that as a user, you should have nothing to worry.
LVL 22

Assisted Solution

pjedmond earned 100 total points
ID: 9672926
There is some open source code that xan be used to develop commercial software. The example of this is the mySQL database software that is available as open source, but if you wish to use t for integrating into commecial applications, then you can buy a licence to be able to do that:

This is possible because mySQL (and some other software) is produced by a company that 'retains' ownweship of the code. With Linux, the code is owned by the millions of people that have contributed to it, and it would be impossible to get all of their permissions to change the code licencing structure.

Assisted Solution

guynumber5764 earned 50 total points
ID: 9679961
SCO is a non-issue.  They essentially took $25 mil from MS to instill FUD in open source/GPL without having a real leg to stand on.  If your company is nervous about them then it is working.

GPL is a form of copyright.  The essential gist is "I, the author, am retaining my copyright to this work.  I will give you an unlimited licence to use it either as is or modified.  Any derived work remains under the GPL.  If you want to distribute the resulting work, you may do so but you have to make the source available (on request at the very least)."   The best way to do this IMO is to include whatever legal messages you need along with an email address and phone number that interested parties can contact you to request a copy of the source.

GPL would be a pretty pointless license if someone could just take thousands of hours of work, repackage it and sell it as a proprietary system without making any contribution to the community.  There are companies doing this of course but I anticipate that one of the consequences of the SCO case will be a more formal mechanism for pursuing copyright violators.

Someone in your company should review the costs and benefits associated with GPL.  There are a number of business models which can take advantage of some or all of the benefits of open source without "giving away the farm".  Eric Raymond's "The Cathedral and The Bazaar", aside from being unapologetically partisan, is an excellent read and a good place to start.

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