More on Busybox Developer’s Protests to SFLC Lawsuits

Ryan Paul who covers open source projects for Ars Technica provides a few more thoughts on Bruce Peren’s letter that I linked to yesterday. Ryan provides a bit more information about Perens’ relation to the project as it stands currently. I consider Ryan trustworthy and the reasons given for the code audit are more consistent with the view that Perens doesn’t currently have any copyright interests in it.

Ryan also I think fairly captures the issue if Perens in fact no longer has copyright interests in busybox.

The situation reflects one of the challenges of community-driven development. People who have otherwise disconnected from a project still feel a sense of ownership after they stop contributing, and they can sometimes become a burden on the active maintainers who have new goals and a different philosophical vision.

Busybox Developer on SFLC Lawsuits

I wasn’t planning on commenting on the latest law suits on behalf of the busybox maintainers and brought as part of the SFLC’s ongoing GPL license compliance work. There have been a handful of such suits recently, in particular for busybox but for other projects besides. Most of them simply aren’t that big a deal, usually taken care of quietly and out of court. Bradley Kuhn has even been sharing some excellent posts on just what is involved in this sort of compliance work on his personal blog.

I also know that Fab and Dan of the Linux Outlaws have an episode in the pipe where they chat with Bradley specifically about these new cases. I really wanted to wait until I got a chance to hear this, for Bradley to better explain the motivation and particulars in his own words.

However, I also saw this letter from Bruce Perens on Slashdot today.  Bruce contends he still has considerable copyright interests in busybox from his earlier contributions and that the SFLC suit doesn’t represent his interests as such. He does seem to want to see the companies in question come into compliance but explains how he’d rather do so via issuing a waiver for the time being and working, if I am reading this right for a consulting fee, to fix any failings to correctly observe copyleft.

The letter is simple but there clearly seems to be some tension between Perens and the current maintainers. I don’t know what, if any, history he has with the SFLC. Read his letter for yourself, see what you think.

I quick perusal of the busybox web site doesn’t reveal any contributor’s agreement or anything that would indicate that the copyright interests of developers who submit patches is assigned to the project. So it is at least credible on the surface that Perens has a legitimate beef. It also reinforces that merely choosing a license is not enough when it comes to running a free software or open source project. I hope to have Bradley on my podcast soon to discuss this very topic, among others, that is what developers should know and do beyond the initial license choice.

Microsoft Finally Open Sources Windows 7 Tool

I have been following this story since it started through the Redmond giant pulling the tool in question and eventually admitting their mistake. Now they’ve made good according to Emil Protalinski at Ars. He has the full details, including an analysis of the GPL v2 compliant release and the original version of the tool first suspect of running afoul of the copyleft provisions of the license.

Bradley Kuhn also has a thoughtful post on his personal blog linking to the work of Rafael Rivera who first identified the violation and was ultimately responsible for getting Microsoft to come into compliance. Bradley’s additional thoughts continue to flesh out his very considered and contemplative view of the entire process and goal of license compliance.

Palm Sued over GPL Violation in the Pre

Funnily enough, this may be the next wave of violations following on from that post by Bradley Kuhn. That is smart phones intentionally or inadvertently capturing free software into their usually closed eco systems.

According to Slashdot, the suit is over Palm’s integration of a PDF rendering engine, muPDF, made by Artifex. In the Techworld piece to which Slashdot links, Palm’s documentation makes direct reference to muPDF so it is likely the software was used and it is also likely that the integration work is significant enough to trigger the copy left clause of the GPL.

In all likelihood, Palm will work with Artifex to reach a settlement and become compliant. Artifex, like Ghostscript, offers a commercial license, basically paying to not have to license modifications under copy left. I do not know if Palm could pursue that option retroactively. I’d imagine even if they did there would have to be some consideration of that initial bad act for a settlement to be agreeable to Artifex.

Anatomy of a Modern GPL Violation

Bradley Kuhn of the Software Freedom Law Center shares another post on his personal blog containing more insights into the work he has done and is still doing around GPL license enforcement. This time, he discusses how the nature of violations have changed over time, as he says loosely tracking the adoption of GPL licensed software itself.

The first class of embedded devices that were BusyBox/Linux-based were the wireless routers. Throughout the 2000s, the typical violation was always some wireless router. I still occasionally see those types of products violating the GPL, but I think the near-constant enforcement done by Erik Andersen, FSF, and Harald Welte throughout the 2000’s has led the wireless router violation to become the exception rather than the rule. That enforcement also led to the birth of community-focused development of the OpenWRT and DD-WRT, that all started from that first enforcement that we (Erik, Harald and FSF (where I was at the time)) all did together in 2002 to ensure the WRT54G source release.

I think these posts are invaluable for anyone working with GPL software to understand how best to remain compliant, avoiding the most common mistakes.

Microsoft Did Violate GPL (and Comes into Compliance), Potential Impact of Copyright Termination, and More

  • Microsoft admits it violated GPL, corrects its mistake
    The Register has the details, including a confirmation that an internal investigation did indeed confirm they violated the license. They have corrected their compliance failure by re-releasing the program in question with sources as stipulated by the license. On the one hand, I want to give them credit for acting relatively quickly to comply. On the other this seems to be forming a pattern with them, suggesting they could be doing better in terms of initial compliance.
  • Copyright termination poised to potentially change the landscape
    Eliot van Buskirk at Wired has an excellent piece explaining an issue that I have seen only minimal discussion around. That artists will have the right to reclaim their copyrights from publishers is a given, I just don’t think anyone can predict how many will exercise the right and what that will do to the content industry. It is going to be an interesting issue to follow, regardless.
  • Second Life co-founders reputation system
    RWW sees this as a potential entre into more businesses but I think that may be willfully reading too much into the provenance of the system itself than real world problems it can solve. As far as I know, few reputation systems have gotten very far which simply suggests there just isn’t a huge demand as of yet.
  • The case for more freedom around the iPhone
    The EFF points to two recent rejections that they think strengthens the need for their DMCA exemption petition to allow for jail breaking smart phones. For the Bobble Rep application, Apple has at least relented, but the point remains. Users cannot load whatever applications they like even though they own the devices. I keep hoping Apple’s rivals will turn this into a competitive advantage, like the use of MP3s for digital music stores but there has been little evidence for that as of yet.

MS Pulls Tool Suspected of GPL Infringement, SFLC Technical Directory Deals with Such Infringements Once a Day, and More

  • Trying to understand what Murdoch is thinking
    Cory has updated his original post about Murdoch’s madness in taking his sites out of Google and decrying fair use. On the former point, I think Cory’s hypothesis is reasonable, that Murdoch is trying to create leverage for an ill conceived exclusivity deal like he managed with MySpace. On the latter point, I also think this explanation holds water as it does indeed smack of a very thinly grasped academic understanding of normalization and international copyright conventions.
  • SFLC technical directory finds 1 GPL violation a day
    At Ars, Ryan Paul has an excellent consideration of a blog post that Bradley Kuhn wrote partly in response to a recent claim of possible GPL infringement in Windows 7. The bulk of the post covers the fair mundane and calm handling of surprisingly common violations, like this might be, and likens it to nothing so much as fixing bugs in code. Both Ryan’s comments and Bradley’s original post are well worth the read.
  • MS pulls tool accused of infringing GPL
    Emil Protalinski follows up on Ars a story that several folks, including myself, picked up last week. We still have no confirmation that Microsoft actually did violate the license and the site where the tool was available now merely presents an error, not explanation whatsoever.
  • Dissecting Hollywood’s latest messaging campaign
    Matthew Lasar has a beefy post up at Ars that is well worth a perusal if you are curious about the multiple rhetorical fronts on which the MPAA and its allies are pushing to suppress file sharing and more chillingly technological innovation. The first few paragraphs are the most mind boggling, the completely unsubtle and one sided presentation by 60 Minutes who should know better than to swallow this pill without any critical thought.
  • Understanding what the coinage NoSQL represents
    This is a pretty good piece on the pressures that led to coining this term, some discussion of the drawbacks of a negative definition, and then one of the more recent round ups on technologies out there that are within or help define the category.

A Moral Argument for File Sharing, Considering Real Copyright Reform, and More

  • How complex systems fail
    Carey sent me a link to this short paper out of U of Chicago. This meshes well with my experience support complex software over time. I think this should be required reading for any software firm, really, as it says a lot not just about how such systems fail but even worse failures in how organizations often respond incorrectly.
  • Vint Cerf defends Google on privacy
    I think The Register has the right of it here, a healthy dose of skepticism. As much as I respect Cerf’s work, at Google and before, the fact that he ended up at an unrelated discuss expending so much effort to disclaiming Google’s ability to identify users says something by itself. I also tend to agree with The Register’s assessment of just how thin the reasoning is here, especially in the wake of recent research on how little is required to correlate identity across the web at large.
  • A moral argument for file sharing
    As well argued as the case made to Techdirt’s Mike Masnick is, he doesn’t really concede the point that there is a viable moral stance for file sharing. I think he’s put his finger exactly on it, that there is a clear and important difference between a creator sharing their work and anyone else further distributing it. It’s basically the difference between contributing into a commons model and piracy. Abundance is only part of the equation, the creators intent, even their business model, has to align with that sharing ethic, otherwise file sharing is little better than a form of intellectual violence against the creator’s wishes.
  • Considering real copyright reform
    Mike Masnick at Techdirt points to a recent paper by Jessic Litman that highlights the challenges as well as the potential goals of a genuine reform effort. Should be required reading for anyone with a complaint about the current system to provoke thought about how best to improve it, practically. I just wish Litman had drawn a bit more on Samuelson’s ongoing discussions around damages as I think that is a significant part of the picture, at least in adjudication.
  • Microsoft may have misappropriated some GPLed code
    The utility in question is one for copying setup files to removable media and seems to bear more than coincidental similarity to the ImageMaster project. The initial evidence is circumstantial but at least seems to warrant a much deeper investigation to see if some sort of action is warranted.
  • Mozilla JetPack add-on to run code on a GPU
    John Resig, creator of jQuery, tweeted this, look down the page for the JetPack 0.5 Content heading. There you can read about a clever add-on that lets you run code from your browser on your GPU. This exceeds what I thought would be possible with JetPack since I’ve seen it described as a lightweight extension system.

More Analysis of ACTA under NDA, Possible Counter-Intuitions about the GPL, and More

  • Opening of ACTA is hardly any opening at all
    Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge was one of the folks who saw one section of one draft of the agreement under NDA. Without violating that NDA, he describes his experience and concludes that at most the USTR made this move to blunt criticism of its continued secrecy. Sherwin is skeptical, though, that the USTR is even acknowledging complaints about the secrecy enough to make this argument.
  • Mozilla backs another downloadable font standard
    Wired’s WebMonkey has the details, that support for WOFF will be coming in 3.6 planned for release at the end of the year. They even include the very first thing I though of when reading this news, the potential minefield of licensing as exemplified by the font fiasco with Boing Boing’s recent site re-design (to which WebMonkey links).
  • Counter-intuitions about GPL, forking and MySQL
    Matt Asay takes a look at another angle to consider with the fate of MySQL post an Oracle acquisition of its corporate master, Sun. He cites Stallman’s letter to the EC as evidence that the GPL prevents forking, hence preventing the community from routing around Oracle’s control of the database’s code base. To be clear, RMS’ arguments are around dual licensing, the right to offer a commercial version. A fork is still possible, that is orthogonal. What RMS and Asay are focused on is the commercial licensability as an incentive to driving future development.
  • Real time, 3D rendering in the cloud
    I will give NVidia props for a novel application of distributed computing but I remain to be convinced that this makes a lot of sense. The higher end mobile devices can do a good enough, if not photorealistic, job of rendering for 3D games. Is the potential network latency and hiccups worth any sort of incremental or drastic leap in quality this might provide?
  • PayPal opening its platform to developers
    I guess I understand the vision outlined in this NYT Bits piece. I think there are considerably more hurdles to overcome than PayPal is letting on, though. Think about the higher need for trust and security when you talk about payments versus other kinds of mash ups. I am curious to see some deeper analysis once the platform is opened for outside scrutiny.
  • Contemplating AI and its definitions
    Ed Lerner at has a nice, quick consideration of artificial intelligence. He calls to task some of the very definitions of the term, rightly so I think, especially where the goals or end states are demoted on achievement. He even ties it into SF literature, juxtaposing the Turing test with our conceptions about aliens, true ones vs. men in rubber suits.
  • The effect on range of quality by online publishing
    At Techdirt, Mike Masnick points us to a thoughtful piece by Umair Haque. In a nutshell, the contention is that the worst of online media is really no worse than traditional media but the de-coupling of production from traditional drivers frees online creatives to produce astonishingly better quality.