A GPL Court Victory In France - InformationWeek

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9/24/2009
10:57 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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A GPL Court Victory In France

Another test of whether open source licensing is enforceable in court has come. A French firm was taken to court for redistributing GPL-ed software minus its licensing and copyright information -- a big no-no.

Another test of whether open source licensing is enforceable in court has come. A French firm was taken to court for redistributing GPL-ed software minus its licensing and copyright information -- a big no-no.

The case in question is a little different from previous such cases, where the software in question was being repackaged in a new form. That's what happened here, but in an organization-to-organization way, rather than org-to-public. A firm named Edu4 was simply providing the AFPA, an adult-education organization, with modified copies of the remote-control software VNC (which is GPLv2 licensed). Edu4 didn't include access to the source -- but also removed copyright and licensing information from the modified VNC package.

It's not too clear why they did this. There is a part of me, though, that's willing to chalk it up to ignorance about how the GPL is meant to behave in the real world. The sad part is that a cursory amount of research on their part would have made it clear.

This comes on the heels of a couple of conversations I had with friends who are professional programmers, and who have released work under many different licenses, including the GPL. I asked them: Do people really just do not understand that the GPL has specific rules that have to be followed, that it is legally binding? Or do they think that it's just a nice suggestion, that following it is at strongest a really good idea, and that there's an attitude of "what's the worst that can happen?" amongst violators?

They were not sure. Much of that was due to them not having direct contact with violators; they didn't feel they were equipped to speak for such people. But I wonder how much of that really is the attitude -- that it's only enforceable if you get caught, and how likely is that?

Answer: Pretty darned likely.

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