What Would You Do If You Found a GPL Violator

Posted 22 Apr 2006 at 07:08 UTC by tnt Share This

What would you do if you found someone who was violating the GNU GPL?

Would you report them?

I should probably tell the story first.

Very recently someone e-mailed a link to one of the mailing lists I'm on. This link was for a certain piece of software (which I'm not going to name here).

I went and took a look at the software and noticed that it seemed to be linking to FFmpeg. Normally that isn't a problem since FFmpeg is licensed under the GNU LGPL.

However, the software in question seems to use a specially compiled version of FFmpeg that brings in libraries which are licensed under the GNU GPL. (When FFmpeg is compiled in this way it becomes covered by the GNU GPL, and not the GNU LGPL.)

And thus, his software MUST be covered under the GNU GPL. (And because of his linking, he is compelled to release his source code.)

Now, I think the author of the violating software made an honest mistake. I think he probably didn't understand that the license of FFmpeg changes when you compile it in that way.

But, I've e-mailed him, and tried to explain things, but he doesn't seem to want his software to become Free software (and release the source code) even though it is gratis.

So, what would you do?

I really don't think he deserve to be publicly flamed. (Especially since I think he had good intensions in making his software gratis.) And I especially do NOT want to be the cause of having lawyers threatening him.

Reading his website, I don't think he really understands the Free software movement. But seems interested in it.

But still, he has software which is violating the GNU GPL.

Anyone have any suggestions on the most graceful way of handling this?

-- Charles


Focus on the GPL software, posted 22 Apr 2006 at 16:14 UTC by cdfrey » (Journeyer)

If I had to handle this, I'd probably focus on the GPL software he's violating, and not even ask him to open his software.

That would just make him defensive. He obviously has no plans to do so, and banging on that issue is a dead end.

Explain that the only thing he has to do to be compliant is to recompile FFmpeg so it doesn't use GPL code. If his program relies on the GPL part, have him read the license. If he wants people to respect his copyright, he should respect others' copyrights too.

Hopefully someone with more experience will reply here too.

I found this exchange quite enlightening on how to tactfully talk about GPL conflicts between people. Look for the responses by Greg K-H.

The Author is a Kid, posted 22 Apr 2006 at 17:28 UTC by tnt » (Master)

Because I know one person was able to figure out the software in question....

Please keep in mind that the author of the software is just a kid. (And NOT an adult yet.)

I'm NOT saying that that makes what he did OK. But I don't want to see him publicly flamed or have the "confrontation" start off by threatening him. Think of when you were his age.

I think he actually doesn't understand. (I was trying to figure out a way to make him understand, in a graceful way, and get him to release the source code on his own. I hope it's not too late for that now.)

-- Charles

&quoI don't get why he doesn't get it&quo, posted 22 Apr 2006 at 17:56 UTC by bi » (Journeyer)

It shouldn't be too hard to point out that combining software in this way happens to be illegal... and I'm quite sure most kids know what "illegal" means, no?

As for how to modify it to make it legal: one important thing is, the fact that the coder's a kid doesn't mean that "we" have the right to make choices for him over his own work. He can try to find non-GPL versions of the extra libraries he's linking against (what are they, anyway?). He can release his code under the GPL. Or he can just close it off to all except his inner circle of friends... Show him the various licenses involved, and list out the choices he has, and let him make his own decision.

(Disclaimer: the above is totally out of my fluffy mind and isn't backed by any experience. Caveat haxor.)

Who said it?, posted 22 Apr 2006 at 18:12 UTC by nymia » (Master)

"It shouldn't be too hard to point out that combining software in this way happens to be illegal"
Why is it illegal? Can you cite a court decision saying it is illegal? Can a phrase in a license be enforced as law?

Oh, do I wish, posted 22 Apr 2006 at 18:25 UTC by bi » (Journeyer)

nymia: oh, I'm sure the license terms of software from big bad companies are being actively enforced.

Exactly, posted 22 Apr 2006 at 18:38 UTC by nymia » (Master)

Now, back to the argument.

Where exactly...

"combining software"

is illegal?

Exactly? Exactly what?, posted 22 Apr 2006 at 19:09 UTC by bi » (Journeyer)

In the first place, I don't see how my (previous) answer proves your point in any way, or even that you actually have a point to make.

Exactly, posted 22 Apr 2006 at 19:46 UTC by nymia » (Master)

I think that was it.

Case closed.

Combining vs distributing, posted 23 Apr 2006 at 10:40 UTC by abraham » (Master)

Combining software is not illegal. Distributing copyrighted software without the permission of the copyright owners is illegal.

If he distribute GPL'ed software where the copyright is owned by others, it will be up to him to demonstrate that he has permission to do so.

He's not violating FFmpeg's license, posted 23 Apr 2006 at 10:49 UTC by MichaelCrawford » (Master)

He's violating the licenses of the GPL libraries that he has FFmpeg link to.

You shouldn't take such matters into your own hands. The most you should ever do is politely inform violators of their mistakes. If they refuse to comply, then you should notify those who own the copyrights of each library whose license he violates. They are the only ones who have the legal standing to send a formal demand letter, or, if it should come to that, to sue in court.

The Free Software Foundation has a page that explains what to do if the GPL is violated that gives more detail. It also says:

Note that the GPL, and other copyleft licenses, are copyright licenses. This means that only the copyright holders are empowered to act against violations. The FSF acts on all GPL violations reported on FSF copyrighted code, and we offer assistance to any other copyright holder who wishes to do the same.

Public outcries like mailing list flames or Slashdot story submissions should be done only by the copyright holders, and only then once the violator has failed to comply with a written demand to cease and desist.

I know for sure that if I unknowingly violated a license, and got a demand letter written on that fancy letterhead most law firms use, I'd be quick to comply. The GPL gets violated all the time, but has only come before a judge a few times. Most violations are settled more quietly.

Talk with the author about it, maybe., posted 21 May 2006 at 18:06 UTC by Mysidia » (Journeyer)

The person who holds the copyright for the software is the only who can legitimately take action. Their action may in fact be to allow the program to exist; even though the library was GPL'ed, nothing forbids the rights holder from granting permission to link against their library, anyway.

All you've found is a case where you believe someone violates the requirements set down by the GPL. Even if you know the facts of the situation, you cannot be judge, jury, and prosecutor -- that's not how justice or the adversarial process works.

I went and took a look at the software and noticed that it seemed to be linking to FFmpeg. Normally that isn't a problem since FFmpeg is licensed under the GNU LGPL.

However, the software in question seems to use a specially compiled version of FFmpeg that brings in libraries which are licensed under the GNU GPL. (When FFmpeg is compiled in this way it becomes covered by the GNU GPL, and not the GNU LGPL.)

No.. If FFmpeg is distributed under the LGPL by the author, then that is how it is distributed, until the person distributing it represents otherwise, by including a copy of the GPL instead of the LGPL, and changing all notices in the distribution and source code to reflect that it is being distributed under the GPL -- this is a fact, that you will find clearly stated, if you read the LGPL.

If there was a violation of GPL for the reason of not including source code, then it would be because his program is a derivative work of the GPL libraries he linked ffmpeg against.

And thus, his software MUST be covered under the GNU GPL. (And because of his linking, he is compelled to release his source code.)

He may be distributing a derivative work by linking ffmpeg against a GPL library.. if he is linking them statically, that would almost certainly require him to distribute ffmpeg and his program under the GNU GPL instead.

On the other hand, if he's linking against the libraries dynamically, then what he is doing may in fact be legitimate.. you cannot know for a fact, that his program is a derivative work and therefore requires a license to utilize the library in the case of dynamic linking, because it remains untested, and noone knows this for a fact.

Remember, actually running a program is explicitly disclaimed and specifically out of the scope of the GPL -- with dynamic linking, the actual connection occurs at a late stage where it is done by the user, and the library itself is not included in the program distributed.

IANAL. Unless you are, handing out legal advise to random strangers, and scolding them for violation of the GPL, or threatening them, when you have just a theory, could be bad.

Efforts are better spent in a less adversarial fashion, trying to convince such people of the value of Open Source and contributing back by releasing their source code in good faith --- scaring kids, saying they're violating the GPL, like they broke one of God's commandments, may just cause them to retreat from the Free Software world altogether, and join the borg^H^H^H^HMicro$oft collective, taking their program along with them...

I would totally punch them in the ass, posted 29 Jul 2006 at 06:30 UTC by MisterBad » (Master)

That's what I'd do.

'nuff said.

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!

X
Share this page