Re: Flaunting the GPL Re: Pious Crusades

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From: Karl Anderson (
Date: Fri Sep 15 2000 - 20:11:48 PDT

"Adam L. Beberg" <> writes:

> On Fri, 15 Sep 2000, Gordon Mohr wrote:
> > Sure, you'd be unpopular among many free/open source people.
> > But would there, could there be a legal prosecution? Who would
> > have to bring that case and what damages might apply? Has
> > there ever been such a court prosecution?
> The authors in theory, if they had the megabucks to invoke
> LegalSystem(), could try to sue, but I believe the standing legal
> opinion of the GPL is "if you challenge it, it will fall". It's never
> been to court.

No, but the FSF does have lawyers who have defended the GPL
by sending lawyerly letters, and that's been enough so far. Dunno who
the copyright owners have been in those cases, but IIRC the FSF is
ready to lend its lawyers for violations on GPL code that isn't owned
by the FSF.

Maybe the FSF doesn't have enough megabucks to win against a big evil
company that wants to go all the way, but I for one think that a
big court case about a blatant violation would be a lose for the
company before the GPL fell.

> The GPL is enforced purely on the basis of peer pressure, and as such is
> far more of a social contract then anything else.

And even though I doubt that a bazaar style legal team could ever
happen, I think that any company that took a violation too far in
court would be fucked for a long time due to bazaar style harassment.
Not just hAX0rs and direct action, but death of a thousand cuts from a
swarm of legal geeks trying to find a way in.

Sure, it's a social contract, but so what? I owed a friend a few
hundred dollars a while ago, and he had no legal recourse, because we
didn't bother with any of the formalities. If I had wanted to stiff
him, I wouldn't have any legal problems, but the social problems would
have hurt me.

It's sometimes a social contract that makes companies wary of publicly
stomping on intellectual property, like in our hypethetical GPL
violation. I think that the quick fixes of GPL violations have been
because the violators feared the repurcussions from anyone who might
consider working with them, not just opensource sympathizers.

Karl Anderson 

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