[personal profile] mjg59
GPL enforcement is a surprisingly difficult task. It's not just a matter of identifying an infringement - you need to make sure you have a copyright holder on your side, spend some money sending letters asking people to come into compliance, spend more money initiating a suit, spend even more money encouraging people to settle, spend yet more money actually taking them to court and then maybe, at the end, you have some source code. One of the (tiny) number of groups involved in doing this is the Software Freedom Conservancy, a non-profit organisation that offers various services to free software projects. One of their notable activities is enforcing the license of Busybox, a GPLed multi-purpose application that's used in many embedded Linux environments. And this is where things get interesting

GPLv2 (the license covering the relevant code) contains the following as part of section 4:

Any attempt otherwise to copy, modify, sublicense or distribute the Program is void, and will automatically terminate your rights under this License.

There's some argument over what this means, precisely, but GPLv3 adds the following paragraph:

However, if you cease all violation of this License, then your license from a particular copyright holder is reinstated (a) provisionally, unless and until the copyright holder explicitly and finally terminates your license, and (b) permanently, if the copyright holder fails to notify you of the violation by some reasonable means prior to 60 days after the cessation

which tends to support the assertion that, under V2, once the license is terminated you've lost it forever. That gives the SFC a lever. If a vendor is shipping products using Busybox, and is found to be in violation, this interpretation of GPLv2 means that they have no license to ship Busybox again until the copyright holders (or their agents) grant them another. This is a bit of a problem if your entire stock consists of devices running Busybox. The SFC will grant a new license, but on one condition - not only must you provide the source code to Busybox, you must provide the source code to all other works on the device that require source distribution.

The outcome of this is that we've gained access to large bodies of source code that would otherwise have been kept by companies. The SFC have successfully used Busybox to force the source release of many vendor kernels, ensuring that users have the freedoms that the copyright holders granted to them. Everybody wins, with the exception of the violators. And it seems that they're unenthusiastic about that.

A couple of weeks ago, this page appeared on the elinux.org wiki. It's written by an engineer at Sony, and it's calling for contributions to rewriting Busybox. This would be entirely reasonable if it were for technical reasons, but it's not - it's explicitly stated that companies are afraid that Busybox copyright holders may force them to comply with the licenses of software they ship. If you ship this Busybox replacement instead of the original Busybox you'll be safe from the SFC. You'll be able to violate licenses with impunity.

What can we do? The real problem here is that the SFC's reliance on Busybox means that they're only able to target infringers who use that Busybox code. No significant kernel copyright holders have so far offered to allow the SFC to enforce their copyrights, with the result that enforcement action will grind to a halt as vendors move over to this Busybox replacement. So, if you hold copyright over any part of the Linux kernel, I'd urge you to get in touch with them. The alternative is a strangely ironic world where Sony are simultaneously funding lobbying for copyright enforcement against individuals and tools to help large corporations infringe at will. I'm not enthusiastic about that.

You?

Date: 2012-01-31 12:04 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Aren't you a copyright holder of various bits of the kernel ?

Re: You?

Date: 2012-01-31 12:09 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
When copyright and patents die the world will be a better place.

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Date: 2012-01-31 12:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wakko.livejournal.com
I'm conflicted on this one.

While the underlying reasons are lame and undesirable from an OSS perspective, I'm having a hard time finding fault here. It's like the old joke about Doctor's advice that says, if it hurts when they do something, they should probably stop doing it. In this case, if using GPLed code is getting them sued, one possible solution is to comply with the license, the other solution is to simply stop using GPLed code. Both are equally valid choices, even if one is less desirable from an OSS advocacy perspective.

The onus is on the OSS community to clearly articulate the value provided by compliance that exceeds the value achieved by going back to a mix of proprietary and BSD licensed code.

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You're wrong

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But they aren't...

Date: 2012-02-02 11:46 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
It is surely valid to use entirely either proprietary code, or BSD-licensed or the like. Nope! They want to *JUST* replace Busybox, then continue to violate the license on the tons of other GPL software they are using! This is absurd, they are using -- for free -- millions of man-hours worth of work, it's simple enough to just place that code online somewhere.

And, fuck Sony right in the ear for even suggesting just ditching Busybox and violating every other license.

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Um...

Date: 2012-01-31 12:51 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"fight against GPL enforcement" ... Don't you mean "fight for GPL enforcement"???

Re: Um...

Date: 2012-01-31 12:53 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The article is about the bad guys fighting against GPL enforcement, so the title seems reasonable to me...

Date: 2012-01-31 03:00 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Ummm, aren't they just proposing to build a non-GPL alternative? Why is this a fight against enforcement?

Date: 2012-01-31 03:17 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Please read the article before commenting, he explained this.

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Evidently Matthew doesn't code but leaches money

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Corporate Copyright Scofflaws

Date: 2012-01-31 03:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] therealmadhatter.wordpress.com
I've been writing a series called Corporate Copyright Scofflaws. I'll add an article to cover this.

Wayne

Date: 2012-01-31 05:30 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] pehjota
A couple of weeks ago, this page appeared on the elinux.org wiki. It's written by an engineer at Sony, and it's calling for contributions to rewriting Busybox. This would be entirely reasonable if it were for technical reasons, but it's not - it's explicitly stated that companies are afraid that Busybox copyright holders may force them to comply with the licenses of software they ship. If you ship this Busybox replacement instead of the original Busybox you'll be safe from the SFC. You'll be able to violate licenses with impunity.

This actually infuriates me.

These companies seem to not understand how copyright law works. By default, they aren't allowed to distribute BusyBox in their products. However, the authors of BusyBox have offered the fruits of their hard labor at no charge along with a license that grants companies the rights to distribute and modify BusyBox. The primary condition of the license is simply that anyone who modifies the software must also release the fruits of their (significantly less) hard labor. The end result of course is that companies are forced to return a favor and to treat their customers with respect. I find this more than fair for everyone, and any company that doesn't agree should instead spend at least twice the cost of hardware on copies of a proprietary program that they can't improve.

The alternative is a strangely ironic world where Sony are simultaneously funding lobbying for copyright enforcement against individuals and tools to help large corporations infringe at will. I'm not enthusiastic about that.

I'm reminded of Sony's XCP rootkit (an infringement of free software copyrights designed to fight infringement of Sony BMG copyrights) and the MPAA's infringing use of Ubuntu GNU/Linux to fight copyright infringement in universities.

Date: 2012-01-31 06:04 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Especially considering that most of the time, vendors don't make any interesting changes to GPLed code in the first place! They ship unmodified busybox, slightly patched Linux with a few strange drivers, and so on. Shipping source code for the GPLed components would cause them more or less zero disadvantage, and the first handful of vendors to do so would also get some kudos from the FOSS world. Other than incompetence, I don't see any obvious reason to violate the GPL in most cases.

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please do your homework first

Date: 2012-01-31 11:31 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
What SFC is doing (leveraging the busybox copyright to open up other software, you said so yourself) would be a criminal act in many parts of the world (well, at least in Italy). You CANNOT claim things outside of your own direct copyright or it is copyright abuse.

Please read the article first

Date: 2012-01-31 12:37 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
When a company breaks the GPL they lose the right to use it - they then have to renegotiate the rights from the owner leaving the owner able to specify whatever conditions they like. It doesn't even need to have anything to do with copyright, let alone who the copyright owner of the other pieces is.

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From: (Anonymous)
A few years ago Bruce noted he was in favour of the litigation that was happening in the name of Busybox ( http://lwn.net/Articles/366684/ , http://perens.com/blog/2009/12/15/23/ ). Perhaps the pain has become too high.
From: (Anonymous)
Arg - that should have been:

A few years ago Bruce noted he was NOT in favour of the litigation that was happening in the name of Busybox.

(Sorry Bruce)

Bzzzzt!

From: [personal profile] bruceperens - Date: 2012-02-02 11:38 pm (UTC) - Expand

You haven't even got half the story.

Date: 2012-01-31 04:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] landley.livejournal.com
Dude, pay attention. Tim isn't behind it, _I_AM_.

I'm the ex-busybox maintainer who hooked them up with the SFLC in the first place. The guy who wrote little things like the non-stub versions of sed, sort, mount, bunzip2 _before_ becoming the project's maintainer. The guy who lamented that the busybox lawsuits had never produced a SINGLE LINE of usable code added to the busybox repository (unless you count our copyright notice announcement when you run the multiplexer), who tried to _stop_ the self-financing legal machine the FSF hijacked to force Cisco/Linksys to shut down all their Linux development and reassign the developers to work on Windows? Who left the project because a troll who hadn't written a line of code in a decade was trolling about GPLv3...

My toybox project goes back to 2006:

http://landley.net/hg/toybox
http://landley.net/toybox

I explained the rationale for the switch to BSD licensing and the relaunch back when I did it:

http://landley.net/notes-2011.html#13-11-2011

What I'm trying to prevent is FRAGMENTATION of the android command line, which is ALREADY UNDERWAY:

http://beastiebox.sourceforge.net/
http://hg.suckless.org/sbase/

And so on...

You're objecting that someone offered to help me write new code, and get people to use the result? You want to PREVENT the ex-busybox maintainer from writing any more code under a license you disagree with? That's your definition of freedom, we must remain silent if we disagree with you?

You object to Tim Bird PERSONALLY WRITING CODE and contributing it to my project:

http://landley.net/hg/toybox/rev/12add511705e

Sheesh.

Look, I'll write a new blog entry collecting all the darn links in one place. I don't expect you to read them, but maybe somebody will.

Date: 2012-01-31 05:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] landley.livejournal.com
By the way: what large bodies of code? You say we've gained access to large bodies of code: What?

Show me the code? Other than the original Linksys code drop circa 2003 which predated the SFLC?

By the way, as a result of that original lawsuit, Linksys ceased all in-house Linux development, replaced Linux with another embedded OS on most of their routers, and outsourced the maintenance of their old Linux stuff to Taiwan.

Five years later, Linksys (now owned by Cisco) started up its in-house Linux development again, hired _me_ as a consultant to help make sure they were properly compliant and doing good things with the community. In addition to publishing all source before the actual product shipped, I was advising them to do things like order their WRT610n serial adapters in bulk and put up a web page where hobbyists could order them, create and release OpenOCD jtag profiles for their hardware, and so on.

That's right before the SFLC hooked up with the FSF, and went back and sued Linksys (now owned by Cisco) AGAIN over the same 5-year-old code as in the original lawsuits (this time over a gcc 3.3 compiler they got from Broadcom, which produced bog-standard unmodified mips output, just like the current ones do; there was NOTHING to be gained from this code-wise. Also, Cisco never recieved the source to that compiler in the first place, but of course the SFLC didn't sue broadcom, they sued Cisco).

The result was that Cisco terminated the Linksys division, reassigned the developers to work on Windows, ended all in-house Linux development, and outsourced the maintenance-only level again (this time to Red hat I think), and started looking at non-linux embedded OSes for future products again.

THIS is why I'm trying to stop busybox from being used as a bludgeon against the world at large. The SFLC sued an awful lot of companies that never got source from their upstream vendor, and COULDN'T do so five years later (and a lot of cases were pretty old since they were grinding through the "hall of shame" backlog), but the SFLC never once sued that upstream vendor (generally some taiwanese company that half-assed a board support package for the hardware they shipped). Instead the SFLC went after the local companies for enough money to sue the _next_ one, and when we did get code drops they were obsolete worthless things with nothing we didn't already have. (Generally some random SVN snapshot, or a release version with a couple backports from source control. The "local modifications" were debug printfs, commented out lines, and the occasional hardwired global variable from people who didn't know how to use the config system properly.)

So tell me: where's all this great code we got out of the lawsuits? In the entire time the SFLC or Conservancy have had the right to sue people over BusyBox, where is ONE LINE OF CODE it resulted in? I honestly want to know, because I can't name any, and I WAS A PLAINTIFF!

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wrong motivation ascribed

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Original lawsuit

From: [identity profile] http://openid.anonymity.com/8EZa9yVy - Date: 2012-02-02 10:04 am (UTC) - Expand

From the Sony engineer mentioned...

Date: 2012-01-31 05:15 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Since I am the Sony engineer mentioned in the article, I can provide some some clarifications as to why I think this project is desirable. First, I should say that in so speaking, I am not representing Sony. Other than my activity to investigate this problem space, and generate this proposal, Sony has not yet funded this project.

Matthew correctly points out that the busybox litigators use busybox as a leverage for asking for more than just the busybox source. I believe they do not have this right (either legally or morally). It is this aspect of the situation that some companies find undesireable. It represents a business risk that is beyond the value that busybox provides.

The intent of this project is not to shield GPL violators. It is intended to prevent violation in the first place. I view the need for this project with some sadness, as I myself have worked hard for many years to encourage GPL compliance. I will continue to do so.

I think that reducing the legal uncertainty involved with using GPL software increases the likelihood of adoption and compliance. This is in stark contrast to the direction that the SFC has taken with their re-compliance requirements.

What Matthew argues here is that the ends justify the means, in terms of GPL enforcement. I respectfully disagree.
-- Tim Bird

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Date: 2012-01-31 11:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] papertowlbtrfly.livejournal.com
We can also call examples like this what they really are: Capitalist neocolonialism intended to commoditize and exploit the resources and culture of the interwebs/human consciousness.

Date: 2012-02-01 05:51 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The "Sony engineer" in question states: "I believe they do not have this right (either legally or morally)".

Yet provides no basis for this belief.

As I read it, this Sony engineer is basically saying: "In legal and moral terms, we are only violating the licence if someone complains about it. If no one complains, then even though we are shipping GPL code in violation of the GPL licence, it's not, legally or morally, a violation."

I see no grounds, either legal or moral, to support this belief.

Q1: Does this Sony engineer believe the same about music or DVD piracy?
Q1a. Does this Sony engineer believe the same about murder?
If the police catch someone murdering someone else in the street, and no one complains about it, then does this Sony engineer really believe the police have to let the murderer go, and if it goes to court, that any judge or jury must acquit the murderer?

Q2: On what grounds does this Sony engineer believe the SFC does *not* have a legal right to enforce GPL compliance for any piece of GPL code?

SFC are not in any way bound to BusyBox. Their ambit is to help or coerce people and companies that ship code under the GPL licence, to comply with that licence.

Surely, the legal obligation of any person or organisation using GPL licenced code is to comply with that licence.

Following the same "logic", does this Sony engineer believe that neither the RIAA nor IFPI has the right, either legal or moral, to enforce compliance of the Music or Film copyrights held by Sony and its subsidiaries?

Q3: What are the moral grounds on which this Sony engineer feels the SFC does not have the right to try to enforce compliance with any piece of GPL licenced code?

Basically, this seems to be just Sony saying "geez we like your product and want to use it - we just don't want to abide by the responsibilities that you've placed on the licence."

This seems to be exactly the same that Sony argue against (vehemently) when it comes to someone not complying with one of Sony's licences.

Sorry, which licens violation?

Date: 2012-02-01 07:51 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"If you ship this Busybox replacement instead of the original Busybox you'll be safe from the SFC. You'll be able to violate licenses with impunity"

surely I'm missing something, haven't had coffee yet, but... if they are NOT shipping the original Busybox but one they wrote, which licenses are they violating (regardless of impunity)???

Re: Sorry, which licens violation?

Date: 2012-02-01 07:56 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The licenses on various other pieces of GPLed code, notably the Linux kernel. The SFC requires compliance with *all* FOSS licenses in order to reach a settlement. Avoiding the use of Busybox avoids this, allowing continued violation of the licenses on other pieces of software.
From: (Anonymous)

I'm sure you really don't intend to say that the copyrights on the Linux Kernel are not being enforced at all except by the SFC. After all there's the SFLC and gpl-violations. So may I humbly offer a couple suggestions.

First, consider replacing the word "impunity" with something more appropriate. Making a statement that if someone ships the BusyBox replacement they can violate the Linux Kernel with impunity is very misleading. Just because they ship with the replacement does not protect them from the enforcement efforts of either the SFLC or gpl-violations after all.

Second, consider altering the line indicating Linux Kernel enforcement will grind to a halt to specifically state that the enforcement by the SFC will grind to a halt.

Just a couple friendly suggestions for slightly better word usage to avoid misunderstandings.

RAS

Date: 2012-02-10 12:00 am (UTC)
tcpip: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tcpip
Dear Sony. I love your hardware. I passionately hate your intellectual property legal team.

Date: 2012-02-13 07:11 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
http://gpl-violations.org/

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Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Nebula. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

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