Skype Concedes In GPL Dispute

from the don't-mess-with-the-GPL dept

Tom wrote about the Skype/GPL case yesterday, and it's worth noting (as many in the comments did) that partway through the hearing, Skype gave in and agreed to drop the appeal and abide by the lower court ruling. That's a good thing. However, from the comments on Tom's post, it appears that many seemed to have misunderstood what he wrote, believing he was (a) supporting Skype or (b) disparaging GPL. It appears to be neither. He pretty clearly states that it's a "desperation" play by Skype, and so it's not at all surprising that Skype gave in after the court indicated that Skype's arguments were not convincing. Tom also does not appear to be disparaging the GPL -- he notes how it helped encourage much more openness in software development.

His actual point, which got less attention, was whether the power of the GPL specifically is waning as other licenses gain prominence -- and, specifically, whether it would be so horrible if the GPL somehow went away. He's not suggesting that's a likely or ideal scenario -- just questioning what would happen. And, the point he makes is that while the GPL paved a very important path, we're seeing other options now appearing, and that's a good thing for open source. Developers now have a much bigger choice among licenses they can choose to adopt, and that competition can lead to interesting innovations. It's not an anti-GPL post -- but recognition that the hopes and dreams of open source software development are no longer tied to the success or failure of the GPL. And that's a good thing for both the GPL and open source.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    chris (profile), May 9th, 2008 @ 2:28pm

    the GPL is a brand now

    the GPL on a project you have never heard of tells you a lot about that project.

    it takes a lot of time, effort, and patience, to research, test, and integrate a piece of software into a large system or business process, so you want to start with projects/products that you know will grant you the freedom you need.

    competition is always good, but there is something to be said for knowing what to trust.

    the GPL is like that "real" symbol on milk or some kind of seal of approval, saying that the software you are about to use does not have a restrictive license.

    well known projects with their own licenses (bsd, apache, mozilla) are fine, and obscure projects that use those well known licenses are fine too, but if you are going to take a chance on a project that you have never heard of, then you should look for the GPL everytime.

    the software may turn out to be absolute crap, but if it's GPL'd, you can be sure that the license won't be.

     

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  2.  
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    Geoff, May 9th, 2008 @ 2:41pm

    One important outcome of more choice between licenses is the recognition of compatibility. That is, the ability to (re-?)license a work under a similar license in order to combine two works with dissimilar licenses. For example, the recent work with the GFDL and CC-BY-SA done by Wikipedia and the FSF (I think it was).

     

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  3.  
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    jason, May 9th, 2008 @ 2:42pm

    but I like the GPL. . .

    I am kind of afraid of the idea of the GPL losing prominence (sp?) in favor of less open, less freedom-guaranteeing licenses like the LGPL. It just seems to me that the F/OSS world will slowly but surely, year after year, regress back into software ownership and patents, all in the name of good business sense. What seems to be happening now is exactly that. We shouldn't compromise the freedom in favor of making a few extra dollars.

     

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  4.  
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    mobiGeek, May 9th, 2008 @ 6:53pm

    I still don't buy it

    The title of Tom's article is "Does the GPL Still Matter?".

    Many, myself included, argue that is most certainly does.

    Tom goes on to state:

    But even if the license was invalidated, either in this case or another, there's an argument to be made that the GPL has already served its purpose.

    But this is a somewhat silly question. "Let's pretend that X happens, the what does that mean?". It means whatever we pretend it means.

    Has the GPL played a significant role in the restructuring of the software movement? Yes. Because other avenues shoot off from the GPL's movement, does this date or invalidate the GPL? No.

    That's what I got out of a good portion of the comments.

     

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  5.  
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    Mike (profile), May 9th, 2008 @ 8:17pm

    Re: I still don't buy it

    Has the GPL played a significant role in the restructuring of the software movement? Yes. Because other avenues shoot off from the GPL's movement, does this date or invalidate the GPL? No.

    But Tom didn't ask that second question at all. He asked whether it still mattered in terms of what *would* happen if Skype had won, which even he admitted was a long shot.

    He wasn't asking if GPL was invalid or dated. He was asking whether or not it was so central to open source any more, and concluded (accurately) that it is no longer a *necessary* component, even if it will remain a large component.

     

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  6.  
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    Kiba, May 9th, 2008 @ 9:29pm

    Re: Re: I still don't buy it

    If the GPL is a greatest promoter of economic progress, than it will remain a necessary component of the movement, especially if they're bent on winning the software economic contest.

    Even if other licenses gained prominence, it would not help that if these licenses are incompatible with the GPL, thus limiting the exchange of useful source code and competition. It would actually weaken the whole movement. Of course, if licenses are compatible with the GPL, there would be no problem.


    In fact, the recently concluded effort to draft version 3 of the GPL actually tried and succeeded in making the GPLv3 compatible with the Apache license. So the update actually increased the GPLv3's importance and necessity. (Plus the update to reflect international copyright among other things).

     

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  7.  
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    Kiba, May 9th, 2008 @ 9:37pm

    Re: but I like the GPL. . .

    What's wrong with software ownership? That is what the GPL is precisely trying to restore and protect.

    Software ownership is a GOOD thing. That mean some damn programmer can't control what I can't and can do with the software I brought from him.

    I would be worried about monopoly power over softwares. Those damn monopolists are alway trying to restrict my ability to redistribute, use, and modify the program I actually brought!

    A future extra dollars? Free software is the practically the future of making a living. You'll be crazy not to embrace the business models of free software.

     

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  8.  
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    KD, May 10th, 2008 @ 3:34am

    I beg to differ

    You said that the post wasn't anti-GPL. Did you see the sentence where Tom said GPL has an "unusual, viral nature"?

    Anyone who promotes that meme is, to me, anti-GPL. Maybe he didn't intend to be anti-GPL, but that sentence convicts him, in my mind.

    I also heartily endorse the notion mentioned by one of the other commenters to Tom's post that just because open source is pretty successful, that doesn't mean we can give up the tools that brought us to that point. As the commenter said, that would be like saying that we don't need the 1st amendment any more, since we have pretty good freedom of speach in the US. Give up the tools that got you to the good state, and you'll eventually slide back to the old, bad state.

     

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  9.  
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    Mike (profile), May 10th, 2008 @ 2:17pm

    Re: I beg to differ

    You said that the post wasn't anti-GPL. Did you see the sentence where Tom said GPL has an "unusual, viral nature"?

    Anyone who promotes that meme is, to me, anti-GPL. Maybe he didn't intend to be anti-GPL, but that sentence convicts him, in my mind.


    I won't speak for Tom, but I don't think he meant that in a negative way, but descriptive. He simply used the adjective "viral" to explain the nature of how GPL works, which is different than many other licenses.

    I also heartily endorse the notion mentioned by one of the other commenters to Tom's post that just because open source is pretty successful, that doesn't mean we can give up the tools that brought us to that point.

    Again, Tom NEVER said we should give it up. He was simply exploring what *would* happen if the GPL lost in court, and said that it wouldn't be that bad. That's not a slam on the GPL. In fact, it's talking up how strong the open source community is.

    Don't look for devils where they don't exist.

     

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