Compare And Contrast: How GPL Enforces Violations vs. How RIAA/MPAA/BSA Enforce Violations

from the it's-a-bit-different dept

While we've discussed how extreme views in the open source community can, at times, rival the way the entertainment industry acts towards those who violate licenses, reader Nick Coghlan writes in to point to an article that highlights how different they are in many cases, with Bradley Kuhn, the technical director of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), putting forth new guidelines that encourage people not to jump to conclusions when they see potential violations, and to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone they suspect of violating the license. Compare that to the tens of thousands of threat letters sent out by the RIAA, at times with little real evidence.


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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 4:35pm

    Freeloaders: Software vs Art

    I think something needs to be clarified about the difference between software and other forms of artistic expression (music, books, movies etc).

    With most forms of art, there is no “source code” for the art. Of course there might be raw materials that the artist used to create the artwork, but that is generally unimportant for appreciating the artwork, for copying it, and for adapting it for other purposes.

    Whereas with software, much of it is compiled from source code (admittedly not all of it is). It is quite difficult to make adaptations of compiled-only software; for full flexibility, you really need to have the source code.

    And here is where a difference in the concept of the “freeloader” comes in. With regular art, this would refer to people who copy and distribute the artwork without paying the original creator. (This definition would seem to apply to second-hand resellers as well.) Your site spends a lot of its time examining the implications of this for the business models of art creators. And so it should.

    But with Free Software, such redistribution is perfectly fine, and is explicitly encouraged as part of the licensing terms. Instead, the term “freeloader” tends to be reserved for people who want to redistribute compiled-only versions of the software, without passing on access to the source, and possibly imposing other additional restrictive conditions as well. Such a situation doesn’t seem very feasible for regular art, but it happens with software all the time.

    This is why it helps to draw a careful distinction between copyright, and its enforcement, as applied to Free Software versus how it applies to regular art.

     

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      Derek Reed (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 4:54pm

      Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

      Are you saying that this open source software freeloaders are in some way more harmful to open source than the other type of freeloader?

      This is something I've failed to come to terms with in the Stallman theory, "How is someone who redistributes compiled only versions truly harming the open source project?" It seems like the sort of thing that serves to promote the original project and challenge it to provide something new and better in the same way a copy of a painting promotes the artist and provides them a challenge more ways to create something new and sell it.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 5:32pm

        Re: Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

        "It seems like the sort of thing that serves to promote the original project"

        How does that work?

         

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          Derek Reed (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 5:51pm

          Re: Re: Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

          I make widget Y (say something that allows for a nice little image uploader using flash)
          • Big company Z rolls along and starts using widget Y in their site.
          • Others developers using company Z's site say, "hey, maybe we don't need to use a crappy upload button anymore, what else is out there" (Other users using company Z's site may just say, damn, that was easier)
          • I may or may not notice that facebook is using my widget Y. If I do, I note as such as my site and increase my viability.
          • If I don't, it still increases the number of people interested in said topic of widgets, and promotes said widgets as a whole, of which I am a part.

          I suck at examples because I can only think about myself, but don't similar lines of logic apply for other sorts of software. If your software does something well, and others use it, doesn't it promote interest in that type of software? And if you do get credit, doesn't it promote interest in you?

           

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            senshikaze (profile), Nov 11th, 2009 @ 4:47am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

            yes, but with software (compiled code) if you don't tell anybody you are using GPL'd code (remember, from the way you talking, you mean the programmer was in violation) then how would you ever know that GPL code was in there? No one is going to say "We use modified GPL'd code in widget Y, but we didn't send our changes upstream"

            What you seem to be confused on is what is violation. With GPL software (see difference from code) you can redistribute it freely as a binary, with source code available and license. You can even use it (in the same way you can use the output of one program as the input of another). The violation comes in at the point of using the source code in your non-GPL'd software. That is the reason why so many lib's are lgpl, you need to be able to have hooks for the lib in your code and you can't do that with straight gpl'd code unless you code it gpl'd.

            I know its confusing. Try reading the FAQ if I didn't explain it to well (and i know i didn't

             

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 7:28pm

      Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

      I think something needs to be clarified about the difference between software and other forms of artistic expression (music, books, movies etc).

      I think something needs to be clarified to you about the nature of the GPL: it's about freedom, not compensation. Thus the idea of "freeloading" (getting something for free) isn't even part of it. Yet people continue think of it that way. I think that may be because they are so used to thinking about *everything* in terms of money that they have difficulty relating to anything else. Some people even think it is somehow illegal to sell GPL software. Nothing could be further from the truth. The GPL doesn't care, it isn't about money.

      Instead, the term “freeloader” tends to be reserved for people who want to redistribute compiled-only versions of the software, without passing on access to the source, and possibly imposing other additional restrictive conditions as well.

      No, that's a term you're trying to erroneously apply. People who violate the license are properly called "infringers".

      Such a situation doesn’t seem very feasible for regular art, but it happens with software all the time.

      What do you mean by "regular" art? Do you mean only for-profit commercial art is "regular" and thus everything else is "irregular"? Again, you seem to thinking of everything in terms of money. Believe it or not, there is actually art out there created for other purposes.

      So drop the "freelader" bit. It doesn't even apply. (Especially not the way it does to a for-profit activity like commercial art.) Now, if you start talking about taking away people's freedom to modify their software, then that's relative to the GPL.

       

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        Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 8:19pm

        Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

        I think something needs to be clarified to you about the nature of the GPL: it's about freedom, not compensation.

        Sigh. Nowhere did I mention the GPL. I was talking about Free Software in general. Copyleft licences like the GPL are specifically designed to outlaw freeloaders, other Free Software licences are not.

        The important point is about the different meaning and consequences of “freeloading” in software versus regular art.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 8:52pm

          Re: Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

          how odd that anyone would assume that the first comment on a post titled 'Compare And Contrast: How GPL Enforces Violations vs. How RIAA/MPAA/BSA Enforce Violations'
          that the comment would be about GPL

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 11:04pm

          Re: Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

          Copyleft licences like the GPL are specifically designed to outlaw freeloaders, other Free Software licences are not.

          Bull. The GPL couldn't care less about so-called "freeloaders" or the economics thereof. It's about free as in freedom, not free as in beer (i.e. economics). You want to freeload? That's fine by the GPL. You want to take away people's ability to freely modify the software? Now you've got a problem.

           

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          Lisa (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 11:26pm

          Re: Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

          Copyleft licenses like the GPL are specifically designed to outlaw freeloaders, other Free Software licenses are not.

          No, it is designed so you can't turn the modified software into something proprietary, thus taking away the user's freedoms. The source code requirement is merely there to preserve freedoms 1 and 3.(freedom to make changes to the software and freedom to release your modified work, which is more difficult without the source)

           

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            Lisa (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 11:51pm

            Re: Re: Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

            the GPL's Preamble:

            "The licenses for most software and other practical works are designed to take away your freedom to share and change the works. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change all versions of a program--to make sure it remains free software for all its users. We, the Free Software Foundation, use the GNU General Public License for most of our software; it applies also to any other work released this way by its authors. You can apply it to your programs, too.

            When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price. Our General Public Licenses are designed to make sure that you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software (and charge for them if you wish), that you receive source code or can get it if you want it, that you can change the software or use pieces of it in new free programs, and that you know you can do these things.

            To protect your rights, we need to prevent others from denying you these rights or asking you to surrender the rights. Therefore, you have certain responsibilities if you distribute copies of the software, or if you modify it: responsibilities to respect the freedom of others.

            For example, if you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must pass on to the recipients the same freedoms that you received. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the source code. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights."


            It's amazing that people could misinterpret the GPL's purpose when it's stated so clearly.

             

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            Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 2:33am

            Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

            And here is where a difference in the concept of the “freeloader” comes in. With regular art, this would refer to people who copy and distribute the artwork without paying the original creator. (This definition would seem to apply to second-hand resellers as well.)

            But with Free Software, such redistribution is perfectly fine, and is explicitly encouraged as part of the licensing terms. Instead, the term “freeloader” tends to be reserved for people who want to redistribute compiled-only versions of the software, without passing on access to the source, and possibly imposing other additional restrictive conditions as well. Such a situation doesn’t seem very feasible for regular art, but it happens with software all the time.

            This is why it helps to draw a careful distinction between copyright, and its enforcement, as applied to Free Software versus how it applies to regular art.

             

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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              Lisa (profile), Nov 11th, 2009 @ 2:58am

              Re: Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

              "Instead, the term “freeloader” tends to be reserved for people who want to redistribute compiled-only versions of the software, without passing on access to the source, and possibly imposing other additional restrictive conditions as well."

              You're being a little loose with the definition of freeloading. Given the premise of the license(that you should have the freedom to use received software as you wish) it would fall under unjustly taking away the freedoms of others and not freeloading.

               

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                Lisa (profile), Nov 11th, 2009 @ 3:00am

                Re: Re: Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

                Correction: that definition of freeloading is too loose, I realize you only mention it because others used this term in relation to free software.

                 

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              Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 8:37am

              Re: Re: Freeloaders: Software vs Art

              the term “freeloader” tends to be reserved for people who want to redistribute compiled-only versions of the software

              Except, it doesn't. Those people are called violators, not freeloaders. Maybe the name freeloader seems appropriate to you because you don't understand the concept.

               

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    senshikaze (profile), Nov 11th, 2009 @ 4:49am

    My question is how come it is freeloading in open source but the same thing in closed source is piracy?

     

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    Nick Coghlan (profile), Nov 11th, 2009 @ 1:41pm

    There's actually an interesting quote from Bill Gates years ago (I forget the details unfortunately) where he says that he would prefer for people to pirate Windows or Office than to use someone else's stuff.

    There's actually an interesting distinction in some free-as-in-beer software licenses that rather than trying to define a commercial/non-commercial split as is the case with Creative Commons licenses instead try to define a personal use/professional use split.

    I sometimes wonder if the latter kind of split would do a better job of meeting the intent many creators have in using the non-commercial clause in CC licenses (i.e. "I don't care if you put this up on a page that happens to have a Google AdWords box or use it somewhat incidentally in a company blog post, but if you want to incorporate it into your national advertising campaign, contact me").

    I suspect it would just move the inevitable murky grey area to a different set of use cases though.

     

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