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Bruce Perens On Combining GPL and Proprietary Software 218

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the how-not-to-get-sued dept.
jammag writes "Combining GPL and proprietary software is ever more common, especially in the world of embedded devices like cell phones. But the question is: how to combine them legally. As sticky as the issue is, there is an answer, as self titled "open source strategic consultant" Bruce Perens explains. The proper procedure entails fully understanding what type of open source software you're using, and knowing why you need to combine these disparate licenses. The problem, he notes, is that many companies don't know or care about doing this legally. 'They're used to just "clicking yes" with no regard to what they're committing themselves and their company to.' Hopefully Perens' guide can be read by more company execs — resulting in fewer lawsuits going forward (but we're not holding our breath)." update 21:31 GMT by SM: Bruce wrote in to make sure we knew he was not a lawyer, even though he is weighing in on a legal issue; updated to reflect.
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Bruce Perens On Combining GPL and Proprietary Software

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  • Hi (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 09, 2009 @04:22PM (#26790027) Homepage Journal
    I'm here at my desk, if anyone has questions :-)

    Bruce

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by starling (26204)

      Any comments about the applicability of the LGPL? It used to be very popular in embedded systems.

      • Re:Hi (Score:5, Informative)

        by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 09, 2009 @04:34PM (#26790237) Homepage Journal

        Any comments about the applicability of the LGPL? It used to be very popular in embedded systems.

        LGPL, especially the current LGPL3, is a good license to use when you want people to combine your work with proprietary software, and software with incompatible licenses in general. Sometimes you don't want this. My latest (unannounced) product is dual-licensed, so I need a "modifications must be free software" license like GPL or GPL3, so that the proprietary folks have an incentive to buy a commercial license. That way, I get to provide Free Software to folks who want to make Free Software with it, and commercial license fees from the folks who don't want to make Free Software pay for me to do it.

        Bruce

        • by starling (26204)

          Fair enough, that's the way I understand the trade-offs too. I was just a little surprised to see no mention of the LGPL in your article and wondered if it was part of a sinister plot to deprecate the licence.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            Bruce was actually one of the most vocal advocates of the LGPL license back when he initiated the UserLinux project [wikipedia.org]. The main reason UserLinux had picked GNOME and GTK as the primary desktop and GUI toolkit for UserLinux revolved around GTK's LGPL license (Qt was not available under this license at the time)

            • by starling (26204)

              I remember the Qt fun and games, yes. The LGPL will always be the *Library* GPL to me.

        • What about when you want your software to be combined with other Free / Open Source software (even code that may be incompatible with the GPL), but don't want to leave the door wide open to non-Free software? Would the GPL-with-exceptions license work?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Creepy (93888)

            That is essentially what Linux and gcc are - if you make changes to them, you need to abide by the GPL for those changes, but they have an exception so that if you, say, build software with gcc and run it on Linux, you can do so commercially if you want to. For example, if you modify the Embedded Linux kernel to add a GSM stack, you need to release the source, but if you create the GSM stack as part of a standalone library or kernel plugin (like a modprobe driver), you don't.

            In general, if you use any GPL

            • by lgw (121541)

              The Boost licence is by far my favorite - it's a BSD-style license, but is very short and has been carefully worded to avoid alarming corporate lawyers. If you just want others to be able to use your code, it's a great option.

          • What about when you want your software to be combined with other Free / Open Source software (even code that may be incompatible with the GPL), but don't want to leave the door wide open to non-Free software? Would the GPL-with-exceptions license work?

            I don't think so. The reason is that there isn't good legal language to separate the licenses you like from ones you don't like. About the best you can say is "any license accepted by the Open Source Initiative", but then you have to add in language to make th

        • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Monday February 09, 2009 @05:18PM (#26790967)
          We use dual licensing too: GPL2 or get a commercial license if you want to use it in non-GPL environments.

          While the GPL purists might balk at this, it does make the product usable elsewhere (more usage == more testing == good for everyone) and also provides a revenue stream to help further development (good for everyone).

          Being practical is far more important than being purist.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by TheRaven64 (641858)
          LGPL2 is a problem for embedded systems too. It contains a requirement that the end user must be able to replace the version you distribute. I would be very surprised if there isn't some LGPL'd code in the AppleTV violating this license.
    • Re:Hi (Score:5, Funny)

      by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday February 09, 2009 @04:26PM (#26790089) Homepage
      Impostor. A true Bruce Perens would not have a Slashdot user ID as absurdly high as 3872.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by osu-neko (2604)
        A lot of us read /. for quite a while before deciding to actually sign up...
      • Re:Hi (Score:5, Informative)

        by Greyfox (87712) on Monday February 09, 2009 @05:17PM (#26790949) Homepage Journal
        Early on a lot of us were quite happy posting as Anonymous Cowards and only made user IDs so we could filter Jon "Columbine" Katz out. If Bruce's snapping point was after the second or third story and mine was only after that fucker managed to draw a parallel between a video game and the tragedy at Columbine, it would explain both why his user ID is so high and why mine is that much higher.

        Eventually Jon Katz stories were found to be against the Geneva Convention, which is why there is no longer an option to filter him out. It's actually illegal to post a Jon Katz story now. They were going to use them at Gitmo for a while, but Dick decided that was a little too evil. They went with shocking guys' junk with jumper cables instead.

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by Bruce Perens (3872) *
        The funny thing about this is that I had heard of Slashdot for some months and didn't participate. Otherwise, I would probably have an even lower number.
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Here's my question: how the heck do you get modded Informative +2 for just posting that you're here?

      (Just kidding, Bruce. I'm glad you show up here)

    • Header files (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hobbit (5915)

      Can you #include header files from GPLed code in proprietary code?

      • Can you #include header files from GPLed code in proprietary code?

        I would never recommend doing so. And I'll tell you why anyone who answers otherwise is wrong.

        You might, sometimes, be able to include something in a program and win a case about it. But your goal is not to win the case. Your goal, to operate your employer without losing money unnecessarily, is to not get sued in the first place. And although you can never prevent an idiot from suing you, you can make it clear to anyone else that your execu

    • They're used to just "clicking yes" with no regard to what they're committing themselves and their company to.

      This is a very subjective question for you to answer (so feel free to say "I'd rather not speculate"), but my question is: When these companies disregard the license, is their primary reason for doing so stupidity or malice? Is it usually because someone mistakenly thinks "hey, this is available online so I can do whatever I want with it" or is it more along the lines of "no one will ever catch me, so I'm just going to grab this code."

      In any case, thanks for all your hard work for the community!

      • Always stupidity. Never malice. Malice may happen when they try to deal with the problem after it's brought to them. But there isn't really a smart reason to violate a Free Software license, because you can do anything you want without doing so. You just have to know how.

        Thanks

        Bruce

    • Given that software may be linked an infinite number of ways from an infinite number of sources, and given that software may be marketed an infinite number of ways depending on how it's linked, would you like a piece of toast?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2009 @04:55PM (#26790603)

      (AC because I work on what I'm talking about, and this problem hampers me continuously, at my current job and all previous).

      I am dismayed that this is a possible loop-hole to the GPL. There is a very real examples of this today: the T-Mobile G1, and its slightly-unlocked Developer handset counterpart.

      The trouble is, these devices are completely unusable without the binary blob loaded into the other processor. A lot of the functionality is still inaccessible, and worse still the manufacturers can get away without even providing a data sheet. Even worse still - these devices can be totally locked down, signed, and remove the ability to replace the GPL parts.

      It's self-reinforcing, too. The ARM9/ARM11 split (in this specific case) is an increasingly inefficient thing to do, as ARMs are very good at low latency response (FIQs), and the partition is NOT as simple as multiple processors. In the Qualcomm MSM7200 part used in the vast majority of handsets (including the G1), it's another core and they share RAM and all peripherals. There's an awkward memory partition that has to happen, and that's inefficient use of memory. There's a duplication of ARM pipelines and caches. It's not as efficient as people would have you believe.

      In short, it's a bad use of hardware resources just to work-around licensing.

      I hold out little hope that manufacturers will provide access to radio layers, unlock devices, and generally provide data sheets so long as the "it's on another processor" work-around is an acceptable solution. Perhaps market forces will change their mind as soon as one big player decides that the hardware cost is no longer worth it. Perhaps not.

      To be honest, though, I'm slightly happier that there is the workaround and we can see GPL software in handsets, rather than nothing at all.

      Are you actually happy with this solution (or only somewhat happy, like me!), or is it just a recommendation?

      • by afidel (530433) on Monday February 09, 2009 @05:37PM (#26791231)
        Actually that split has to do with licensing, they are legally required in most jurisdictions to ship ONLY the tested and certified configuration with no (reasonable) possibility of end user reconfiguration. This is true in the US even for the unlicensed ISM bands, I imagine the licensed bands have even more strict confines if not from the licensing authorities then from the telco's who have to maintain their network.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Tweenk (1274968)

          Standard telco / WiFi manufacturer FUD... The responsibility to obey FCC regulations rests on the user of hardware, not on its manufacturer. There is no FCC-mandated obligation to lock down hardware. This is pure blithering bullshit from hardware companies that use this lie as an excuse not to publish datahseets, lock up functionality in binary blobs, lock down devices, break GPL (if not legally then at least in spirit), and generally be total assholes.

          • by david.given (6740)

            Please provide references. I work with this stuff, and I would love for what you've said to be true, but so far I've found no evidence of this. There are a lot of people who claim it's true, but nobody I've talked to is willing to actually back their statements up! Have you found any official statement from a regulatory board saying that the hardware and software manufacturers are not responsible if a user causes their device to behave contrary to the license?

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Bruce Perens (3872) *

              In general, FCC does not license manufacturers to sell transmitters until FCC issues a type approval. The purpose of the type approval is to assure that the device would not radiate unlawfully. There are a few exceptions: you can build your own equipment in the Amateur (ham radio) service, and I think some Part 15 (low power unlicensed) equipment.

              Bruce

              • by david.given (6740)

                My understanding is that the software part of a software radio is considered part of 'the device', and therefore must be controlled by the manufacturer in order to get the type approval. Is this actually true, though, or is it just too risky to take the risk that it might not be?

                For example, take modified devices: I know and you know that there's no real difference between me taking a GSM phone and soldering on a badly made high-power output stage, or me taking the same phone and modifying the radio stack f

            • by afidel (530433) on Monday February 09, 2009 @07:08PM (#26792217)
              15.204(b) - A transmission system consisting of an intentional radiator, an external radio frequency power amplifier, and an antenna, may be authorized, marketed and used under this part. However, when a transmission system is authorized as a system, it must always be marketed as a complete system and must always be used in the configuration in which it was authorized. An external radio frequency power amplifier shall be marketed only in the system configuration with which the amplifier is authorized and shall not be marketed as a separate product.

              This part has been interpreted by the lawyers as including the software of the system since it includes things like the ability to boost the power on the internal amp beyond the tested and certified configuration in most cases. I believe ETSI has similar language.
      • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 09, 2009 @06:14PM (#26791699) Homepage Journal
        GPL3 fixes this for the GPL part. Which is one reason I take GPL3 seriously for my own work.
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by mangu (126918)

      I'm here at my desk, if anyone has questions :-)

      Do you get paid just to sit at your desk and post to Slashdot?

      Or have you already worked your two hours [kenrockwell.com] today?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Peaker (72084)

      What constitutes derivative works of GPL'd code?

      Why is it that using a code's API makes something derivative work, but using a program's CLI is non-derivative work, and even allowed to be non-GPL?

      • Why is it that using a code's API makes something derivative work, but using a program's CLI is non-derivative work, and even allowed to be non-GPL?

        There's a pretty good argument to be made that using a code's API or dynamically linking to a library is not generally a "derivative work", although this is pretty clearly not the FSF's view.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bruce Perens (3872) *

        What constitutes derivative works of GPL'd code?

        Copyright law does not say. Indeed, most of copyright law was written before software and it doesn't necessarily make sense in the context of software.

        So, you can not rely on an API being a reliable boundary between one piece of software and another, except if you use GPL3. FSF has actually provided you a way to reliably use an API as a boundary. This is contrary to those bad things other posters were saying about FSF. The API has to be a full open standard.

        B

    • by Joe Snipe (224958)

      Why do bad things happen to good people?

    • Two processors (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Hatta (162192)

      I don't understand why you need 2 processors to combine proprietary and GPL code. Anything that can be done on two processors can be done on one processor at half the speed. So obviously, you don't need 2 processors.

      So maybe using 2 processors makes it easier to combine proprietary and GPL code. Why and how? Are you arguing that code that runs on processor A can not possibly be a derivative work of code that runs on processor B?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by starling (26204)

        Two processors are used regardless of the licence. It just makes things easier from a hardware perspective to have one processor dedicated to the phone network functions and another to the UI and assorted programs.

      • If you have to do kernel-level work, and some is proprietary and some is GPL, put the proprietary part in one processor and the GPL part in another processor, and don't share anything but a narrow and well-defined communication path between them. Then, they are separate programs.

        If it doesn't have to be kernel-level, or doesn't have to be locked down really tightly, just put your separate programs in separate executable files, and run them as separate processes.

        Bruce

    • by droopycom (470921)

      BPINAL: Bruce Perens Is Not A Lawyer...

      Thats funny you have to remind Slashdot of that. Actually its funny that everybody is always covering their ass by saying IANAL when talking about this issue.

      I'm not even sure what makes anybody think that a Lawyer would have better or definitive answers than the guys who actually wrote the licenses and the software...

      I'm sure the lawyers have their own language that says that whatever they are telling you might not be the truth.

      Its very... frustrating... If only laws

      • I'm sure the lawyers have their own language that says that whatever they are telling you might not be the truth.

        Their lips are moving :-) Actually, I have noticed that attorneys, since their job is to win for their customer, are in the habit of saying what will win, not what is right. I pinned one down publicly, once, online. He had just said what would win the argument rather than what he knew to be true, and had assumed I would not realize. And he'd been admitted to practice before the Supreme Court.

        Bru

    • by eosp (885380)
      If I recall, there was some IM client that used Purple (the Pidgin backend) and hosted a local server. This was GPL'd. Then their proprietary client would talk with this server, theoretically allowing them to use the Purple library without being under the GPL.

      What is your take on this?

      • If I recall, there was some IM client that used Purple (the Pidgin backend) and hosted a local server. This was GPL'd. Then their proprietary client would talk with this server, theoretically allowing them to use the Purple library without being under the GPL.

        I call this daemonization, the practice of putting software in a server (or daemon, in the old Unix parlance) for the purpose of avoiding the license.

        If it is just for avoiding the license, and has no other technical purpose, I think there's a chance

  • Commitments? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by paulhar (652995)

    > no regard to what they're committing themselves and their company

    Most employees aren't legally empowered to commit their company / organisation to anything. They don't have the authority to sign contracts on behalf of the company / organisation.

    • Re:Commitments? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 09, 2009 @04:30PM (#26790151) Homepage Journal

      Most employees aren't legally empowered to commit their company / organisation to anything. They don't have the authority to sign contracts on behalf of the company / organisation.

      Yes. But "my employee did this, and he didn't have authority to do so" hasn't worked very effectively as a defense regarding software license violation and copyright infringement - or anything else. Or those BSA audits would have turned out differently, etc. Ultimately, the stockholders and management are responsible for what the company does even if they are so out of control that their employees do stuff without being instructed to :-)

      Bruce

  • The easy answer to the problem: don't redistribute whatever it is you make. By not redistributing, you should be free from any GPL (or other license) obligations. Now, in real life, that may not be an applicable answer. But it is the easy one.
    • Re:easy answer (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 09, 2009 @04:51PM (#26790535) Homepage Journal

      The easy answer to the problem: don't redistribute whatever it is you make.

      It sounds easy, but it is actually very difficult to keep from distributing. You see, a distribution is a transfer between any two legal entities. So, for example, you hire a consultant and give him a copy of the software. Then you decide not to use the consultant any longer. He's annoyed, and he asserts his GPL rights on your entire product, and distributes it. You go to sue, and the copyright holder of the GPL piece gets involved and makes a case that you don't have the rights you think you did. Your NDA does not apply to GPL software because GPL prohibits you from adding incompatible terms.

      In some cases, transfer between divisions, especially partnerships with one or more additional firms, are distribution. So, in practice, I think that purposefully not distributing is too difficult to do reliably. It also does not work against Affero GPL3. If you perform that as a service, you have to give up the source code.

      So, it is much easier to keep your software separate as I advise.

      Thanks

      Bruce

      • Well, I was mostly posting that as a joke. But your explanations for why non-redistribution shouldn't really even be an option are quite enlightening. Thanks!
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Bruce Perens (3872) *
          You thought it was a joke. But I hear it sincerely from people in big companies. Thus, I had the explanation ready.

          Thanks

          Bruce

      • by Cyberax (705495)

        I wonder, how Google manages to do this?

        AFAIR, they have their own proprietary filesystem for Linux, yet they do not open its source.

        • AFAIR, [Google has] their own proprietary filesystem for Linux, yet they do not open its source.

          See Google File System [wikipedia.org] in wikipedia. It says that the filesystem isn't in the kernel, it's in user mode. So, it's not really part of Linux. I'm not sure it's so relevant any longer, anyway. There's been a lot of Linux cluster filesystem development by Oracle and others since then.

          Bruce

      • by Kjella (173770)

        It sounds easy, but it is actually very difficult to keep from distributing. You see, a distribution is a transfer between any two legal entities. So, for example, you hire a consultant and give him a copy of the software. Then you decide not to use the consultant any longer. He's annoyed, and he asserts his GPL rights on your entire product, and distributes it. You go to sue, and the copyright holder of the GPL piece gets involved and makes a case that you don't have the rights you think you did. Your NDA does not apply to GPL software because GPL prohibits you from adding incompatible terms.

        Any source of this really happening? I just find it highly unlikely since at no client that I've ever worked for have any licenses been transferred to my company even though I work on their computers. To the degree that they make anything available to me I'm considered a user that they must have a valid license for, like if they loan me a Windows PC they must have a legal Windows license just like a regular employee. For an individual license it could be possible to transfer licenses, but for anything like

        • It does not matter what your contract is with the company is. This is because the company's own license for any GPL software explicitly says that they can't add terms to the GPL. So, they can give you an NDA, and they can require you to destroy software after the contract, but that can not apply to anything under the GPL. Only the copyright holder of the GPL software could give the company the right to apply an NDA or other agreement to his license.

          If they give you GPL software, they have all of the licens

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rtechie (244489) *

        So, for example, you hire a consultant and give him a copy of the software. Then you decide not to use the consultant any longer. He's annoyed, and he asserts his GPL rights on your entire product, and distributes it. You go to sue, and the copyright holder of the GPL piece gets involved and makes a case that you don't have the rights you think you did. Your NDA does not apply to GPL software because GPL prohibits you from adding incompatible terms.

        What are the realistic odds of this actually happening?

        Let's get real here for a minute. Virtually every legal case is decided by who has the most money to hire the most lawyers. So most legal "battles" are only between evenly-matched opponents, which is not the case you describe above. In reality, the company would threaten the consultant and because they have more resources the consultant would quickly back down.

        No, the only credible legal case we're likely to see (and have seen, I've followed this) is a

      • The easy answer to the problem: don't redistribute whatever it is you make.

        It sounds easy, but it is actually very difficult to keep from distributing. You see, a distribution is a transfer between any two legal entities. So, for example, you hire a consultant and give him a copy of the software. Then you decide not to use the consultant any longer. He's annoyed, and he asserts his GPL rights on your entire product, and distributes it. You go to sue, and the copyright holder of the GPL piece gets involved and makes a case that you don't have the rights you think you did. Your NDA does not apply to GPL software because GPL prohibits you from adding incompatible terms.

        In some cases, transfer between divisions, especially partnerships with one or more additional firms, are distribution. So, in practice, I think that purposefully not distributing is too difficult to do reliably. It also does not work against Affero GPL3. If you perform that as a service, you have to give up the source code.

        So, it is much easier to keep your software separate as I advise.

        Thanks

        Bruce

        That was the reasoning used in my current company to never, ever risk integrating GPL software into our code, despite the fact that we never sell or release software. (We use the custom software internally to help build a physical product.)

        This seems at odds with the GPL FAQ:

        http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#DevelopChangesUnderNDA [gnu.org]

        Does the GPL allow me to develop a modified version under a nondisclosure agreement?

        Yes. For instance, you can accept a contract to develop changes and agre

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bruce Perens (3872) *

          You can develop a modified version for your consulting customer under an NDA in which you agree not to distribute your then-proprietary modification, because (in theory) you are not giving the customer any GPL software, only stuff that is proprietary at that time. But if either party gives the other BOTH the GPL software and the modification, together, then the NDA doesn't apply to that transfer and the whole thing is under the GPL.

          In FSF's place I would not have given such a pat answer. I think this is ha

  • Hopefully Perens' guide can be read by more company execs -- resulting in fewer lawsuits going forward (but we're not holding our breath)

    Until the risk of being sued for a significant amount of money is more statistically likely than being struck by lightning and a meteorite at the same moment, no exec is going to waste their time. In fact unless you start personally suing CEOs I bet they have more important things to spend their time on.

    It is not the exec that should be reading this in any case. It's the p

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 09, 2009 @04:39PM (#26790315) Homepage Journal

      When I visit a company to help them develop their Open Source strategy, I schedule a 50-minute talk for the top execs and the head of legal. This talk tells them what I am doing with the middle management, gives them some anti-propaganda to reset their opinions and expectations about Open Source, and establishes who I am working with in the company so that when they have issues about Open Source they know where to go.

      That's about all I can get out of the top execs. But I get a lot of attention from the middle management folks who actually do the work.

      Some of the recent lawsuits have got their attention. But what it often does is cause them to put a "no open source" clause in their default supplier contract. I signed a contract with a big phone company that promised I would not give them any Open Source! Of course, I was giving them advice.

      Bruce

      • by cfulmer (3166)

        So, I write those contracts. That's often a default provision because if you don't know what open source software you're getting, you might accidentally run afoul of the requirement to make the Source Code available. If there is open source software in a product to be delivered, I would expect the supplier to look at the contract and then tell my client "we can't sign this because we DO have open source software in our code." Then, that starts a discussion about what open source software is involved, the

        • If there is open source software in a product to be delivered, I would expect the supplier to look at the contract and then tell my client "we can't sign this because we DO have open source software in our code."

          Yes. But this can turn on you, too. I end up explaining to customers at big companies where I do public speaking why they don't want to own all the rights to my performance. It's not as if they want to be responsible for what I say, as if it were a work for hire.

          And of course I need to be able to pe

    • Oh, there's a plenty good enough financial reason that all execs understand that has nothing to do with penalties as a result of being sued.

      In software, non-compliance with legal licenses (open source or other) is one of the very few things that can result in you stop shipping your product.

      And if you have to stop-ship an embedded software system, then it means that there's no point shipping just the hardware. Bye-bye to all revenue from the product. What can be worse than something which will instantly take

  • Bruce wrote in to make sure we knew he was not a lawyer, even though he is weighing in on a legal issue, updated to reflect.

    Does anyone know why we always give those "IANAL" disclaimers? Do we just say "IANAL" so that the reader doesn't take our opinion too seriously, or is there some kind of liability associated with not being a lawyer but sounding like you're giving legal advice?

    • Re:IANAL (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 09, 2009 @04:56PM (#26790627) Homepage Journal

      Does anyone know why we always give those "IANAL" disclaimers?

      In the United States, it is not legal for anyone but an attorney whom you have retained, and who is admitted to the applicable Bar Association, to give you legal advice. Thus, people like me make clear that they are not attorneys, and that our advice, although it concerns the law, is something less than legal advice. It's your responsibility to check it out with your lawyer. I would be happy to talk with your lawyer, too.

      Bruce

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DoofusOfDeath (636671)

        Does anyone know why we always give those "IANAL" disclaimers?

        In the United States, it is not legal for anyone but an attorney whom you have retained, and who is admitted to the applicable Bar Association, to give you legal advice.

        How far does that go? I mean, in the extreme, wouldn't that mean it's illegal for a cop to tell kids that they need to obey the speed limit?

        I guess what I'm asking is what rules, if any, prevent that (absurd) example from being actually illegal?

        • Re:IANAL (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 09, 2009 @05:21PM (#26791025) Homepage Journal

          How far does that go? I mean, in the extreme, wouldn't that mean it's illegal for a cop to tell kids that they need to obey the speed limit?

          There's a good explanation in Wikipedia:

          In the common law, legal advice is the giving of a formal opinion regarding the substance or procedure of the law by an officer of the court (such as solicitor or barrister), ordinarily in exchange for financial or other tangible compensation. Advice given without remuneration is normally referred to as being pro bono publico (in the public good), or colloquially, pro bono. Legal advice is distinguished from legal information which is the reiteration of legal fact. Legal information can be conveyed by a parking meter, sign or by other forms of notice such as a warning by a law enforcement officer. Printed legal materials, such as directions and how-to manuals, are generally not considered legal advice. Accordingly, directions on how to fill in a motion form and other court documents do not constitute legal advice.

      • by Greyfox (87712)
        Aren't you giving us legal advice about who can legally give us legal advice?
  • Now that we know how to combine GPL with proprietary software, how do we combine GPL with BSD software, without getting yelled at by Theo?

  • In order to get my employer to move in the direction of Open Source, I provided research to show that closed source isn't free of litigation either.

    In fact, our chipset supplier ran into trouble with closed source software which still lead to a cease and desist order requiring a class A Change

    I do believe the GPL does need to be re-written in a far less verbose manner as many executives still do not understand it.

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 09, 2009 @05:08PM (#26790807) Homepage Journal

      I do believe the GPL does need to be re-written in a far less verbose manner as many executives still do not understand it.

      Some folks have written GPL equivalents without the preamble. They've not become popular. The problem these days is not really the GPL. It is that there have been thousands of meaningful court cases about software creating precedents helpful or harmful, and there is a lot of rather pernicious legislation like DMCA. So, we have to craft a license that will protect us from a tower of existing legal paper higher than I can figure. The fact that you can still read it in one sitting is pretty impressive. If you read the findings in recent court cases, especially the appeal in the JMRI case, it's pretty clear that judges like the GPL. And that's what we really need. If it doesn't protect you in court, why is it there at all?

      Bruce

  • If I distribute a program with GPL code, I have to provide the source.

    If I sit a modded GPL program behind a cgi script, do I have to provide the source?

    mu?

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