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SFLC Critics

Posted in FSF, GPL, Law at 5:05 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Bradley Kuhn in 2008

Summary: Response to critics of those who are law sticklers, standing up for their right

THE SFLC’S LATEST batch of lawsuits is a simple case of compelling companies to obey the law. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Mark Radcliffe has just written about Palm’s GPL infringement, which he partly blames on the mixing of proprietary with free/libre.

This complaint may signal the beginning of a trend by commercial open source companies with ”dual licensing” models: the success of that model, which is used by most commercial open source companies, depends on the difference in the scope of rights available under an open source license and a commercial license as well as the value of the additional protections (performance warranties, support and indemnification) available under the commercial license.

An essay from Bruce Perens was taken slightly out of context and used by critics of the FSF/SFLC to daemonise them. Here is a clarification from the SFLC, which only came later, in the form of an update:

Update – When asked by The H about Perens comments, Aaron Williamson, SFLC Counsel, said “Bruce Perens is a very important figure in the free software community, but he is not our client. Many developers have contributed to the development of BusyBox and hold copyright in the program, including Bruce Perens. Whether, or to what extent, Mr. Perens holds copyright in any version of BusyBox is irrelevant to the lawsuits we have filed; a developer need not hold a “majority interest” of copyright in a program in order to bring a claim for infringement against a third party.”

Regarding the same subject, Ryan Paul showed his bias and Rainer Weikusat replied by saying:


Bruce Perens is not ‘a former contributor of busybox’ but the original author. Judging from the linked-to code audit, he objected to nailing the license at GPLv2 instead of the original ‘GPLv2 or any later version’ and in response to this, his name has generally been deleted from all files it still appeared in based on the assertion that he wouldn’t really own any copyrights in the code anymore.

In reply, says another person: “Based on my (minimal) understanding of copyright law, at least in the U.S., both of those sound like murky areas that could be debated at length (and at great expense) by lawyers in court.

Eric Powell calls the whole thing “biased” and explains:

There is no bias here….no, no way!!!!
This is nothing but a hit piece on Bruce Perens. Characterizing his blog post as ‘whining’ is nothing but petty name calling. I found his posting to be reasonable and balanced.
A BALANCED article would have discussed both sides of the controversy without resorting to name-calling.
it is pathetic that journalism seems racing toward the bottom of the barrel.

Well, it could be worse. While the 451 Group makes a subtle attempt (whether deliberate or not so deliberate) to describe GPL as “anti-business”, longtime critic Jason Perlow, whose attacks on Stallman and the FSF are nothing new [1, 2], compares GPL enforcement to public hanging.

What else can be said? Standing up for justice typically gets the justice seeker daemonised [1, 2].

Here is IDG’s latest Free software FUD from what seems like guest writers. It is disguised under a seemingly friendly headline.

It sometimes seems like the corporations which take advantage of Free software (wrongly treating it like BSD-licensed) and those who make money through ill practices will always try to delegitimise the FSF. Broadly speaking, those companies represent the wallets/interests of some people, so these people — just like any people — can literally attack people who stand in their way. As Free software continues to expand, its very core will continue to receive more flak.

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