[Ksummit-discuss] [CORE TOPIC] GPL defense issues

Bradley M. Kuhn bkuhn at sfconservancy.org
Thu Aug 25 04:06:19 UTC 2016

Greg KH wrote:
> I don't want Linux to be a test case for the GPL as you put it
> recently.

I am certainly sympathetic to your position.  But I myself don't
have the power nor will to make Linux into GPL's test case; a confluence of
external events already did that without my help.  I've been involved with
copyleft enforcement and policy for almost copyleft's entire existence.  I
observe now that the last 10 years brought something that never occurred
before with any other copylefted code.  Specifically, with Linux, we find
both major and minor industry players determined to violate the GPL, on
purpose, and refuse to comply, and tell us to our faces: "you think that we
have to follow the GPL?  Ok, then take us to Court.  We won't comply
otherwise."  (None of the companies in your historical examples ever did
this, Greg.)  And, the decision to take that position is wholly in the hands
of the violators, not the enforcers.

In response, we have two options: we can all decide to give up on the GPL, or
we can enforce it in Courts.  As always, no one is compelled to enforce the
GPL; Linux remains a multi-copyright-held project and copyright holders make
their own decisions, as Linus reminded us this week in his press comments.

I work for an organization that holds copyrights in Linux, and Conservancy
furthermore coordinates a coalition of developers who signed agreements
asking us to enforce their copyrights.  We also have embedded device users
writing us weekly asking us to please get the Linux sources for their
devices.  We have a huge mandate, and we're going to enforce (always adhering
to the Principles of Community-Oriented Enforcement, of course).  Together,
we are a vocal, but significant, minority of Linux contributors and users.

There's another vocal and significant minority of Linux contributors and
users who oppose GPL enforcement.  Greg, I wouldn't have pegged you for being
in that camp until this thread, but it seems that you now are. :)

Both of these minorities should have their voices heard, and we should
discuss and debate issues together.  Furthermore, both groups should
encourage the silent majority to share their views -- which might bring us
entirely new ideas that neither side has hitherto considered.

As others have pointed out, that silent majority may not want to discuss
complex licensing policy topics in public email discussions for various
reasons.  IIUC, the KS is designed as a venue for discussion of any issue
important to Linux that's difficult to discuss by email and online fora.

So, what baffles me, Greg, is not that you and I are on different sides of
this debate, but that your position appears to be that the issue should
simply not be discussed at the KS.  Frankly, seeing the diversity of views on
this thread has made me even more eager to sit down in a room to figure out
how and why our positions seem so far apart.  I'd like to learn from you,
Greg, what caused you to change your position so much in recent years,
because I respect your opinions and I know you understand these issues
very well.  (You've certainly given me some clever ideas about GPL
enforcement over the years that I've utilized to good effect.)  I'd like that
conversation to occur in a room with other smart, thoughtful Linux developers
in real time so we can all learn from each other.  The KS seems a perfect fit.

As to this side-thread about risk of "being in a room where such things are
discussed", obviously it's probably not a bad idea to talk to one's
employer's legal department before deciding to *speak up* in a session about
GPL enforcement.  And, I suppose there are a very few hyper-conservative
legal departments that would raise alarm bells even if an employee silently
attended such a session.  (I doubt that the latter is common, though.)
Anyway, if there there's even a glimmer of a concern, there's currently
plenty of time for those who need to double-check with their management/legal
department to see if there's a ban on attending conference sessions that
discuss GPL enforcement.

Linux developers are a smart bunch, thus I don't think they need more
instruction than what's already been said on this thread to determine the
risk level to their livelihoods.  I thus don't see any reason that a session
at the KS on GPL enforcement would require different preauthorization than
many other sessions (e.g., such as one on UEFI or handling wireless spectrum,
which both also have many complex policy, legal, and licensing concerns for
many employers in the software industry).

As to Ted's point about the purported vagueness of the proposal, Karen gave a
clear list of things that occurred this year, all of which are public, that
we from Conservancy will bring up for discussion at the session.  Obviously
other ideas are welcome, but I can't imagine there are any issues to discuss
that aren't already mostly public by now -- Karen and I have certainly
succeeded a lot this year in removing excessive industry secrecy around
various issues (such as McHardy's enforcement actions).  If it helps to
know this too: neither Karen nor I plan to name any violators who have
not already been publicly named as violators before the session.  Indeed,
I don't expect to say anything I wouldn't say in a regular public talk.
Bradley M. Kuhn
Distinguished Technologist of Software Freedom Conservancy
Become a Conservancy Supporter today: https://sfconservancy.org/supporter

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