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

Linus Torvalds torvalds at linux-foundation.org
Fri Aug 26 02:46:01 UTC 2016

[ So I was pointed to this discussion and Greg's answer in particular,
but I'm not on the ksummit-discuss mailing list so keep me cc'd if you
want to reply to me ]

I'm going to quote Greg's email in its entirety, because it is a thing
of beauty.

On Fri, Aug 25, at 5:59:14 PM PDT, Greg KH wrote:
> On Wed, Aug 24, 2016 at 09:06:19PM -0700, Bradley M. Kuhn wrote:
> > 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.
> I call bullshit on this.

Can I just pipe up and say "Amen!"

In fact, let me say that I actually think we *should* talk about GPL
enforcement at the kernel summit, because I think it's an important
issue, but we should talk about it the way we talk about other issues:
among kernel developers. No lawyers present unless they are in the
capacity of a developer and maintainer of actual code, and in
particular, absolutely not the Software Freedom Conservancy.

I personally think this arguing for lawyering has become a nasty
festering disease, and the SFC and Bradley Kuhn has been the Typhoid
Mary spreading the disease.

The most shining moment for the SFC - hey, it's the lead-in on the
wikipedia page - was the GPL compliance enforcement for BusyBox.

And let us not kid ourselves. That may be the shining moment for SFC,
but it was *not* a shining moment for BusyBox.

I'm not aware of anybody but the lawyers and crazy people that were
happy about how the BusyBox situation ended up. Please pipe up if you
actually know differently. All it resulted in was a huge amount of
bickering, and both individual and commercial developers and users
fleeing in droves. Botht he original maintainer and the maintainer
that started the lawsuits ended up publicly saying it was a disaster.

So I think the whole GPL enforcement issue is absolutely something
that should be discussed, but it should be discussed with the working

 "Lawyers: poisonous to openness, poisonous to community, poisonous to

> And frankly, I'm tired of hearing it, as it's completely incorrect and
> trivializes the effort that thousands of people have been doing for 25+
> years to preserve the rights that the GPL grants us.


Let's just be honest and very clear for a moment. I realize that that
is hard when talking about legal issues, but let's just cut through
all the bullshit and try.

The fact is, the people who have created open source and made it a
success have been the developers doing work - and the companies that
we could get involved by showing that we are not all insane crazy
people like the FSF.

The people who have *destroyed* projects have been lawyers that
claimed to be out to "save" those projects.

So let's just make this very very obvious: when Bradley Kuhn says "we
can all decide to give up on the GPL, or we can enforce it in Courts",
we should look at actual history, and learn from it.

Because Bradley Kuhn is so incredibly full of shit that this *needs*
to be stated openly.

Let's be clear about this: lawsuits destroy. They don't "protect".

Lawsuits destroy community. They destroy trust. They would destroy all
the goodwill we've built up over the years by being nice.

> > 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. :)
> I have NEVER said I oppose "GPL enforcement", I will say that I oppose
> the way that _you_ approach this task.
> And here is why.
> I too have had people say to my face, numerous times, "you think that we
> have to follow the GPL?  Ok, then take us to Court.  We won't comply
> otherwise."  And guess what, no one took anyone to court, and every
> single time, I ended up with the code[1].
> As you well know, when you take legal action against someone, you have
> to be prepared to lose, and accept the consequences of that loss.
> Frankly, I am not prepared to lose, and there is no way in hell that I
> am willing to accept the consequences of such a loss.

There's another side to this issue, which people seem to be ignoring.
Yes, not only is there the risk of loss (I've talked to Karen about
this, and am shocked every time she says "but we need to resolve
things one way or the other". Hell no. We're doing really well without
any resolution at all, thank you).

But quite apart from the risk of loss in a court, there real risk is
something that happens whether you win or lose, and in fact whether
you go to court or just threaten: the loss of community, and in
particular exactly the kind of community that can (and does) help. You
lose your friends.

Because lawsuits - and even threats of lawsuits - makes companies way
less likely to see you as a good guy. Even when you're threatening
somebody else, everybody else around the target starts getting really
really antsy.

I talked to an Oracle lawyer a few months ago, and told him their
lawsuit just makes Oracle look bad. The lawyer was dismissive, and
tried to explain how it's silly how people take lawsuits personally,
and talked about how layers _understand_ that lawsuits aren't
personal, and that they are still friends outside the court.

I'm sure a lawyer can "understand" how lawsuits aren't actually
something personal at all, but lawyers really seem to be the *only*
people who "understand" that.

The fact is, lawsuits (and threats of lawsuits) do not make for
friends. You just look like a bully.

I will just quote the rest of Greg's email, because I think it is *so*
on point that I definitely couldn't have said it better myself, and
the only thing I can do is say "Bravo!" and say how strongly I believe
that Greg is right. I'll just say things even more outright: I believe
the SFLC (and now SFC) approach is poison.

Let's talk about this at the kernel summit by all means.

Let's talk about the lies spread by Bradley Kuhn, and about the
projects where the SFLC and SFC killed them and salted the earth with
their "help".


--- rest of Greg's email left quoted because it needs to be read twice --

> You have told me yourself that you are willing to take that risk, and I
> have told you that I am not.  I want Linux to succeed, I think it's the
> right way to develop a software project, it's personally immensely
> satisfying work, and the benefits it brings to millions of people
> allowing them to create and control their lives is invaluable.
> I've spent the last decade of my life working to support, grow, and
> enhance our community.  And corporations are a _huge_ part of our
> community, and frankly, the only reason we are where we are today.  We
> _have_ to work to bring more companies and their developers into our
> group, never working to purposefully alienate anyone.
> Here's what happens when you threaten legal action against a company:
>         - they instantly stop talking to any "external" developer that
>           might have been working with them to figure this community and
>           license thing out.  So much for our "back channel" to them
>           that was slowing starting to pay off.
>         - they bring in more lawyers, and react defensively to protect
>           themselves, as that's what they have to do to preserve the
>           company.
>         - Anyone in the company that pushed to use Linux is now seen as
>           "wrong" and instantly is pissed off that external people just
>           messed up their employment future.
>         - Anyone in the company that resisted the use of Linux (possibly
>           in ways that caused the code not to be released over the
>           objection of the previously mentioned people) are vindicated
>           in their opinion of those "hippy"[2] programmers who develop
>           Linux.
>         - The lawyers know that now that you are willing to accept that
>           loosing is an option, and will do everything in their
>           capability to ensure that it happens (drag it out, annoy the
>           hell out of developers by disposing them, burn your money in
>           whatever way they can, etc.)
> Now, even if, after many years of work on your part, you do get that
> code, what is the end result?  You have made an enemy for life from the
> people who brought Linux into the company, you have pissed off the
> people who didn't like Linux in the first place as they were right and
> yet you "defeated" them.  Both of those groups of people will now work
> together to never use Linux again as they don't want to go through that
> hell again, no matter what.
> And look, we have a case study of this, BusyBox.  That's exactly what
> happened numerous times.  Some of those people/companies you upset had
> enough resources to create a competing project to replace it and ensure
> that they never have to deal with that mess again.
> And yes, you are "vindicated", but at what cost?  You have the code,
> it's useless as it's old, obsolete, not mergable, and oops, your
> development community is now dead and the project is obsolete.
> So, turn it around, and look at how _we_ have been doing enforcement in
> the Linux community for the past 25 years.
> We do it quietly, working with companies, from within, convincing them
> that yes, this license that seems so strange and crazy is really worth
> following, not only because it is the law (companies ignore the law all
> the time, it's called risk management), but because it turns out it is
> the right thing to do from a business point of view.  It's cheaper to do
> so, the benefit is huge, and the return on investment is immense when
> they join together to work with us, instead of off in their own bubble.
> By doing this, the people that pushed for Linux in their company are
> vindicated and love you more, some of the naysayers are convinced,
> slowly, of the real truth here, and boom, you now have grown and
> strengthened your community and the feedback loop continues.
> Now back to one of those companies that told me to my face I was going
> to have to sue them.  I just reviewed a major patch set from that
> company a few weeks ago[3]  Would that have worked if I had taken legal
> action against them?  No way!  They are now a part of our community and
> helping to make it succeed as their company relies on it.[4]  It took
> many many years of work, but it happened.
> So, by working with people, and showing them the BENEFIT of the GPL,
> we grow our community, ensure our survival, and win converts to the
> license itself as now those people have a stake in it as their company
> relies on it.
> A very smart senior kernel developer once told me over drinks in a bar
> in Germany many years ago, something along the lines of "A foolish man
> bangs on the outside trying to change a company, a wise and cunning man
> works from within the company, changing it from inside such that it
> never knew what happened."
> And look, that's _exactly_ what we have done.  Us "punks" have grown up,
> changed companies from within in ways that no one had ever imagined was
> possible, and now hold major influence within them, if not total control
> in some instances!  Look at the success of Linux, we took over the
> world, by working from the bottom up, embracing and taking over all
> possible industries in ways that has never been done before.
> And we did it all by not suing anyone, as some of us know that's the
> quickest way to piss businesses off and make enemies.[5]
> Now you are in a problem here.  Being the representative of a number of
> copyright holders, you only can use a legal approach in order to try to
> get companies to comply.  All you have is a threat of litigation, which
> clouds the viewpoint you are coming from (as is evident in your original
> statement above about "enforce or give up".)
> But me, and hundreds like me, who are the developers of the code, and
> the people with the most at stake in the project, have more tools at our
> disposal in order to achieve the goal of getting the code created by
> companies, and bringing them into "the fold."  Bringing a developer in
> to talk to people, and work with people, and discussing things
> face-to-face, without any lawyers involved, is a incredibly powerful
> force. Yeah, it's not flashy or public, it's slow, a grind, frustrating,
> thankless, and burns airline miles like crazy.
> But it's working.  And has worked.  So to dismiss the way a large number
> of us have been doing this for decades as "not working" is personally
> hurtful, and totally short-sighted.  I feel we have the proof that this
> _does_ work based on the success of Linux.
> Remember, "carrot vs. stick", "honey vs. vinegar", and the like.  Maybe
> it's just me and my "attachment parenting" model of approaching the
> world, but I honestly think that it's better to be nice to people than
> to piss them off, if you wish to have them join you in your goals.
> Another proof point, look at Microsoft and the BSA.  How many companies
> did they piss of when they went in with lawyers to enforce their
> licenses?  Wasn't it Fender Guitar that flat out refuses to ever use
> anything from Microsoft again because of that?  We don't ever want to be
> accused of acting like that to any company.
> And yes, I know you work with companies before resorting to legal
> action.  But it's not the developers of the project working with the
> company, it's their representative, a VERY big difference, as is seen by
> how it has worked out with Busybox.
> This has gotten way off topic, sorry, but I felt I had to set the record
> straight of being accused of not working on, or wanting to, enforce the
> license of the project I have spent decades working on, that I feel is
> one of the main reasons it has succeeded.
> As you like to quote Linus, I will too, "once the lawyers are involved,
> you have lost".
> And you can quote me, "I do not want to lose."
> So, back on topic, I think that the kernel summit should be left to
> technical issues, as well as development issues (how maintainers work,
> how releases happen, if we will finally turn off bugzilla, etc.)  Let's
> keep the legal, and political, things out of it, in my opinion that
> doesn't belong there.
> Especially as I don't want to have to have my lawyer present in order
> for me to be able to attend :)
> thanks,
> greg k-h
> [1] It always, without fail, totally sucked.
> [2] Personally I prefer being called a "punk", as that's much more
>     accurate as to where the majority of us came from, yourself
>     included.
> [3] It still sucked, they haven't learned much, but they are trying and
>     willing to learn.
> [4] I want to resist the analogy of a drug pusher "first hit is free!",
>     so I'll bury it here in a footnote.
> [5] Till and Harald did take people to court, and it was good, but the
>     issues there were much different than what you are proposing, and
>     the stakes were much lower.

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