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back to article Skype violates open source licence

Skype has been convicted of violating the open source GPL (General Public License) by a regional court in Munich. However, it is not its popular peer-to-peer VoIP software that was addressed in court, but a VoiP phone from SMS Networks that the firm sells on its website. The phone uses the Linux kernel, but Skype failed to …

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Anonymous Coward

What a waste of time...

The word "purist" is completely appropriate here, as would be the phrases "blinkered idiot" and "giving open source a bad name".

Why, exactly, wasn't the URL to the source code good enough?

Is there any scenario where someone would want the source code of a VOIP phone's software, but is unable to obtain it through the internet?

If someone who wanted the source code didn't have internet access, what are they doing ordering a VOIP phone in the first place?

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Correction - SMC

I believe the article means SMC. The Skype WIFI Phone uses Linux as it's baseline. The phone is the same model as Belkin and Netgears' offering. Therefore all 3 maybe in trouble.

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Anonymous Coward

Users will certainly be delighted

Some people seem to be determined to make open source software as exclusive and unusable by non-enthusiasts as possible. I bet phone buyers will be delighted to find the source code enclosed with their phone. A 6pt printout will probably satisfy GPL?

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Mo

Internet distribution

"Why, exactly, wasn't the URL to the source code good enough?

Is there any scenario where someone would want the source code of a VOIP phone's software, but is unable to obtain it through the internet?"

Because the license agreement—which they must abide by in order to use the software—was written before Internet access was widespread.

It may very well be a less than ideal requirement, though it's not hugely unreasonable, but if they don't like it they're free not to use GPL'd software in their products.

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Silver badge

Errr am i missing something?

I maybe wrong, but if these people are so up on open source, maybe they should notice that Skype uses as proprietary protocol, instead of an open one such a SIP?

So maybe many of these bleaters don't actually want "Open", but want "Free".

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Change the license then

As far as I can see, skype are guilty of not adhering to the license for the operating system used in the phone, and should pay the penalty that the court decides. You and I cannot complain about this.. GPL is a contract and you are bound by it.

The outrageous part that I see in this case is not whether it's wrong for skype to be taken to court, but that the GPL doesn't allow for inclusion of a URL. In a modern internet world, surely it's good enough? After all, some service providers in the UK provide their terms only via websites (sorry, I can't qualify that with a precise example). it would be a huge waste of resources to include an extra CD or Treeware with every piece of linux hardware.

Of course, the phone should have come with some drivers / manuals / integration software, and the source won't take all that disc. It takes as long to press a full CD as a half empty one.

I hope the court's recompense will be along the lines of contacting everyone and telling them they can phone up to have a source CD delivered alongside. And what's the betting they provide it on a blu-ray just to irritate the court :)

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GPL less than stellar

This seems more of a demonstration of why the GPL is a sometimes barrier to code re-use instead of an enabler. IIRC a CD of the machine-readable source with each phone would satisfy the GPL but would be an additional cost to the manufacturer. Whether this, coupled with the cost of the lawsuit, would be enough to make the manufacturer implement proprietary code or even use a BSD kernel I have no idea.

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Get a grip, Skype

They could quite easily under the GPL: have tasked someone to burn a tarball to a CD and post it out to the guy, charging him €10 for the trouble ... nice little earner !

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Anonymous Coward

URLs are a last resort

Sites get re-arranged regularly, especially sites for technology gaget companies. A printed URL would be lucky to last a year without breaking.

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On what other basis are they licensed to use this software ?

Um I'm not sure why someone enforcing entirely reasonable copyleft licensing terms against a company that thinks it is above the law has suddenly become a fundamentalist, whereas a corporate lawyer enforcing a proprietary license is merely acting as obliged to do so by duty to shareholders. If some user for whatever reason wants the distributor to carry out the letter as well as the spirit of the license agreement, then if the distributor doesn't intend carrying out their side of it they really shouldn't be distributing this software at all.

If copyleft rights are not actively enforced then exactly what is to prevent the source code ending up being embraced and extended in standards-breaking ways into entirely closed and proprietary systems? End users then don't have any right to see the modifications. This is exactly what occurred when Microsoft copied the TCP/IP stack from BSD Unix and Kerberos from MIT into Windows and modified and extended this code in deliberately obscure ways to lock customers into using other Microsoft products.

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GPL2 does NOT require source code to be supplied with product; just made available

The following statement in the article is incorrect: "The phone uses the Linux kernel, but Skype failed to also supply the source code, a prerequisite of GPLv2."

The GPL 2 does not require that source code be supplied with an application. Rather, it requires that the source code be made available. One easy way to comply with this is to supply the source code with an application. However, another way is to provide a written statement with the compiled software along the lines of "If you want a copy of the source code then write to use at <address>, enclosing <reasonable amount of money> and we will post the source code to you on <CD, tape or whatever>."

The GPL 2 was written long before ubiquitous Internet connections (never mind, broadband), which is why the GPL 2 did not consider it sufficient to provide a URL for the software to be downloaded. I *think* the GPL 3 has relaxed that restriction.

Regards,

Ciaran.

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GPL Zelots:

GROW UP!

How can you expect big business to use GPLed products if you try to sue the manufacturers of those products, when they have basically done nothing wrong?

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Anonymous Coward

Difference between letter and spirit

"As far as I can see, skype are guilty of not adhering to the license for the operating system used in the phone, and should pay the penalty that the court decides. You and I cannot complain about this.. GPL is a contract and you are bound by it."

If every action that broke the letter of the law in even the most minor way went to court, you would be seeing tens of millions of people fined or even jailed for breaking copyright on music, video and literature.

Yes, it was a breach of contract, but not in any meaningful way. No one was deprived of the source code by having to go to a URL. This was a breach of the letter of the law, but not the spririt of the law.

If this person who brought the case really wants to defend open source and/or linux, they should never have brought this case at all.

It's the equivalent of people who want to defend copyright trying to prosecute everyone who has ever photocopied a page from a book, or watched a pop video on youtube, or taped a song off the radio. Yes, these are all technically crimes, but prosecuting people for such minor transgressions is counterproductive, and will turn people against pro-copyright lobbies.

I'm not disputing the legal grounds for this case, I'm disputing the sanity of bringing the case to court.

In practical terms this prosecution does nothing but harm to the reputation of open source and linux, two things which this case was supposedly defending. It will put companies off using open source.

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Anonymous Coward

Re : additional cost

"IIRC a CD of the machine-readable source with each phone would satisfy the GPL but would be an additional cost to the manufacturer."

... regardless of arguments over the benefit of a CD over a URL, the fact is that distributing a CD with the source code would not be a significant extra cost relative to the cost of the phone. In fact you're talking pence. Using that O/S on their phone saved them more than that.

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Anonymous Coward

what a pile of #$%^!

provide the sourcecode ok. Acording to the GPL. and thats still ok for me .

But then the question arises : in what format ?

did you want CD, blu-ray, dvd, DLT tape, QIC80 tape, 9600bpi tape, discpacks, 3 1/2 inch floppy, 5 1/4 inch floppy, 3 inch floppy, 8 inch floppy, paper tape or do you want it printed out on processed rainforest just in case your archaic computer system cannot read any of the other media types or storage formats and you want to type it in by hand....

And lastly do you want it in CR or CR/LF format , just in case your loonix machine cant handle a simple line feed ?

what a sour kraut ...

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Re: Change the license then

"The outrageous part that I see in this case is not whether it's wrong for skype to be taken to court, but that the GPL doesn't allow for inclusion of a URL. In a modern internet world, surely it's good enough? "

I'm believe (although I may be wrong) that GPL v3 allows for source code to be put on a web server, so they *have* changed the license, but that doesn't help if the product in question was distributed with GPL v2.

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Missing the point

Most of the previous commenters have missed the point. Skype were free to use, or not use, the GPL.

They chose to use it. Consequently they got the code free of charge. However they were bound to distribute the source with the application. This is still cheaper than paying for code.

The relevant section of GPL v2, which is probably what applies here,states:

3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

Anybody buying closed source software is usually bound by an onerous licence. Why should the GPL attract such negative comments? Are people expecting a totally free lunch?

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Anonymous Coward

Yes Stu, you're missing everything, including the point, the story, and the facts.

" I maybe wrong, but if these people are so up on open source, maybe they should notice that Skype uses as proprietary protocol, instead of an open one such a SIP? "

Yes, you are wrong. Completely and utterly. So wrong, in fact, that you obviously didn't actually *read* the article before coming to the comment page to render your worthless uninformed opinion.

Now, read the article again, and this time, try and pay attention to the bit where it's got absolutely NOTHING to do with Skype's online protocol at all. It's all about a phone handset they sell that contains the Linux kernel.

*headdesk*

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The real dilemma

While GPLicencing is nice, the necessary evil is to get the lawyers involved before, during and after the release of said licence. As free wheeling and informal as the Open source movement tries to be as an alternative, it's the same thing we already have elsewhere, only different.

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Also

Has anyone heard of the term "Open Source Ambulance Chaser" yet?

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What, exactly, is the violation here?

If you want to produce copies of some work, you need permission from the copyright holder. In the case of GPL'd work, the GPL represents that permission.

Whether Skype were violating copyright law depends on whether or not they were actually copying anything. If they were merely selling phones they bought from the manufacturer, then copyright doesn't come into it and they don't need permission from the copyright holder. In that case, they're *not* bound by the GPL, although the manufacturer is.

On the other hand, if Skype were customising the manufacturers phones with their own GPL-derived software, then they would need permission for that, and they *would* be bound by the GPL.

Seems to me that the first scenario is the case here, so I'm not sure what Skype did wrong.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Zealots

> How can you expect big business to use GPLed products

They don't, and we won't.

My company regularly does scans of their IP for GPL "infections." It probably costs more to scan for it than the damages would be if we used it and got caught.

GPL was developed as a weapon against proprietary closed software. When you aim a weapon at someone, don't expect them to be your friend.

However, that's basically beside the point. I don't think anyone wanted GPL software to help companies like Microsoft and Adobe. It was designed to help people stand up to these behemoths, which is something with which I can actually sympathize.

I won't use GPL software in my commercial development though.

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Completely unnecessary tone

There really is no need to paint one lone guy out to be some kind of freak for simply trying to make sure that large global commercial enterprises making $$$ from software they got for free keep their (very minimal) side of the bargain.

This really isn't a big deal. Stick a tarball on the driver CD (there was one, right? Every flipping trivial piece of hardware comes with a totally unnecessary "driver" CD these days) and everyone's happy. URLs are not ideal because we all know about URL rot - the URL would be lucky to last a month on many sites, which does materially affect the potential for source code availability (especially since most people probably won't be rushing out to download the kernel source code to their phone so there may be only a few copies floating around). And after all, the manufacturers only had to include a postal address and offer to send a CD to meet the requirement. Really not that much to ask!

I see however that the article did bring out the rabid "Those Crazy GPL Commies Don't Want Us To Use Their Stuff For Profit So It Must Be Rubbish And They Are Obviously Not Living In The Real World" MS apologiser brigade, which was amusing given that the article was talking about "fundamentalism".

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A URL may become invalid

Internet distribution was thought of when the GPL 2 was written, the reason that it is only allowed when the product is distributed via the internet is because there is no guarantee that the URL will allways be valid, and that the data at the end will always be the same. The latest GPL licence that was finalised last month contains the same provisions. Both version of GPL has been very carefully thought out, and all the clauses in it are there for a reason. If Skype did not intend to follow the rules they where free to use other technology.

If Skype wanted to save the cost of pressing a CD, they could have put an offer on that flyer for a free CD to be posted to anyone who asked for one. As hardly anyone will ask for one the cost to them would have been negligible.

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Anonymous Coward

Badge engineering does not make the contracts go away

"If they were merely selling phones they bought from the manufacturer, then copyright doesn't come into it and they don't need permission from the copyright holder."

Dodgy ground, needs careful consideration. Consider the following real life experience and then see if it relates to Skype's circumstances.

Telco X doesn't make its own DSL modem/routers but has someone else design and make them, and then Telco X puts its own name and its own badges on them. Telco X forgets to provide access to (note: access to, not necessarily a copy of) the relevant open source bits and bobs as required by GPL, even though a different vendor's near-identical router (with different badge and marginally different firmware) does provide access to them. Telco X's legal department are contacted by a customer who wants the licence obligations fulfilled. Telco X's legal dept say "it's a fair cop guv, we do try to take these things seriously but we missed out on this one, we'll fix it", and in due course the bits are available on request. Because the GPL requires them to be, and because Telco X are the responsible party (even though it's not their design or manufacture, it's their product).

On the other hand you might not expect Argos to get into big trouble for selling Telco X's DSL kit just because Telco X hadn't fulfilled their part of the GPL contract. Or would you?

Are Skype the designer, manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, or what? Does it make any difference?

Discuss.

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Bronze badge

GPL violations - read the website

I'm sure this is tiresome for all the people that think this is about Linux zealotry, but it's much simpler than that. It's about preserving legal rights.

I believe the plantiff only asks for his costs and rectification of the defect, or possible something nominal as part of the procees of ensuring GPL is enforcable such.

GPL is a licence - it has been said that the licence isn't enforceable - by the usual suspects, of course. Also the GPL had not been tested in a Court of law. But as it is a licence you have to enforce the terms or risk getting them modified as an unintended consequence result of not enforcing them. And now there are a few test cases out there confirming the validity of V2.

V3 was introduced because a clever dicky saw a way of using patents to annex or contain the GPL.

Regardless of whether Company X is a good guy or a bad guy, if they get away with something then Company Y is getting signals about how it can behave.

BTW, try violating a proprietary licence in public. I expect all that happens that you get sued to within a penny of every thing you own plus punitive damages plus a prison term.

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Anonymous Coward

No they can't

"They could quite easily under the GPL: have tasked someone to burn a tarball to a CD and post it out to the guy, charging him €10 for the trouble ... nice little earner !"

It's always interesting to hear all the comments from people who are totally un/misinformed about the GPL and what it does. The above comment is just one example and the poor author should not take offense to being singled out. Most of the other comments rabidly opposing the GPL fall into the same category.

Those of us who know the GPL and how it works truly feel sorry for those of you who feel so threatened when someone wants to share something with you. It's truly sad that you must make such venomous attacks on the GPL or in this case on it's enforcement. Well I'm sure some of us feel sorry for you, others just regard you as idiots.

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Anonymous Coward

> It's a liscence, not a weapon.

That has to be one of the funniest things I've read in a long time.

You must not live in the US, where lawyers need to be registered as weapons of mass deception.

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FAO Fraser

Hi Fraser, et al.

Ok here's a breakdown. If I write some code, then release it under a licence (which I'm nice enough not to charge you for), you can use it within the terms of that licence.

If that makes me a zealot, I guess MS and all the big software houses are too, since they seem to think licence compliance is important too.

How do I expect big business to use GPL software? Who knows, the same way I expect them to use anything else they have access to the source code for, namely however they like within the licence they have.

If a big business is making 2% less profit because of my licensing decision, I'm not about to lose any sleep over it. If they decide it's cheaper to pay for some proprietary software (which they probably either can't customise, or would have to pay a third party to do so) instead, that's their decision. If they DO want to use my software, sure no probs, just comply with the licence.

So, bottom line, big business is probably more interested in open source than vice versa, and big business usually is very careful with regards to complying with software licensing terms. They just need to extend this thinking to open source.

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Silver badge

Terms

The terms of the license are actualy with regard to DISTRIBUTING the software. Therefore if you distribute a product, strictly you must make the source code available yourself.

This is a fine line, but adhering to the letter of the license Skype should have (at least) provided an address for people to write to for a copy of the source code. The reason for a physical address as opposed to a URL is because of the speed at which internet can change. Websites are redesigned at will, and the URLs all change.

It would have been far simpler to include the source on a CD, especialy as it probably came with some form of Driver or Documentation CD anyway. Even if it didnt, costs would be negligible.

And I will also say that if this was Microsoft complaining that a company had used one of their products against the license agreement, most people would have switched sides. For me, a license is a license, and no company should break that unless they are willing to be sued. In this case it appears to be an oversight, but they still violated it. Simple as.

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Problem solved

This is a problem with GPL2, since it requires you to ship the source in the same medium as the binary, so making source downloadable by internet doesn't work. I'd spotted the same issue with the Netgear ADSL Modem/Wireless Router thingys. Not worth complaining, as they are showing willing.

GPL3 does solve this problem though -- it wasn't all about patents.

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Anonymous Coward

Think first, rearrange later

"Sites get re-arranged regularly, especially sites for technology gaget companies."

That's nonsense. Well OK, its a true statement but its STUPID action, which amounts to the same thing.

If the URLs are properly thought out and the sites properly managed, then there is absolutely no reason why a permanent placeholder URL should not be assigned for any particular purpose, marked as "essential" and preserved for ever more to redirect to whatever page may be assigned to serve the content.

There's nothing worse than incompetent web sites such as Microsoft's continually and unnecessarily rearranging their content onto new URLs so that half the links are permanently broken.

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Anonymous Coward

Get the facts then moan you numpties!!!

To all those who just had to make some senseless comment how stupid it was:

The main issue was, that the manufacturer was warned about and he just added a leaflet with the URL for the GPL and the source code:

there two things wrong with it:

You were only able to read the license once you had opened the package (M$, Logitech and some others where done for the same thing years back), so you don't even have the possibility of looking at it, and secondly every CS software vendor expects, that their license is respected and will enforce it if necessary, so why shouldn't it be done with the GPL? the SC was just an added "bonus", and the Judge argued it in this way, because he wanted to ensure, that the source code provided was exactly corresponding to the the one on the phone, so there really wasn't anything wrong with that!

best regards from a Krautlaender!

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Bronze badge

Why label Weite a "purist" ?

It is just a question of respecting the rights of copyright holders. Would you call Microsoft a "purist" for going after distributors of pirated copies of MS Office? This is the same thing. GPL'ed software just has an unusual form of payment (and still way cheaper than MS require), that's all.

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Anonymous Coward

Simple solution

Skype just need to sue the manufacturer or wholesaler of the phone, who presumably broke the terms of the GPL when they offered them to Skype to sell. Then Skype can get their legal expenses back, lawyers can get richer, nobody loses anything, and the world rolls happily along.

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GPL2 vs GPL3

David Pottage wrote: "Internet distribution was thought of when the GPL 2 was written, the reason that it is only allowed when the product is distributed via the internet is because there is no guarantee that the URL will allways be valid, and that the data at the end will always be the same. The latest GPL licence that was finalised last month contains the same provisions."

No it doesn't. Read clause 6d. Getting things from a network server is allowed in GPL3, so the provisions are NOT the same as GPL2. You just have to make sure you keep it available (so non-vanishing URL is allowed, vanishing URL is forbidden).

Incidentally, am I correct in thinking that the reference to "6b" in clause 6c is a mistake, should be to "6c"? If I'm wrong, that's an enormous relaxation of conditions compared with GPL2 and the provisions of the two are even more different.

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