Thread: GPL violation?
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Old 04-23-2008, 12:01 PM   #150
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
The point is that the GPL requires Bookeen to release the Linux source code (never mind the fact that it's bugger all use to anyone!) and they cannot do so because Netronix (the hardware manufacturer) won't give it to them.

It would be interesting to speculate what, if any, "punishment" a court would impose for this transgression, given that it's a civil (not a criminal) offence, and fines in civil cases generally reflect actual financial loss suffered by the copyright holder. In this case, of course, the copyright holder hasn't suffered any financial loss at all (because it's "free" software) and nor has anyone suffered any material loss through not being able to get hold of the source code.

One might ask "does it really matter"?
This is a misunderstanding of the "free" in Free Software. But I can answer this in several points.

The first punishment a court would impose is a preliminary injunction banning distribution of the copyrighted materials, since nothing but the GPL gives Bookeen the right to distribute the software, and they are not abiding by the terms of the GPL. (This has happened in other cases of GPL violations.)

The idea that there is no financial loss is beside the point, since the purpose of "copyleft" Free Software licenses such as the GPL is that you "pay for" your right to distribute the software by granting all the freedoms you received with the software to all the users you distribute it to. (i.e. The freedoms to use, study, modify and redistribute the code.)

If they didn't receive all the freedoms from Netronix (as seems to be the case here) they still don't have the right to restrict downstream users. If they cannot both distribute the software and abide by the terms of the GPL, they must simply stop distributing the software.

The "bugger all use" argument is also flawed. As someone else mentioned, GPL v3 does fix this kind of problem by ensuring that any modified code is usable on the device it is intended for (removing the TiVo loophole). But even with GPL v2, the legal onus is on all distributors to provide source code, if requested, to anyone who receives the binaries. Even if it's not directly usable, it would be useful to study for anyone producing a free firmware for the CyBook, or working on other devices. The freedom to study GPL'd source code that you receive (to see what it's doing and how it's done) is one of the 4 freedoms I mentioned before.
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