Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 15th Dec 2009 20:51 UTC
GNU, GPL, Open Source Yesterday, we reported that the Software Freedom Law Center had started a lawsuit against several companies who they claim violated the GPL. The subject of the violation was BusBox, and the SFLC claims it is operating on behalf of the authors of BusyBox. Original BusyBox author Bruce Perens, however, begs to differ.
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umccullough
Member since:
2006-01-26

Since I'm not entirely sure what the details are of this "Copyright replacement" scheme that Perens alludes to, I have to assume it goes something like this:

1) Find a module with an author we don't want any more
2) Rewrite said module, changing some percentage of the code
3) Remove previous author's name, replace with our own.

If this was done methodically, with the intention of removing the original author, that's just plain nasty.

It's one thing to rewrite a module to be cleaner code, more efficient, follow a better coding style, etc. - but to intentionally remove the previous author is of questionable ethic. The original author went through all the trouble of defining the behavior and logic, restating the same code with your own style/method doesn't make the original author's work any less important.

Note: I have no clue if this does/doesn't stand up in court, nor whether this is what actually took place - it's just my speculation.

Reply Score: 5

vivainio Member since:
2008-12-26

It's one thing to rewrite a module to be cleaner code, more efficient, follow a better coding style, etc. - but to intentionally remove the previous author is of questionable ethic. The original author went through all the trouble of defining the behavior and logic, restating the same code with your own style/method doesn't make the original author's work any less important.


Well, the new code will still be derived work of the old code, so the original author still retains the copyright.

Basically, Perens can appeal to common decency in this, but I don't think he has legal basis for his complaint (not does he insist on having one). He's just saying that the lawsuit in question is a dirty trick (but that's what lawsuits usually are).

OTOH, if the offending distributors of Busybox failed to get something as simple as GPL compliance done right (which is basically about providing a tarball of the code they used to compile the thing), I'm surprised they managed to deliver a device in the first place.

Reply Parent Score: 4

Praxis Member since:
2009-09-17


OTOH, if the offending distributors of Busybox failed to get something as simple as GPL compliance done right (which is basically about providing a tarball of the code they used to compile the thing), I'm surprised they managed to deliver a device in the first place.


I'm betting they thought that since it was embedded stuff, no one would bother to dig inside and check. Hopefully this will teach future companies that they will be found out, so just release the code, its painless enough if you do it right from the beginning.

Reply Parent Score: 3

JoeBuck Member since:
2006-01-11

No, Bruce is not claiming that the lawsuit is a dirty trick. His whole argument is that he thinks he is a copyright holder in the current BusyBox and the current developers say that he is not.

Reply Parent Score: 3

sakeniwefu Member since:
2008-02-26

If derived code is extended to mean code that was originally based on something someone once wrote even though it doesn't include any of the original code, then Wine, GNU, all the BSDs and even Linux are violating copyright.

Wine devs are in the best position as they can claim that they have not ever seen a line of Windows code(dubious as that would be) but their software is still obviously built after Windows and using windows as a reference.

As for others, all the original GNU and BSD devs had read and learnt from AT&T code as had Linus from Tanenbaum's. They also used that code as a base for their original systems linking to parts of it either directly or indirectly. The FSF claims that separate binaries are infringing too if they can only work with help from GPL code, so it should work the other way as well.

Basically if that reasoning were to be upheld in Court, most open source software would be infringing on someone's copyright.

Reply Parent Score: 3

sindhudweep Member since:
2009-12-16

Actually it seems that Bruce Perens doesn't seem to have any remaining code in BusyBox.

This is primarily because he hasn't contributed to the project since 1996 (over a decade ago).

See http://busybox.net/~landley/forensics.txt for the details of the analysis and the rationale.

Reply Parent Score: 3

cycoj Member since:
2007-11-04

Reading that document it seems to me like Rob Landley is a bit of a dickhead and really does not have much understanding about copyright. So the whole thing was started off when Rob wanted to relicense busybox under GPLv2 only, instead of GPLv2 or any later version which it was previously. Bruce Perens who wrote BusyBox originally but didn't contribute for a number of years but was still a copyright holder objected to this.
From the document:
"
...(despite being asked
to fork the project from any of the existing releases if he felt that strongly
about the issue, plus repeated assurance that existing releases remained under
the licenses they had already been released under, and a persistent failure
to explain how "GPLv2" wasn't a compatible subset of "GPLv2 or later").
"
I would say that this is very obvious. You can't release a new version of a GPL software under a more restrictive license than before "GPLv2 only" is clearly more restrictive than "GPLv2 or later" even if the original version remain GPLv2 or later they are still a derivative work and contain pieces with the original copyright. To say just fork is really smacking someone in the face, and I understand why Bruce got more confrontational about this (Rob states this).

Reply Parent Score: 1

chaslinux Member since:
2008-07-17

Bruce may not have contributed code since 1996 but that doesn't mean all his code was gone then. Bruce seems to be asserting that some of the devices in question use Busybox versions that contain code he wrote.

Reply Parent Score: 1