Monday, March 17, 2008

The GPL as IP Protection Tool

Via 451 CAOS Theory, just learned that the Software Freedom Law Center settled its GPL infringement suit with Verizon. I’ll leave the details of the case as an exercise for the reader, but it basically involves a company not adhering to the terms of the GPL.

As Jay Lyman of The 451 Group notes, this result is hardly a surprise:

…the GPL is not some exotic, first-of-its kind license, document or legal doctrine. Actually, it is based largely on U.S. copyright law, particularly in the case of GPLv2, which is the BusyBox license. It amazes me that some people think the GPL will be refuted, defeated or ‘thrown out of court.’ That would mean ‘throwing out’ U.S. copyright law, and I don’t see that happening, ever.

It amazes me how much misunderstanding of the GPL still exists. No, the GPL does not cede your intellectual property to the public domain - as a matter of fact, it does a pretty good job of protecting it. In fact, the GPL is a pretty good compromise between granting rights to all parties and protecting IP. This case is another demonstration of that. Verizon knew they couldn’t win, so they settled. Makes sense to me.

There’s a reason we chose the GPL v2 when releasing Hyperic HQ under an Open Source license. As Eben Moglen himself has been known to say, It’s Good Not To Be Your Competitor’s Free Lunch.

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