Some companies still struggle with Open Source software violations

Slow and Steady

Article from Issue 175/2015
Author(s):

"maddog" explains that the seemingly clear concept of Free and Open Source Software is not so clear to all involved, and that education takes time.

I have been programming since 1969 – more than 46 years. The GNU project started in 1984, more than 30 years ago, and I first saw Linux in May 1994, more than 21 years ago. For a large portion of that time I have been using and talking about Open Source in various forms.

Sometimes this work is exasperating. Issues that seem so clear and obvious to me (especially because I have seen others successfully implement what I have been talking about) still seem to stymie people I meet.

Recently, I was at an embedded systems conference and was happy to see some discussion about Free and Open Source Software. Some vendors were actively talking about projects like Coreboot, using Free Software, and the advantages that they see in it. It was gratifying to hear some of the same arguments that FOSS people have been making for years being taken as a matter of fact by these business people.

That was the good news, and it is why during the past five years I have been moving from telling people WHY they should be using FOSS to HOW they can use FOSS in their own business.

The bad news is that I still run into people who have "heard of Free Software" but have not internalized the benefits of it or understood how FOSS can help them in their business.

Some of these people are relatively new to the business of creating software and have mostly used software under a closed source model. They have not investigated the business models available to them under FOSS – or at least not in a systematic way.

Granted, sometimes the business models are complex. I think one of the most complex is the "dual licensing" model and what that really means to the creators of the code, the distributors of the code, and the end users. I have finally gotten down the explanation of why dual-licensing exists, how it works, and what it means so that I can describe it in a relatively short time, if you ask.

Over the years, various companies have refused to open their source code. Until they start to mix their code with GPL or some other Open Source code, they are (for the most part) okay. Often, however, it takes a long time for these companies to understand and embrace FOSS – even longer if their culture does not embrace the concept of collaboration. Again, that is the bad news. On the other hand, once they really start to experience it and start to develop using the FOSS model, most companies catch on rather quickly. Even companies that have been the most stubborn and anti-FOSS tend to come around and be good partners, with a little patience.

We, the Free Software Community, see these issues as crystal clear. The company that is violating the license of the code they are using might not see those issues as clearly; even if they do, they will need time to work the issue up through management, through their legal staff, and back down again to the engineers and others who actually can solve the problem. In other good news, I do see strong, steady progress toward these companies becoming good FOSS citizens.

Some readers may be aware of the levels of software piracy around the world. Whether you agree with the concept of intellectual property or whether you believe that people should be able to charge money for the software itself, the levels of software piracy are highest in Asian countries. This situation may be driven both by the difference in real income levels – making the prices we pay for DVDs and CDs unaffordable – and by a philosophy that says, "piracy is OK."

Currently, some companies in the Asia/Pacific region (in particular) have violated the GPL. These violations have been going on for a while, and many people in the Free Software community are rightfully upset that they have taken so long to fix. However, Linaro and the Software Freedom Law Center are working with some of these companies to help them understand their responsibilities and to provide some training in how FOSS works, why upstreaming changes to code is good, and how the different business models work. Further work is needed to help these companies understand that "Free Software" still requires you to obey a license, even if you do not pay any money for the software. The bad news is that this process is going slower than we would like. The good news is that the companies we are talking with now understand and are putting the methods in place to correct the issues.

It is a process that continues to be necessary; we cannot give up. Carpe Diem!

The Author

Jon "maddog" Hall is an author, educator, computer scientist, and free software pioneer who has been a passionate advocate for Linux since 1994 when he first met Linus Torvalds and facilitated the port of Linux to a 64-bit system. He serves as president of Linux International®.

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