Richi Jennings

Microsoft disses GPLv3 (and rocketman Kirk)

July 12, 2007 2:52 AM EDT
This is Thursday's IT Blogwatch: in which Microsoft squirms out of GPLv3's clutches, perhaps. Not to mention William Shatner "singing" Rocket Man...

It all began, when Microsoft last week "clarified" its position on the GPLv3:
Microsoft is not a party to the GPLv3 license and none of its actions are to be misinterpreted as accepting status as a contracting party of GPLv3 or assuming any legal obligations under such license.

While there have been some claims that Microsoft’s distribution of certificates for Novell support services, under our interoperability collaboration with Novell, constitutes acceptance of the GPLv3 license, we do not believe that such claims have a valid legal basis under contract, intellectual property, or any other law ... Microsoft does not grant any implied or express patent rights under or as a result of GPLv3, and GPLv3 licensors have no authority to represent or bind Microsoft in any way.

At this point in time, in order to avoid any doubt or legal debate on this issue, Microsoft has decided that the Novell support certificates that we distribute to customers will not entitle the recipient to receive from Novell, or any other party, any subscription for support and updates relating to any code licensed under GPLv3. [read more]
Pamela Jones grokked that and posted this:
Now that Microsoft has declared itself untouched by any GPLv3 terms, everyone is trying to figure out if they have a leg to stand on ... First, "distribution" isn't the issue with GPLv3. That is a GPLv2 question, as I'll show you. GPLv3 talks about "propagating" and "conveying", not just distribution ... if you read the marketing agreement between Novell and Microsoft ... what one got with the vouchers ... included software, upgrades, and support. No wonder Microsoft decided to pull the plug before any GPLv3 software began to be made available. I just don't know if that is enough to save them, since the vouchers they already sold have no expiration date.
So now Microsoft has modified what you get with the vouchers, or tried to. Novell won't agree not to provide support for GPLv3 software, though, so that blunts the effectiveness of Microsoft's announcement ... Microsoft, by my analysis, still has to face what it will mean for them if even one such voucher is turned in after Novell begins to offer GPLv3 software ... Microsoft has in fact altered its behavior to try to avoid being impacted by GPLv3. So much for "we are not bound by GPLv3" ... Remember that Microsoft wasn't giving those vouchers away. It was selling them for a profit
Now tell me Microsoft, had they not run for the exit, wouldn't have been distributing software under GPLv3, let alone conveying or propagating. Puh lease ... I think after reading all this, you can see why the company decided to try to scrape the Novell vouchers off of its shoes like toilet paper stuck to the bottom. But with the vouchers having no expiration dates, I really wonder if what they have done is enough. So when I read Microsoft's statement that it isn't bound by GPLv3, I'd call it hopeful optimism. [read more]
Cory Doctorow explains:
Great post explaining just how badly Microsoft shot itself in the foot when it set up Novell to grant licenses to the patents that Linux supposedly infringes upon. The idea was that Novell would give these licenses to its Linux customers, creating a climate of fear in corporate Linux users, who would worry that Microsoft might sue them for patent infringement.

The new version of the GPL turns this tactic on its head. It says that if you give any of your customers a license to a patent that pertains to GPLed software, you have to offer all Linux users the same terms. Now that Novell is giving out free licenses for Microsoft's patent portfolio to its customers, with Microsoft's blessing, it means that all Linux users get a free license to all Microsoft patents that cover Linux!  [read more]
Dominic Humphries dives in: [That's enough ruffty-tuffty in-jokes -Ed.]
Oh come ON! It was bad enough when various columnists were doing it. But now even PJ herself has done it: Tried to prove that MS is now bound by the GPL v3 by quoting chapter and verse of the GPL v3. For crying out loud! Are people so desperate to see MS trapped by the GPL that they're willing to throw their brains out the window to convince themselves that it's happened??
Only if MS ... makes a legally-binding statement that they have accepted the terms of the GPL v3, do they become bound by its terms. Before that, they are under no onus to obey the terms, because they can claim to be illegally distributing pirate software.
That being the case, let's look at these vouchers. MS sells vouchers for Novell's SuSe Linux. The GPL v3 says that this is enough to qualify as putting you under the GPL's terms. But that's irrelevant. It's copyright law that will determine when the GPL is in force, not the GPL itself. If the GPL could decide when it applies, we could expect GPL v4 to say "By using any GPL'd software, ever, you agree to open source all code you posess" [read more]
Dana Gardner shrugs:
One side says the license binds, the other says it does not. Between any resolution sits months or years, perhaps millions of dollars, and hoards of what my son calls Lawbots on Toontown. Maybe we should just throw gags at the lawyers and they will blow up and go away?
The stakes could be quite high as this may escalate to a huge legal level … an industry wide event. Microsoft is no stranger to such long legal tussles, for sure ... In any event, Microsoft has achieved its near-term goals: Confuse the market and insert doubt about Linux and GPL usage, drag lawyers into every rack-mounted closet, increase the perceived risk of using open source code. Even if Microsoft has no legal footing (and I have no idea), they win on the perception clause.
Why? We can go from here only to more obfuscation and FUD ... Guess what Joe Procurement Officer at risk-averse Enterprise XYZ will say: “Play it safe. Wait. Pay Microsoft for Windows and pay Microsoft for Linux. Next.” [read more]
Jordan Ledoux wonders if it matters:
How could it possibly stop Microsoft from doing anything they do as long as no one has the money or the reason to take them to court over it and see it through completion. IBM is the only company I can think of that would really have both, and Microsoft isn't stupid enough to violate any of IBM's licenses, nor is it strategically positive for IBM to place themselve directly against Microsoft right now either.

Otherwise, who are we really expecting to take Microsoft to court? Novell? The Free Software Foundation? Please... Microsoft has been stalling the sum total of *Europe* for almost half a decade, if you think Novell or the FSF is going to force Microsoft to comply witht eh GPL you're delusional. [read more]
But Alioth counters:
No. The point of this isn't so that someone can sue Microsoft, it's so that Microsoft has a hard time suing free software users and firms over alleged patent violations. [read more]
And Xenographic adds:
Did everyone but me forget just how BROAD copyright law is? It covers loads of cr*p. Just like I can't sell warez vouchers for Joe'z Warez Sitez which happen to be hosted in a copyright-hostile country and claim no liability, you can't "procure the conveyance" of GPLv3 software as a license dodge any more. Yes, you COULD dodge like that under the GPLv2, but only because the GPLv2 said you didn't need permission for anything but distribution. But not any more, because the GPLv3 forbids it and copyright law says you need permission.

The rules have changed, folks. The GPLv3 is stronger, because it takes advantage of the ridiculously strong copyright laws that are so prevalent. But it really shouldn't matter much unless you ... planned to undermine people with weird software patent threats. [read more]
Buffer overflow:
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And finally... Shatman!
Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at