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DotNetNuke’s Scott Willhite says GPL compliance often requires legal counsel

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DotNetNuke’s Director of Community Relations posted an editorial on Tuesday saying, among other things, that the GNU General Public License (GPL) is riskier and not as free as the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license. I disagree with a number of his statements, but in particular this one:

Anyone who has been involved a lawsuit accusing infringement of any kind knows what kind of burden and disruption such a suit can place on a business… and it’s not good.  So if one license type is more susceptible to this kind of risk, that’s worth considering… right?

No license type is any more susceptible to legal risk than another. Only one’s compliance with their chosen license can lead to legal trouble.

9 thoughts on “DotNetNuke’s Scott Willhite says GPL compliance often requires legal counsel

    • DotNetNuke is by far the worst CMS I have ever worked with. And this pathetic attempt to compare themselves with WordPress is another in the line of desperate attempts to gain some new users.

  1. You make the point well, Ryan. Compliance is the entire point of the existence of a license. Complying with MIT(BSD) license (approximately 172 words) requires adherence to only one requirement, (paraphrase) “include this notice in any redistribution”, regardless of form. Complying with GPL requires adherence to something like 5,600 words in 17 contractual sections. The LGPL adds an additional 1,200 words in 6 more sections. I don’t think its unreasonable to suggest that compliance under BSD is somewhat less complex than under GPL/LGPL. If there are more terms of compliance, there are more vectors for failure to comply to be challenged. The math is pretty straightforward.

    • It’s always interesting to see BSD proponents vs. GPL proponents argue about fine points, but ultimately it’s irrelevant.

      See, neither license places any restrictions on the *use* of the product in question by end-users. If you want to use GPL software, you can, for any purpose. There are no restrictions on usage of any kind.

      Where it gets tricky is that the GPL requires the act of redistribution to have the person doing that to grant the same rights to the people being redistributed to. In other words, if you take my GPL’d code, modify it, and resell it to somebody else, then that modified code needs to be GPL’d too. You have to give people the same rights to the code that I gave you to use my code.

      With a BSD license, you don’t have to do that. You can take the code, modify it in any way, resell it, and not reciprocate those rights.

      Now, which is more “free” is a pointless argument, because it depends on your definition of “free”. See, people who think that their code itself has value favor the BSD license, because they think that their code is what gives them “competitive advantage”. While people who think that the value really lies in the providing of services prefer the GPL license, because everybody gains from sharing code freely and ensuring that that code is shared.

      Differing viewpoints, differing answers. However, to suggest that the GPL is legally riskier is rather stupid, Scott. It’s not legally riskier, you simply have to abide by the license. If you don’t want to pass these same rights on to the people who you’re selling your code to, then don’t use GPL’d code in your product.

      – Can you use GPL’d code? Yes, always.
      – Can you give GPL’d code (or modified versions thereof) to somebody else? Yes, as long as you grant them the same rights that the GPL grants you.

      That’s really very simple, and you don’t need a lawyer to understand the legal ramifications thereby. The only real legal problems occur when people use GPL’d code in their own products and then fail to live up to their end of the bargin by granting the same rights to those people who are receiving that code. And that’s a simple license violation. All you have to do to comply with the GPL is to grant your users the same rights that you enjoy from whoever else’s code you’re using. No fuss.

      • which is more “free” is a pointless argument, because it depends on your definition of “free”

        Great explanation Otto 🙂

        • I would venture to say that it is a good argument. Free is used in the context of what you can do. GPL is not free, GPL imposes lots of rules and regulations upon you. BSD/MIT only impose one or two rules upon you. Thereby GPL is less free than BSD/MIT. But perhaps he should have used freedom instead.
          If free was such a confusing concept Stalin Soviet could be described as “free” but who in their right mind would describe Stalin Soviet as “free”?

          People use GPL because they want to limit what people can do more than what they would be able to do with a BSD/MIT license.

  2. “If you don’t want to pass these same rights on to the people who you’re selling your code to, then don’t use GPL’d code in your product.”

    @Otto… Exactly! For many *users* the license consideration is entirely irrelevant. But when considering what platform on which to base investment in proprietary intellectual property or competitive advantage, you have to stop and consider the part you identified “where it gets tricky”. Sounds like we are in agreement after all.

    • Not really. I don’t see that as a legal decision, but as an ethical one. If you’re unwilling to share your code, then it’s not really right to use the code of others who are.

      For code I don’t care about, I’ve used BSD in the past. For code that I do care about and want to stay free, I use the GPLv2.

  3. No license type is any more susceptible to legal risk than another. Only one’s compliance with their chosen license can lead to legal trouble.

    Well obvisously. If you comply with license in every way or form etc then you have no problems. The issue the dude from DNN was referring to is the complying part and thats not easy as with other licenses.

    Given the amount of discussions and completly different interpretations on what the GPL v2 actually says with regards do static, dynamic linking, interpreted code, etc.

    Otto writes:

    It’s not legally riskier, you simply have to abide by the license.

    Which is in reality is rather difficult. 2-clause BSD, MIT etc is simple and easy to understand. GPL is not simple and easy to understand. The GPL FAQ itself have over 130 questions which relates to the license.

    You guys could note that the total use of GPL is diminishing.
    http://blogs.the451group.com/opensource/2011/06/06/the-trend-towards-permissive-licensing/

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