The Spirit of the GPL
September 14, 2006
I was hoping that the GNU General Public License would protect my work and insure its freedom in the Open Source community. Alas, I must report that there is someone taking advantage of Current. They are not technically breaking the GPL but I believe they are violating its spirit.
There is a fellow in the Netherlands who runs a website called BlackOrion. He would like to make some cash by supporting a Linux distribution tied in to a package management system that is very much like the Red Hat Network. By his own admission, his package management tools and interface are based on Current. To quote:
I have designed the web interface/user administration fully isolated from ‘Current’ as a totally separate project. In addition I made tailormade changes to Current for my specific internal purposes.
The GPL allows anyone to make modifications and not distribute them. That’s what this guy is doing. However, the GPL FAQ indicates that such modifications should be for private use and that running a modified GPL program that provides network services for sale to the general public is hardly private.
The Plone/Zope based web interface that this guy has written is also interesting. He doesn’t have to distribute it, but if he does it no doubt uses Current as a library of some sorts to get and set information. The GPL requires this code to be licensed under the GPL if it is released.
What’s my grief? If folks want to make money directly with Current I don’t have a problem with that. However, there are two problems I have with BlackOrion. First, he explicitly asked me to keep Current a text-only tool. In his words, “The Current project remains text based and freely available open source (GPL) and will be further improved.” I’m tempted to think that he wanted to orchestrate an agreement so there would not be an open source competitor to his services.
Secondly, this person has clearly made extensive modifications to Current itself. My code base is no where near providing the features his web interface makes use of. On top of that is the web interface itself which is something the Current project has sought after a long time. I’ve not seen a bit of this code. By taking advantage of the liberty of the GPL he profits.
I don’t blame the guy for not liking my attitude about this. But I’ve got to interject that if your business model is based on keeping code secret, code based on GPL’d projects, then your model is not going to be successful in the long term.