Has anyone had copyright problems with code that's shipped under GPL?

Has anyone had copyright problems with code that's shipped under GPL?

Post by Ken Aake » Fri, 20 Feb 1998 04:00:00



I'm trying to persuade my employer to ship a product that would be built
on Linux.

At the moment, I've gotten a question from the lawyer about what we
would do if someone claimed they owned a restricted copyright for part
of the Linux distribution.

The particular hypothetical situation would be, somebody wrote a piece
of code, and copyrighted it as their own, not GPL. Somebody else grabbed
that piece of code and dropped it into something they were doing that
was covered by GPL. Now, we ship it and get sued for every dime that
we've got and have to stop shipping the product... Bad news all the way
around.

Does anybody know of any concrete instances of anything like this?

The only thing I've been able to find on the web is the Linux trademark
case.

Thanks.
--
Ken Aaker

 
 
 

Has anyone had copyright problems with code that's shipped under GPL?

Post by Paul Flinder » Sat, 21 Feb 1998 04:00:00



> I'm trying to persuade my employer to ship a product that would be built
> on Linux.

What do you mean "built on" - using Linux as the development tool or
actually shipping a Linux PC with "added value". I assume the latter
from the rest of your post.

What's the added value and how tightly is it integrated?

Quote:> At the moment, I've gotten a question from the lawyer about what we
> would do if someone claimed they owned a restricted copyright for part
> of the Linux distribution.

He's the lawyer - isn't it *his* job to tell you what the possible
options are?

Quote:

> The particular hypothetical situation would be, somebody wrote a piece
> of code, and copyrighted it as their own, not GPL. Somebody else grabbed
> that piece of code and dropped it into something they were doing that
> was covered by GPL. Now, we ship it and get sued for every dime that
> we've got and have to stop shipping the product... Bad news all the way
> around.
> Does anybody know of any concrete instances of anything like this?

It's one of the reasons the FSF require you to assign the copyright to
them before they will include the code so you should be OK with FSF
based material.

I think it makes a difference whether you are the author or publisher
of the infringing work or a distributer (AFAIK a bookshop can't be
sued for copyright infringement for selling an infringing work - no
doubt someome will let me know if this isn't the case).

In this case you may be able to just distribute, say, Caldera to your
clients along with your application, kernel module or whatever. If a
copyright case *was* brought you can assume that the infringing work
would have to be removed so make sure you only depend on code to which
the FSF has the copyright. I think that the "Somebody else [who]
grabbed that piece of code" would be the person that the copyright
owner would have to sue.

Obdisclaimer: I'm Not a lawyer. If your actions are based in any way on
              this posting or any part of this posting they are at your
              own risk.

--
Paul

 
 
 

Has anyone had copyright problems with code that's shipped under GPL?

Post by Ken Aake » Sat, 21 Feb 1998 04:00:00




> > I'm trying to persuade my employer to ship a product that would be built
> > on Linux.

> What do you mean "built on" - using Linux as the development tool or
> actually shipping a Linux PC with "added value". I assume the latter
> from the rest of your post.

"built on" in this case means a box running Linux.

Quote:> What's the added value and how tightly is it integrated?

The added value will be some of our own applications, remote management
tools, and possibly a network file system installable module. We'd
prefer to keep as much stuff as we can separate from the Linux
distribution to make system upgrades less work. The file system might
have to be made part of the kernel (if we can get it approved, by
Linus..)

Quote:

> > At the moment, I've gotten a question from the lawyer about what we
> > would do if someone claimed they owned a restricted copyright for part
> > of the Linux distribution.

> He's the lawyer - isn't it *his* job to tell you what the possible
> options are?

There's some confusion about what his role is supposed to be. Instead of
being asked what our options were and what the risks might be, he was
asked why we couldn't do it... So, he told us that we couldn't do it.

Quote:

> > The particular hypothetical situation would be, somebody wrote a piece
> > of code, and copyrighted it as their own, not GPL. Somebody else grabbed
> > that piece of code and dropped it into something they were doing that
> > was covered by GPL. Now, we ship it and get sued for every dime that
> > we've got and have to stop shipping the product... Bad news all the way
> > around.

> > Does anybody know of any concrete instances of anything like this?

> It's one of the reasons the FSF require you to assign the copyright to
> them before they will include the code so you should be OK with FSF
> based material.

> I think it makes a difference whether you are the author or publisher
> of the infringing work or a distributer (AFAIK a bookshop can't be
> sued for copyright infringement for selling an infringing work - no
> doubt someome will let me know if this isn't the case).

> In this case you may be able to just distribute, say, Caldera to your
> clients along with your application, kernel module or whatever. If a
> copyright case *was* brought you can assume that the infringing work
> would have to be removed so make sure you only depend on code to which
> the FSF has the copyright. I think that the "Somebody else [who]
> grabbed that piece of code" would be the person that the copyright
> owner would have to sue.

> Obdisclaimer: I'm Not a lawyer. If your actions are based in any way on
>               this posting or any part of this posting they are at your
>               own risk.

I'm not looking for free legal advice, just some leads so we can track
down the precedents.

Quote:

> --
> Paul

--
Ken Aaker

 
 
 

Has anyone had copyright problems with code that's shipped under GPL?

Post by Axel Bol » Sun, 22 Feb 1998 04:00:00



Ken> At the moment, I've gotten a question from the lawyer about what we
Ken> would do if someone claimed they owned a restricted copyright for part
Ken> of the Linux distribution.

Ken> The particular hypothetical situation would be, somebody wrote a piece
Ken> of code, and copyrighted it as their own, not GPL. Somebody else grabbed
Ken> that piece of code and dropped it into something they were doing that
Ken> was covered by GPL. Now, we ship it and get sued for every dime that
Ken> we've got and have to stop shipping the product...

Why would *you* get sued? You haven't broken any license that you knew
of. The guy who illegally put the copyrighted code under GPL and
distributed it will get sued.

If you distribute a system based on WinNT and it turns out that MS
stole some code from Sun and used it in NT, would Sun sue you? I think
not.

If you want to play it extremely safe, buy a commercial Linux
distribution, and if you should ever get sued, simply sue the Linux
vendor for damages because they sold you a stolen product.

Axel

 
 
 

Has anyone had copyright problems with code that's shipped under GPL?

Post by Tim Smi » Sun, 22 Feb 1998 04:00:00



>Ken> The particular hypothetical situation would be, somebody wrote a piece
>Ken> of code, and copyrighted it as their own, not GPL. Somebody else grabbed
>Ken> that piece of code and dropped it into something they were doing that
>Ken> was covered by GPL. Now, we ship it and get sued for every dime that
>Ken> we've got and have to stop shipping the product...

>Why would *you* get sued? You haven't broken any license that you knew

He would get sued because he is distributing copyrighted code that he does
not have a license to distribute.

--Tim Smith

 
 
 

Has anyone had copyright problems with code that's shipped under GPL?

Post by Scott Goehri » Mon, 23 Feb 1998 04:00:00



Quote:>The particular hypothetical situation would be, somebody wrote a piece
>of code, and copyrighted it as their own, not GPL. Somebody else grabbed
>that piece of code and dropped it into something they were doing that
>was covered by GPL. Now, we ship it and get sued for every dime that
>we've got and have to stop shipping the product... Bad news all the way
>around.

I'm not aware of _any_ litigation surrounding a product released under
the GPL.

Note that you wouldn't be actually liable for any damages unless you
continued to ship after being made aware of the infringement.  Prior
to receiving a C&D notice, you have the innocent infringement defense.
--
             An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of
             being called an idea at all.  -- Oscar Wilde

       The ARSCC  --  http://www.arscc.com/  --  We Don't Exist

 
 
 

Has anyone had copyright problems with code that's shipped under GPL?

Post by Scott Goehri » Mon, 23 Feb 1998 04:00:00



>He would get sued because he is distributing copyrighted code that he does
>not have a license to distribute.

You're not liable for infringements of licenses that you neither know
about nor reasonably should have known about.  You cannot be held
liable for infringement of a license, the existence of which was
withheld from you, or the terms of which were misrepresented to you,
and this resulted in your reasonable belief that you were licensed to
engage in the infringing activity.

This is one of the main reasons why copyright procedure all but
requires a C&D letter before suit.  
--
             An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of
             being called an idea at all.  -- Oscar Wilde

       The ARSCC  --  http://www.arscc.com/  --  We Don't Exist

 
 
 

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The Right Thing is to see a lawyer.  If that's too expensive then I'd
say you're out of luck. :-(

Oh, and please don't post HTML to newsgroups.

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