Re: To GPL or not to GPL, that is the question ?

To: " users mailing list." <lvs-users@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: To GPL or not to GPL, that is the question ?
Cc: support@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: Joseph Mack <mack.joseph@xxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 30 May 2003 08:45:17 -0400
Malcolm Turnbull wrote:

> I've started up a small company building custom Linux loadbalancers
> using Linux/LVS/Heartbeat/Ldirectord and my own web based interface.

glad to see someone on this list trying to make money out of LVS. I assume
some of the people on this list are making money out of LVS, but are just
lying low about it. 

> I'm currently in negotiations with a hardware appliance builder to
> licence the software.. so I need to make sure they don't screw me over !
> But I believe in the GPL (my wife is not so sure) so how do I protect my
> work ?

I don't think there are too many lawyers here. 
We had a GPL thread here once before and it seems that most people
don't understand the GPL real well (including me).

The GPL has never been tested
in court (the FSF has managed to handle everything before going to court. Eben
Moglen just calls up and says, "we've never tested this in court and would love
to use your case to find out" and the people cough up the code.)
> So I'm thinking :
> 1) All source code should be protected by the GPL
> 2) My bootable ISO image is mine and don't nick it

The GPL says 
if 1 
        not 2.

Once you GPL something, it's gone. You have no control over it (which is
the general idea). You only have the copyright which says that you did it.
If there are legal problems, then the copyright owner is the one infringed
and gets to take people to court. What you will be defending against
is that

your code has been misappropriated (your copyrights have been removed)

the people have broken the GPL by not making the source code available
with the binaries (which would allow people to see the copyrights).

The GPL way to handle 2 then is to put the ISO on a website for everyone
to see (making sure that everyone has an original copy with the code
and copyrights together). You don't really get the choice of people not
nicking it.

> 3) But I'd still like people to be able to use the ISO as long as they
> dont flog it (like SUSE).

> So I came up with :
> # Copyright Limited 2002
> # This text file is copyright limited and must not be
> re-distributed or sold without express permission of
> Limited
> # The purpose of this is to allow to distribute
> licensed copies of our software and lower the risk of someone stealing
> our hard work.
> # We are taking a BIG RISK in allowing the source code to be fully GPL
> and OpenSource because we believe it is the proper way to sell our services.
> # grants individuals the right to use copy and use this
> file for NO ROYALTY
> # You may also make as many backups as you require.
> # This applies to any file containing this text, it does not effect the
> source code which is protected by the GPL.
> # The bootable ISO image of the appliance contains
> software that is NOT PROTECTED BY THE GPL
> # but is copyright Limited 2002.
> # i.e. many copies of this file hidden in various places to make it
> difficult to remove a.k.a the Red Hat method.
> Does anyone have any comments on this ?

The problem of GPL type licenses, has not been solved even for the GPL (it
hasn't been tested yet remember) and has stretched the brains of the smartest
laywers that the GNU world can attract. I don't have anything to contribute
here (and I'm also not trying to make money from code), but looking around, 
I see that SuSE and RedHat, who are trying to make money from GPL code,
just post the code for everyone to download. Joe Cooper, an occassional
respondant on this list, is a squid developer and sells squids. I don't know
what he does with his code, but I believe he GPLs it (you can ask him, look
for his name in the HOWTO or the mailing list archives). 

Any legal document you write, unless you are smarter than the lawyers at
FSF, is probably not going to hold up in court.

Something to consider is making the FSF the copyright holder (or shared
copyright holder). It's the FSF's business to defend the GPL. However
they can't act in a case in which they have no interest. To give them
an interest (in the legal sense), you can make them copyright holders
and then when your code is nicked, you can have Eben Moglen as your
personal counsel. 

The thing that could go wrong here is that say the FSF gets taken over
by a bunch of looneys, who want to cash in on all the code that the FSF has
copyrights to. This happened to Ross Perot's political party here, and the
people used all the money that had been collected for their own ends and gutted
the party. This could just be FUD, but it's there.

Are you prepared to defend any transgressions against you? This will
take a lot of your time, and if you are a one man show, will probably
knock your business dead. The type of thinking and the filling in of
forms and making submissions to courts... and if they are in the US or
Japan and you are in UK, then you'll have to hire a lawyer in those
countries. What are you prepared to do, if the worst happens? If you're
like the rest of us, you probably won't have the resources to defend

So there are only two ways of making money out of code at the moment.

o only give out the binaries

o give away the source (even to your competitors) and make money from
the service and not from the code.

The problem then is of providing service. Your market then is not
technical people, who can set LVS up themselves and don't need
you, but non-technical people. Are you prepared to deal with
non-technical people? They sit on committees a lot (because they
like meetings), read glossy brochures and magazine, are interested 
in warrantees, want to know how long you've been in business and
how many you've sold (ie only talk to IBM and SGI) and don't want 
to know about performance ("too much information"). They will
be interested in recommendations from like-minded committee sitters
that they know. 

People like me laugh at these people, but they have the money. 
They aren't interested
in performance, they only want to be credited for a successful 
purchase (if it works) and if it doesn't work, to be able to
show that they weren't responsible for the disaster. Unlike the
technical people, they will not be around for the next round
of purchases - they will have moved onto even more important
committees as a result of their previous successes.

You will need several years and a lot of hand shaking, back
slapping and talking to people, to get established and known.
Remember the people with the money have no understanding
of technical matters. Are you the sort of person who can/wants
to deal with these people to put food on the table? Can you
spend a 2hour lunch with someone whose only knowlege of
computers is from glossy magazines, but who thinks he knows
it all, because he controls the money?


Joseph Mack PhD, Senior Systems Engineer, SAIC contractor 
to the National Environmental Supercomputer Center, 
ph# 919-541-0007, RTP, NC, USA. mailto:mack.joseph@xxxxxxx
<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>