Is the GPL good for the software industry? No

FRAMINGHAM (10/01/2003) - The General Public License (GPL) is not good for the software industry for a variety of reasons. These include:

-- The GPL is full of contradictions and could be interpreted in a number of different ways. At the outset, it bears noting that the GPL is as much a political manifesto as it is a quasi-legal document. It is replete with ambiguities. More importantly, it has never been tested in court. Nobody knows what judges or juries will do when presented with the GPL and asked to find that someone violated its terms, or when someone tries to use it as a defense to a copyright or patent infringement claim.

-- The GPL's authors have one point in mind: to destroy the value of proprietary software. Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement, was recently quoted as saying: "Proprietary software is antisocial and shouldn't exist." If the authors of the GPL have their wish, there will be no cost to software. Why is that so bad for end users? If software is free, companies won't be around to service that software, provide customer support and produce upgrades. How will software companies afford to pay for salaries, benefits and keep people gainfully employed? It won't happen with free software.

-- IT companies avoid porting to software that is licensed under the GPL. The SCO Group recently received a letter from a company supporting our current legal battles, stating: "We have resisted porting our software tool to Linux because of the fear of seeing our source code published on the Internet shortly thereafter." We believe that for Linux to flourish in the future, a license other than the GPL will have to be prescribed.

-- The GPL causes software innovation to stagnate. In this same letter that SCO received, the writer states, "Small developers like us used to be the lifeblood of the computer business - innovating and bringing fresh ideas and products to the marketplace. How can this continue if we are supposed to donate all of our efforts?" The GPL essentially prohibits a company from taking a software product like Linux, writing proprietary applications and add-ons, and then selling that software without showing anyone what was done to it.

-- The authors of the GPL wrote the license in such a way that it would govern the use, distribution and copying of software that was licensed under the GPL. These are the same items governed by the U.S. Copyright Act. The Copyright Act pre-empts any claims that are governed regarding use, distribution and copying. Because of this, SCO believes the GPL is pre-empted by federal copyright law.

SCO believes that there are better licensing models available which, unlike the GPL, are not in conflict with U.S. copyright law. These licenses give developers greater incentives to innovate without destroying the value of proprietary software. Until the legality of the GPL is fully tested, organizations that rely on open source software released under the GPL will continue to take an unnecessary risk. The only way in which this risk can be mitigated is for the GPL to change, or for developers to work under more flexible licenses.

Sontag is senior vice president and general manager of the SCOsource division of The SCO Group. He can be reached at csontag@sco.com.

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