How hard is it to violate the GPL?

Let me propose a contest.Come up with a video that explains the issues, and entertains at the same time. Or a Java applet. Or an Open Office presentation. A cartoon. Whatever floats your boat.

Novell patent protection image from Boycottnovell
I screwed up yesterday. (Picture from Boycott Novell.)

After re-reading my piece, your comments, and the terms of both GPL licenses carefully, it's clear to me I underestimated how easy it is for enterprises to violate its terms.

But it's not impossible. Far from it. I do think the folks at GPL Violations are going to need some help in their work.

We joke about the "viral" nature of GPL code but all software is becoming a bit like DNA, more so all the time. Code fragments and functions intermingle.

Remember all that excitement a few years ago when Black Duck and Palamida first started claiming you needed an "audit" to check your enterprise for open source code? Well, it goes the other way, too, and round and round as well.

Everyone wants to test open source projects for the introduction of proprietary code. Try it the other way and you get the same result.

In a world where smaller-and-smaller code fragments are patented, licensed or copyrighted, it's getting harder-and-harder to write anything which doesn't infringe on someone's rights, somewhere.

In enterprises of all sizes it is going to get harder still. Use enough GPL code in your shop and some of it is going to leak out in what you share with partners, customers or suppliers.

That was my point. I wrote it poorly.

The best solution I can think of would be a big PR campaign, a mass market effort to explain the issues and show companies how they can avoid trouble. Carrots instead of sticks. Turn Tux into Bugs Bunny.

Unfortunately, partly due to the nature of the business model, open source enterprises lack the money to create their own version of the BSA or the SIIA. I doubt if the Linux Foundation could pay Microsoft's coffee bill.

So what can we do? Go viral, as in video.

Let me propose a contest.Come up with a video that explains the issues, and entertains at the same time. Or a Java applet. Or an Open Office presentation. A cartoon. Whatever floats your boat.

We seek a sponsor and a suitable prize. Lunch with Linus, or you can be Bruce Perens' Eben Moglen's law clerk for a day. DVD Jon could come code at your school. Maybe Harald Welte can take you to a Bundesliga match, or you can get a lock of Jonathan Schwartz' hair. (Or Bruce Perens' hair. Or Richard Stallman's beard. Or my fedora hat from the 1990s.)

I'm spitballing here. We'll get something nice.  

More important, you win "the people's ovation and fame forever," in that we'll point everyone to your video, or applet, or presentation, as the definitive word.

Who's up for it?

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