Free Software Foundation: No GPLv3 exemptions for Microsoft

Free Software Foundation: No GPLv3 exemptions for Microsoft

Summary: It took the Free Software Foundation almost two months. But the organization has finally issued an official statement regarding Microsoft's claim that it won't be bound by terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 3 in its patent-protection deals with various open-source vendors. Not surprisingly, he FSF says Microsoft's claims are bogus.

SHARE:

It took the Free Software Foundation almost two months. But the organization has finally issued an official statement regarding Microsoft's claim that it won't be bound by terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 3 as part of its patent-protection deals with open-source vendors.

In its press release dated July 5, 2007, Microsoft announced that it was not going to provide patent protection to Novell customers using software licensed under the GPL v3.

"We regard Microsoft's decision (not to be willing or able to provide patent protection for GPLv3 software) with satisfaction," said the FSF in a statement issued on August 28.

"We do not, however, agree with Microsoft's characterization of the situation involving GPLv3. Microsoft cannot by any act of anticipatory repudiation divest itself of its obligation to respect others' copyrights. If Microsoft distributes our works licensed under GPLv3, or pays others to distribute them on its behalf, it is bound to do so under the terms of that license. It may not do so under any other terms; it cannot declare itself exempt from the requirements of GPLv3."

In early July, Microsoft published a statement to its Web site claiming that its patent-protection/interoperability deal with Novell would not result in Microsoft being bound by the terms of the GPL v3, even if and when Novell moves to that version of the license for its Linux and open-source offerings. Microsoft's statement:

“While there have been some claims that Microsoft’s distribution of certificates for Novell support services, under our interoperability collaboration with Novell, constitutes acceptance of the GPLv3 license, we do not believe that such claims have a valid legal basis under contract, intellectual property, or any other law. In fact, we do not believe that Microsoft needs a license under GPL to carry out any aspect of its collaboration with Novell, including its distribution of support certificates, even if Novell chooses to distribute GPLv3 code in the future.”

Microsoft provided a similar statement, regarding its deal with Linspire, noting it would not guarantee to protect any Linspire client software licensed under the GPLv3. (If it also issued one regarding Xandros, I have yet to find it.)

As others across the Web have noted, there seems to be a not-so-veiled legal threat in FSF's statement, as well:

"Microsoft has said that it expects respect for its so-called 'intellectual property' -- a propaganda term designed to confuse patent law with copyright and other unrelated laws, and to muddy the different issues they raise. We will ensure -- and, to the extent of our resources, assist other GPLv3 licensors in ensuring -- that Microsoft respects our copyrights and complies with our licenses."

What's next, I wonder? Will one or more Linux customers or vendors push the issue so that the FSF and/or its members sue Microsoft over this? What's your guess as to what will happen here?

Topics: Open Source, Microsoft, Software

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

227 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Could the FSF...

    ... allow any company, but especially Microsoft, to opt out of GPLv3 at its discretion?

    Just as Microsoft can attain its objectives concerning its IP - and yes the term is valid concerning software patents - without going to Court, so this necessary response is not a certain prelude to a Court case.

    What had to be said has been said. On both sides.
    Anton Philidor
    • Only if MicroSoft allows ME to opt out of theirs

      MicroSoft is setting itself up to give more money to lawyers.
      kd5auq
      • The industry is lawyered up.

        And considering all the $ billions at stake in one of the US's major industries, that's to be expected. But unfortunate.

        Microsoft can find ways to keep as many lawyers busy as the company chooses to hire.
        Anton Philidor
  • SCO - part 2

    More bluster and bull! I declare MYSELF exempt from Microsoft's
    EULA! So there!
    kd5auq
    • Might be possible.

      It may be that some portions of the EULA are unenforceable or even illegal. You know anybody can put anything in writing but that don't make it so. The problem is no individual consumer has the resources to challenge them in court.
      DemonX
  • Retarded...

    Microsoft clearly states it is not bound by the terms of GPLv3 because it does not use it or sell it, therefore since it never agreed to the terms how can it be bound to them?

    When it comes to licenses or contracts, how can a 3rd party be held hostage by the two parties of a contract. If you use something that contains the GPLv3 then you agree to the terms...If you use Microsoft's software you must agree to the EULA. In either case however it does not bind any 3rd parties you have agreements with.
    GeiselS
    • RE: Retarded... ?

      <i>"Microsoft clearly states it is not bound by the terms of GPLv3 because it does not use it or sell it, ..."</i>
      <p>
      <b>It's unofficial: Microsoft bets business on Linux</b><br>
      http://tinyurl.com/2n3pdc
      ruped24
      • That's a stretch

        And how many Windows Routers are out there?
        John Zern
        • of your imagination? ;)

          no pun intended. :)
          ruped24
        • Windows Routers?

          I've used a lot of routers, but not one of them has ever been windows based. Unfortunately I am not familiar with any, what Windows Routers are there?
          jjarman
        • Re: That's a stretch

          [i]And how many Windows Routers are out there?[/i]

          None that I'm aware of.


          :)
          none none
    • Correct, FSF can not say anything to MS

      MS can only be held to a contract they willingly entered. What we see here is the nut job Stallman trying to re-write contract law. Its not going to happen.

      Let me use the Eolas case as an example. Eolas sued Microsoft but said anyone else was free to use their IP. The fact is you CAN grant rights to one (or more) party without granting them to everyone. A bit of law Stallman needs to have driven into his thick skull.
      No_Ax_to_Grind
      • They enter an agreemnt...

        ...the moment they use any software that is held under GPLv3. Regardless of what Novell says, unless its code Novell developed themselves and is not part of the GPL.
        Stuka
        • Yes and no

          MS was adament they have nothing to do with ANYTHING covered under GLP-3. That in fact they will NOT hold harmless anyone mixing MS IP with GPL-3 covered IP.

          As an FYI, MS is not using any code from open source here, they are promicing not to bring a suit against those they have a real agreement/contract with. What Stallman and his gang is trying to do is in some weird way say that if MS makes an agreement with Bob then Tom, Dick and Harry automatically are included in the agreement. Sorry dude, but that is not how contract law works in this country and Stallman needs it pounded into his thick skull.

          Hey, I just signed a contract to rent someones house and they used the same open source provided plans to build it as you used for your house. Best move over because I am moving in tomorrow. Yeah, you are right, that is stupid...
          No_Ax_to_Grind
          • No exceptions

            There is no third party as you keep on implying. Read this again

            "We do not, however, agree with Microsoft?s characterization of the situation involving GPLv3. Microsoft cannot by any act of anticipatory repudiation divest itself of its obligation to respect others? copyrights. If Microsoft distributes our works licensed under GPLv3, or pays others to distribute them on its behalf, it is bound to do so under the terms of that license."

            So, if Microsoft distributes any GPLv3 software or pays others to distribute, they are bound by GPLv3. And they will not be considered a third party as you keep on implying. They will be distributing GPLv3 and so are bound by it. Simple as that. We will see them in court if they distribute and violate the license.
            goxk@...
          • Sorry but no...

            "If Microsoft distributes our works licensed under GPLv3, or pays others to distribute them on its behalf, it is bound to do so under the terms of that license."

            Yes, that is what they are trying to say, unfortuantely it won't stand up in court. If I hire UPS to deliever a CD to you they are not party to any contract between us. They are not obligated in any way, shape, form, or fashion.
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Well you keep saying

            you are not a lawyer. Let me give you the thoughts of a paralegal

            "Here's how I understand the legal argument. Microsoft is a distributor already under GPLv2, because of distributing the vouchers and some other unstated things FSF's Brett Smith hinted at when he stated the FSF view. So there is already a defense, thanks to GPLv2's implied patent license. But under GPLv3, it's not implied"
            http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20070518124020691

            Now, let me give you the words of a lawyer
            "Novell's activity will be protected by the fact that it was complete as of the date in November, which is the effective date of their deal with Microsoft. [The GPL revisions won't be retroactive.] Microsoft's activity will begin to disperse patent defenses into the community. When GPL 3 goes into effect, every Microsoft coupon handed to somebody, which results in the shipment of a Novell Server Edition product to that coupon-holder, will result in a conveyance of broad patent defenses to parties throughout the community....

            The coupons have no expiration date, and Microsoft can be sure that some coupons will be turned into Novell in return for software after the effective date of GPL 3. Once that has happened, patent defenses will, under the license, have moved out into the broad community and be available to anybody who Microsoft should ever sue for infringement."
            http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20070519090322431

            The way I understand it is that MS would have been safe if the coupons had an expiration date and of course did not have another later deal that involved GPLv3. But because the coupons had no expiration date, if someone reclaims the voucher now, since GPLv3 has kicked in and Novell has in its code base GPLv3 bang. "And we haven't even argued about the code that had "GPLv2 or later clause""

            So, you keep saying whatever you want. I am not a lawyer and so would not claim anything. But I have given you words from the law profession.
            goxk@...
          • No_Ax made some very confident predictions regarding SCO ...

            And ... he got it all wrong. Now he is most likely getting it wrong again but doing it with all the confidence of a lawyer which he most definitely is not. What it really boils down to, of course, is that No_Ax is a FUD monger for MS. He works in the industry and he has a vested interest in Microsoft's continuing good fortune. Since they would face a tough battle in the courtroom, they prefer to duff it out in the media by using astroturfing fudsters to spread confusion and fear amongst potential customers. In the case of No_Ax, his very handle is a farce. "No axe to grind"? Yeah right.
            George Mitchell
          • UPS will not be sitting in jail

            If you decide to break the law. Neither will
            they if Microsoft decides to break the law.
            So what does UPS have to do with GPL3?

            Microsoft is not above the law. They (and
            you) just think they are.
            Ole Man
          • Then No_Ax, you and Microsoft agree

            That the RIAA has no standing in going after ISP's who "deliver" torrents that may or may not be illegal...right? Funny about that, though...AT&T thinks you're wrong on this one!
            johnf76@...