Corel Linux: Out of the chute with a bang

Corel's beta agreement violates GPL... or does it?

Open source licensing: Who knew it could be so complicated? Definitely not Corel

Some open source and Linux advocates are outraged that Corel's beta Linux distribution agreement violates the GNU Public License (GPL) in several respects. Corel officially began beta testing its Corel Linux product on Monday of this week.

The Corel beta agreement reads like most such agreements. That's the problem. For example, it includes such standard clauses as the "User may not reproduce and distribute copies of the Products to any other person." And, most damning of all -- from a hard-line free software perspective -- "All right, title and interest to all intellectual property with respect to the Products shall remain with Corel and its licensors."

Open source advocates see this as an attempt to "steal" open source code, turning it into a commercial product. Or, as Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative, says, you could see it as a bureaucracy blunder resulting from an attempt to put an old boilerplate on a new open source project. Raymond says that Corel's open source license transgression "shows what happens when you don't keep the lawyers and bean counters on a short leash".

Is the Corel beta agreement really a GPL violation? From a strict point of view, it walks all over the GPL. Some open source advocates argue though that since the Corel release is a beta, and not a public release, it can be considered "internal only", meaning the GPL does not apply.

This is essentially Corel's position as well. A Corel spokesperson says, "As we've stated on previous occasions, Corel has every intention of honouring the GNU GPL obligations once we begin distribution of Corel Linux later this year. This beta testing program for Linux, however, does not signal the commencement of the distribution of Corel Linux, but rather the contracting of third party testing services. Once the product has reached a degree of stability and completeness that we feel is appropriate, we will release Corel Linux to the public in accordance with the all required licensing terms. We are committed to open source development and we will make all of our modified GPL, etc. code available when we begin our distribution latter this quarter."

Is that enough? Raymond doesn't think so. He believes that the beta should be under GPL and the other appropriate licenses. As he succinctly puts it, "They'll get toasted over this, and deserve it."

As Corel is discovering, making the jump from traditional commercial software practices and licenses to an open source model is harder to make then they might have thought. It's a lesson all companies moving to open source would be wise to heed.