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Do the Busybox cases change anything?

If your sole desire in using software is the commercial advantage inherent in the software, you need BSD code, not GPL code. That's a distinction with a real difference, and one worth making.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

The GPL violation cases known collectively as the BusyBox cases never went to court, but they do seem to have settled the question of whether the license is enforceable.

It is.

So why is Edward Walsh, an attorney at Wolf Greenfield in Boston, trying to claim this shows "new risks in the irreconcilable conflict between open-source software and its widespread use by for-profit companies."

Probably because he thinks he needs to. The simplicity, and lack of ambiguity, of the GPL, especially in Version 3, is a challenge to any lawyer who wants billable hours.

The rule is simple. You can use it, you can see it, you can fix it, you can change it, but along with that comes the obligation to grow it, and share it, and give others the same rights you were given.

This is not hard to understand. This is simple common sense. This is the golden rule written in contract law.

Yet still Walsh denies it:

"You are not free to do whatever you want with the open-source software and may actually find yourself in a legal fight if what you do restricts the freedom of the software," he writes. Using free software for business advantage can restrict others' freedom to use the software, creating friction with free-software advocates. The new version of the GPL imposes more restrictions on the use of open source software.

In this, believe it or not, he's right. If your sole desire in using software is the commercial advantage inherent in the software, you need BSD code, not GPL code. That's a distinction with a real difference, and one worth making.

There are differences among open source licenses, real, enforceable differences. Walsh is wrong in that there is no contradiction between open source and profitability, but he's right in that the legal differences between code bases must be respected.

Of course, if you had proprietary code in your shop you were already doing that. The obligation to manage your code base, and its legal status, does not change. Canadian attorney Eric Boehm of Torys LLC in Toronto offers a simple solution:

In much the same way that companies are appointing privacy officers to monitor privacy compliance, companies that use and redistribute open source software may be well-advised to appoint an open source compliance officer to monitor open source usage and licence obligations.

But in seeking such an advisor, make certain it's someone who respects open source and what can be done with it in a profit-making business. Here's where I'd go...

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