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?