The next frontier for GPL Violations

How do we enforce the GPL against users without causing a backlash?

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UPDATE: A new post on the same topic is above.

To date the work of GPLViolations has been fairly non-controversial.

By going after vendors who violate the GPL by incorporating enhanced code into non-GPL products, Harold Welte & Co. have won a ton of goodwill within the open source community.

But there's another type of GPL Violation, one hinted at in the group's workshops and implied with the growth of tools like Hewlett Packard's Fossology.

This is the user violation.

You download GPL code, you tweak it for your own operation, you maintain the tweak solely for your own use, but you don't share the tweak, either for a market advantage, out of ignorance, or from pure laziness.

How do we enforce the GPL against users without causing a backlash?

The old Software Publishers Association and the Business Software Alliance made this mistake back in the late 20th century.

They moved from going after commercial software pirates in the 1980s to auditing corporate software in the 1990s and dragging companies into court for having violated End User License Agreements (EULAs).

The move into user enforcement caused a backlash which continues to this day.

I believe much of the controversy over open source software audits stems from the fear that GPL Violations might emulate the old BSA tactics.

There is a real problem here. Combining GPL software with other open source products, or merely tweaking GPL software for your own use, obligates you to contribute those code enhancements back to the community.

But finding such small tweaks, then enforcing the GPL against the tweakers, risks a backlash unless it is done carefully.

Another important point. Many companies, perhaps most, now support open source internally. As Dave Rosenberg noted last week, this can lead to all sorts of stupid marketing tricks.

So the question for this President's Day is, how can the GPL Violations folks avoid becoming the BSA of the 21st century? How do we expand the enforcement of the GPL without angering a whole lot of powerful people?