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Keep Cool Over Open Source License Violations

Shortly before I wrote my post about responsible disclosure of open source licensing violations, Bradley Kuhn (of the Software Freedom Conservancy and Software Freedom Law Center) wrote a post of his own about the same subject

Shortly before I wrote my post about responsible disclosure of open source licensing violations, Bradley Kuhn (of the Software Freedom Conservancy and Software Freedom Law Center) wrote a post of his own about the same subject. His take: GPL violations are common, everyday things -- and as such should be handled with cool, calm, and collected heads.

Because GPL problems happen all the time, it's best to handle them like parking infractions rather than grand theft auto. Assume negligence rather than malice; don't immediately go public; talk to the right people. Another thing Kuhn points out is that not all GPL violators are created equal:


... there is a fundamental difference between someone who makes a profit during the act of infringement than someone who merely seeks to contribute as a volunteer and screws something up. There isn't a perfect line between the two - it's a spectrum. However, those who don't make any money from their infringement are probably just confused community members who misunderstood the GPL and deserve pure education and non-aggressive enforcement.

Kuhn's view about GPL violations is that they are opportunities, not slaps in the face. "I view every GPL violator as a potential FLOSS [free/libre/open source] contributor," he writes in the above article. It's not an attitude I see shared by a lot of other open source advocates, but it's one well worth emulating. The old line about bees, honey and vinegar comes to mind.

I have a colleague, a professional programmer, who has plenty of exposure to the open source world at both its best and worst. He's fed me back plenty of anecdotes about programmers going ballistic on others for GPL violations. One of the conclusions I was forced to draw was that programmers can be bad diplomats -- but they don't often think they are. The implications of that go far beyond the GPL, of course.

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