After all the recent talk about "open-source leeches", it's sobering to come across an entity that sorely deserves the label. I'm talking about LiberKey, the creators of an open source application collection along the lines of PortableApps.com. If even half of what's reported about them is true, their lack of ethics or scruples is jaw-dropping.</p>

Serdar Yegulalp, Contributor

June 22, 2009

3 Min Read

After all the recent talk about "open-source leeches", it's sobering to come across an entity that sorely deserves the label. I'm talking about LiberKey, the creators of an open source application collection along the lines of PortableApps.com. If even half of what's reported about them is true, their lack of ethics or scruples is jaw-dropping.

I bumped into the LiberKey collection the other day while looking for additional information about the Google Chrome 3.0 beta. LiberKey had a binary version of same, but after writing about it in Friday's blog, John T. Haller of PortableApps.com dropped me a line to inform me I'd been duped. Apparently he's only one of the many people the LiberKey folks have been ripping off, and has talked about it on the PortableApps.com forums many times before. To wit:

It looks like they're repackaging most of that freeware [e/g., Chrome]without permission.  And they're using the trademarks of Google, Mozilla and many others in connection with modified software, also apparently without permission, which isn't permitted by any of the trademark guidelines I've seen. They distribute GPL/LGPL/etc software (OpenOffice.org, VLC, Miranda, etc) without also distributing the source as required by the license. ... And their updater is closed source and requires you to give them your email address.[*]

They were using most of our software but with our splash screens, readme files, source code and the GPL license removed in violation of the GPL for about a year. When I instructed them to replace the source directories, credits, etc, they ignored the email and then, magically, a few weeks later they'd created closed source launchers for all the apps with purposely obfuscated configuration files. They have still refused to provide the source to their end-users (which they are required to do for a period of at least 3 years) or make them aware of the GPL and copyright violation. [*]

So how come, you might wonder, the Software Freedom Law Center (or maybe FSFE) hasn't yet horned in on them for GPL violations? Possibly because they're notoriously hard to get hold of, because they're in another country -- they appear to be in France (that was actually my guess without even checking their WHOIS information) -- do not answer to correspondence, and might well be using bogus contact information anyway.

Difficult, but not impossible. Barring outright legal action, the best first line of defense against these sorts of abusers is to spread the word about what they're doing.

That said, the finer points of why what they are doing is wrong might elude the just-plain-users out there who don't see a problem. If it's all free software, how is a bad thing for me to download it? (My answer to that is that the software may be free, but that doesn't mean it's fair game. A longer argument than that should be saved for those truly interested in such things.)

As a final note, I've linked to LiberKey only for the sake of research by interested parties. Don't download anything from them -- it's all available elsewhere anyway, and without strings attached. There are better ways to be conned.

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Serdar Yegulalp

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