March 18, 2005 8:12 AM PST

Defender of the Linux faith

Earlier this week, open-source developer Harald Welte personally handed warning letters to 13 technology companies that he says are using Linux in violation of the license that governs the software.

Harald Welte
Harald Welte
Linux firewall
maintainer

Welte distributed the letters at the CeBit technology show in Hannover, Germany. Among the recipients were telecom giant Motorola and PC manufacturer Acer.

Welte is one of the core developers of the Linux kernel firewall engine Netfilter/iptables and the maintainer of the packet filter subsystem in the Linux kernel. In 2004, he set up Gpl-violations.org, which aims to prevent companies from contravening the rules set down in the GNU General Public License.

Since setting up the project, Welte has made 25 agreements with companies that were violating the GPL, as well as setting up two preliminary injunctions and one court order. Each of these companies used GPL code in products they distributed without making the altered source code available--a requirement of the licence.

ZDNet UK spoke to Welte about tracking down those companies that violate the GPL and how he persuades them to comply.

Q: Why is it important to stop people from violating the GPL?
Welte: You can use all the code out there for free, but if you do modifications, you have to give them back to the community--it's a fairness thing. If we allowed violations to become common, the system would be out of equilibrium. This would result in fewer contributions and it would have a large negative impact on the motivation of developers.

How do you find out whether companies have used GPL-licensed code?
Welte: It's quite hard without having the source code. All you can do is look at the firmware with a hex editor. You can often spot error messages or function names from GPL-licensed code. For example, there is an error message in the Netfilter code that says, "Rusty needs more caffeine." If someone writes a firewall they are very unlikely to come up with the same error message.

If somebody wants to obfuscate the fact that they have used the (GPL-licensed) source code, they can write a program to automatically change the error messages or strings. But if they try to hide it, it's a wilful copyright violation, which is a more serious legal offence.

What happens when you tell companies that they are violating the GPL?
Welte: Lots of companies that we are going after are resellers, so even if the device is sold as Fujitsu Siemens, it's not made by them but is an OEM device. With resellers it's easier, as we simply tell them, and they then put pressure on their upstream vendors.

In some cases, we got an out-of-court agreement and the company agreed to stop distributing software that doesn't comply with the GPL licence, but then did it again. This happened with Belkin and Netgear--half a year after signing the agreement, they introduced new products that came without any indication of source code availability. This has now been sorted out, and they are fully compliant.

In general, we haven't had trouble persuading companies to comply, apart from (PC connectivity company) Sitecom.

What happened with Sitecom?
Welte: When we found out about Sitecom's GPL violation, my lawyer asked them to sign a declaration to stop distributing software that didn't comply with the GPL licence. We didn't receive their signed declaration within the deadline, so we applied for a preliminary injunction. After they received the injunction, they filed an appeal. The court ruled that it will uphold the preliminary injunction.

Even though you have won every case so far, surely there's potential cost involved in pursuing these cases?
Welte: There is a cost of 10,000 euros ($13,282) per case, although the party who loses the case pays all the legal fees. It's not that I have that amount of money spare, but it's worth the risk.

What do companies need to do to make sure their software is GPL compliant?
Welte: The only thing you need to do to comply with the GPL licence is to release the source code. GPL offers two possible ways--you can

CONTINUED:
Page 1 | 2

20 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Microsoft should donate money to this guy
The more the GPL is enforced, the less companies will be willing to work with Linux.
Posted by Chung Leong (111 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Doubtful...
First, they had options: they could develop the
software they used de novo, they could have
licensed the iptables/netfilter software under
the GPL, they could license other code from a
third-party (if a comparable product existed;
otherwise contract with someone to build it), or
they could have contacted the author of the
GPL'd code to negotiate a license with different
terms.

The company chose to accept the terms of the GPL
and were contractually bound by it just as if
they had gotten the software from another
company. Rather than pay royalties and license
fees, their only obligation was that, should
they make modifications to the author's original
code and choose to distribute it, they would
provide the source code for those modifications.
In many parts of the world (not the US), this
right is implicit, and here it was explicitly
stated.

The company clearly made a business decision
that this was a great deal. In fact, it's an
awesome deal if you've ever been party to the
terms of licenses offered by commercial interest
(that not only include payments of license fees
and royalties, but also may contain "poison
pill" clauses, limitations on distribution an
types of uses, etc.). Moreover, the GPL is a
page long and the same regardless which of the
myriad software packages you license under it.
No need for a complex legal team to help you
plot out your business strategy -- the terms are
very few and unambiguous

The fact that the companies are in violation of
their contracts doesn't have any reflection on
the GPL or its suitability. What if Microsoft
made software that could do what iptables does?
They'd still have a license agreement, maybe
tying it to the use of other products,
co-branding, with royalties, clauses requiring a
defined commitment period with penalty for not
deploying, requiring renogiation of fees based
on unit sales or feature alterations,
requirements for compatibility with certain
other MS products, etc.

Honestly, few companies that select the GPL and
violate it do so intentionally and almost all do
the right thing when asked. They new the license
up front, they considered it, and they saw value
in it.
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft should donate money to this guy
The more the GPL is enforced, the less companies will be willing to work with Linux.
Posted by Chung Leong (111 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Doubtful...
First, they had options: they could develop the
software they used de novo, they could have
licensed the iptables/netfilter software under
the GPL, they could license other code from a
third-party (if a comparable product existed;
otherwise contract with someone to build it), or
they could have contacted the author of the
GPL'd code to negotiate a license with different
terms.

The company chose to accept the terms of the GPL
and were contractually bound by it just as if
they had gotten the software from another
company. Rather than pay royalties and license
fees, their only obligation was that, should
they make modifications to the author's original
code and choose to distribute it, they would
provide the source code for those modifications.
In many parts of the world (not the US), this
right is implicit, and here it was explicitly
stated.

The company clearly made a business decision
that this was a great deal. In fact, it's an
awesome deal if you've ever been party to the
terms of licenses offered by commercial interest
(that not only include payments of license fees
and royalties, but also may contain "poison
pill" clauses, limitations on distribution an
types of uses, etc.). Moreover, the GPL is a
page long and the same regardless which of the
myriad software packages you license under it.
No need for a complex legal team to help you
plot out your business strategy -- the terms are
very few and unambiguous

The fact that the companies are in violation of
their contracts doesn't have any reflection on
the GPL or its suitability. What if Microsoft
made software that could do what iptables does?
They'd still have a license agreement, maybe
tying it to the use of other products,
co-branding, with royalties, clauses requiring a
defined commitment period with penalty for not
deploying, requiring renogiation of fees based
on unit sales or feature alterations,
requirements for compatibility with certain
other MS products, etc.

Honestly, few companies that select the GPL and
violate it do so intentionally and almost all do
the right thing when asked. They new the license
up front, they considered it, and they saw value
in it.
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Link Flag
Who _IS_ this guy?!
Good lord...
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
He's the author...
... of iptables and netfilter.

Most people have no idea what they are (unless
they've setup a firewall on a Linux system),
though most everyone that uses the internet rely
on the software.

The iptables/netfilter package handles realtime
stateful processing of network traffic (TCP and
UDP). It's an integral part of the Linux kernel
(for those using it on their desktop), and very
widely deployed embedded in network hardware
(particularly things like hardware firewalls,
cable and dsl routers, and commercial network
routers an appliances).

His software is so widely deployed, it's almost
a certainty that whatever you receive from the
Internet has passed through at least one thing
that uses it (a computer, router, switch,
cable/dsl modem, etc.).
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Link Flag
Who _IS_ this guy?!
Good lord...
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
He's the author...
... of iptables and netfilter.

Most people have no idea what they are (unless
they've setup a firewall on a Linux system),
though most everyone that uses the internet rely
on the software.

The iptables/netfilter package handles realtime
stateful processing of network traffic (TCP and
UDP). It's an integral part of the Linux kernel
(for those using it on their desktop), and very
widely deployed embedded in network hardware
(particularly things like hardware firewalls,
cable and dsl routers, and commercial network
routers an appliances).

His software is so widely deployed, it's almost
a certainty that whatever you receive from the
Internet has passed through at least one thing
that uses it (a computer, router, switch,
cable/dsl modem, etc.).
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Link Flag
Good for him
Some of the problem is that a lot of people just don't understand the nature of the GPL. Some of it is that corporations think they can get some free code without returning the favor.

If you don't want to release the code, then don't use GPL'd code.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good for him
Some of the problem is that a lot of people just don't understand the nature of the GPL. Some of it is that corporations think they can get some free code without returning the favor.

If you don't want to release the code, then don't use GPL'd code.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's about time.
Proprietary vendors have been stealing code for such
a long time. It's about time someone took them to
task for it. I think that the BSD's should take
Microsoft to task as well. You can't steal the code
and then claim it was your invention.
Posted by Johnny Mnemonic (374 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Linux V.S. Microsoft and it's alliance
Linux V.S. Microsoft and its alliance
All I can say now is: Microsoft and all of its friends is suck. They just try to attack Linux by saying that Linux is unscalable and have many security risk. Just remember how bad MS-Windows are? How bad the stability and the security of Windows is? And how Microsoft drain all people's money by selling in high price? Many people wasting their money just to buy a very bad, very unsafe, very expensive Operating System. And now they (especially Microsoft) try to attack Linux as the free Operating System. Saying that Linux is bad? I'd use Linux for a long time and didn't have any problem with it till now. I can open the protected files (private files) in my harddisk, my NTFS harddisk which the OS is Windows XP SP2. It proof how bad the security of Windows is. And Windows have so many bug, security hole, broken things in it. PnP in Windows? Change it Plug and Pray. USB? My USB just become Universal Serial BUG in Windows. Microsoft just a plagiator, they take the concept of Mac Aqua MacOSX's LOOK N FEEL. Changing it to Luna Theme and get a popularity with it. How bad and how suck the way of Microsoft is. Lucky Apple didn't sue Microsoft at court for copying their concept. And now they say Linux is bla...bla... because they can't block the popularity of Linux nowadays. They (Microsoft C.S.) afraid of Linux will be the leader, so they try to make any bad issue about it. How a shame... Linux is the best!!!!!
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's nice but...
What does that have to do with this story? I
appreciate the fact that you are angry about MS,
but, this story was about the enforcement of GPL'd
software. Perhaps you meant to bring focus on the
fact that MS is closed source and professes
indemnity, yet it is sued more often than open-source
vendors who have nothing to hide. Perhaps that is
what you were referring to?
Posted by Johnny Mnemonic (374 comments )
Link Flag
What does GPL Really mean..
No matter what your view.. or how you read it.. GPL was meant to promote programmers/developers to enjoy the benefits of low/no cost sharing and advancement of technology while giving back for that privilege.

Its a great idea when not abused by money-hungry companies looking for a cheaper way to produce their products.

Read my post to the original article.

I agree with the GPL. I participate in it on the Windows, Netware and Linux platforms. It hurts no one and it fairly simply a very unrestrictive to people looking to do the right thing. People who feel threatened by the GPL are usually trying to get something for nothing from other well-meaning, hard-working developers. Lets be fair. Innovation and combined knowledge of technologists everywhere move us ahead.. not money. You can pay anyone to try to solve a problem, but someone motivated by skill and knowledge will always come out ahead.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/5208-7344-0.html?forumID=1&#38;threadID=5463&#38;messageID=33563&#38;start=-1" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/5208-7344-0.html?forumID=1&#38;threadID=5463&#38;messageID=33563&#38;start=-1</a>

I welcome everyones comments and suggestions. This is not a dig to anyone.. simply a statement to be fair in an industry that is ever becoming corrupted by money-hungry, greedy corporations.

Bob.
Posted by (55 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What does GPL Really mean..
No matter what your view.. or how you read it.. GPL was meant to promote programmers/developers to enjoy the benefits of low/no cost sharing and advancement of technology while giving back for that privilege.

Its a great idea when not abused by money-hungry companies looking for a cheaper way to produce their products.

Read my post to the original article.

I agree with the GPL. I participate in it on the Windows, Netware and Linux platforms. It hurts no one and it fairly simply a very unrestrictive to people looking to do the right thing. People who feel threatened by the GPL are usually trying to get something for nothing from other well-meaning, hard-working developers. Lets be fair. Innovation and combined knowledge of technologists everywhere move us ahead.. not money. You can pay anyone to try to solve a problem, but someone motivated by skill and knowledge will always come out ahead.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/5208-7344-0.html?forumID=1&#38;threadID=5463&#38;messageID=33563&#38;start=-1" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/5208-7344-0.html?forumID=1&#38;threadID=5463&#38;messageID=33563&#38;start=-1</a>

I welcome everyones comments and suggestions. This is not a dig to anyone.. simply a statement to be fair in an industry that is ever becoming corrupted by money-hungry, greedy corporations.

Bob.
Posted by (55 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's about time.
Proprietary vendors have been stealing code for such
a long time. It's about time someone took them to
task for it. I think that the BSD's should take
Microsoft to task as well. You can't steal the code
and then claim it was your invention.
Posted by Johnny Mnemonic (374 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Linux V.S. Microsoft and it's alliance
Linux V.S. Microsoft and its alliance
All I can say now is: Microsoft and all of its friends is suck. They just try to attack Linux by saying that Linux is unscalable and have many security risk. Just remember how bad MS-Windows are? How bad the stability and the security of Windows is? And how Microsoft drain all people's money by selling in high price? Many people wasting their money just to buy a very bad, very unsafe, very expensive Operating System. And now they (especially Microsoft) try to attack Linux as the free Operating System. Saying that Linux is bad? I'd use Linux for a long time and didn't have any problem with it till now. I can open the protected files (private files) in my harddisk, my NTFS harddisk which the OS is Windows XP SP2. It proof how bad the security of Windows is. And Windows have so many bug, security hole, broken things in it. PnP in Windows? Change it Plug and Pray. USB? My USB just become Universal Serial BUG in Windows. Microsoft just a plagiator, they take the concept of Mac Aqua MacOSX's LOOK N FEEL. Changing it to Luna Theme and get a popularity with it. How bad and how suck the way of Microsoft is. Lucky Apple didn't sue Microsoft at court for copying their concept. And now they say Linux is bla...bla... because they can't block the popularity of Linux nowadays. They (Microsoft C.S.) afraid of Linux will be the leader, so they try to make any bad issue about it. How a shame... Linux is the best!!!!!
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's nice but...
What does that have to do with this story? I
appreciate the fact that you are angry about MS,
but, this story was about the enforcement of GPL'd
software. Perhaps you meant to bring focus on the
fact that MS is closed source and professes
indemnity, yet it is sued more often than open-source
vendors who have nothing to hide. Perhaps that is
what you were referring to?
Posted by Johnny Mnemonic (374 comments )
Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.