Denying SCO's right to redistribute GPL'ed code opens questions of Open Source compliance

Posted by dave on Feb 27, 2004 6:25 AM
LXer; By Dave Whitinger

Somebody had to do it, and why not Nmap? By restricting SCO was redistributing GPL'ed code, Fyodor has taken a step applauded by many (your editor included), but also raised the question of Open Source(tm) complaince, and started what could become an interesting story to watch over the coming months.

In a posting to BUGTRAQ, Fyodor wrote:

"SCO Corporation of Lindon, Utah (formerly Caldera) has lately taken to an extortion campaign of demanding license fees from Linux users for code that they themselves knowingly distributed under the terms of the GNU GPL. They have also refused to accept the GPL, claiming that some preposterous theory of theirs makes it invalid (and even unconstitutional)! Meanwhile they have distributed GPL-licensed Nmap in (at least) their "Supplemental Open Source CD". In response to these blatant violations, and in accordance with section 4 of the GPL, we terminated SCO's rights to redistribute any versions of Nmap in any of their products, including (without limitation) OpenLinux, Skunkware, OpenServer, and UNIXWare. We have also stopped supporting the OpenServer and UNIXWare platforms."

While this decision will certainly ignite a standing ovation from Linux users everywhere, it raises the question: What is the position of the Open Source(tm) Initiative? The Open Source Definition clearly prohibits discriminating against groups of persons, and SCO is most certainly a "group of persons". So, can Fyodor continue to claim that his Nmap software is "open source(tm)"?

Fyodor (what is his last name, anyway?) seems to explain this away in his paragraph by claiming that SCO's violations against the GPL automatically revoke their rights under the license, but there are two problems with this:

1. Although SCO has admitted that it does not consider the GPL valid, it has not yet been proven in a court of law that SCO violated the GPL.

2. Paragraph 5 of the Open Source Definition does not provide any definition on the limitation of discrimination against groups - it simply says that you cannot do it.

As a result of the plain language of these licenses, it appears that Nmap is now in violation of the Open Source Definition and can no longer claim to be "Open Source(tm) Software".

I asked Eric Raymond, President of the Open Source Initiative, for clarification on this issue, but he has not yet responded (c'mon Eric - I gave you an hour!)

Either Nmap must discontinue calling itself "Open Source", or the OSI needs to refine the Open Source Definition to include additional language to allow this sort of discrimination. A statement of OSI's position would seem to be in order.

Update 2004-04-27 15:44:08 CST: Eric Raymond wrote to me with the following information:

"The answer is no. OSD Clause 5 is intended to prevent discriminatory clauses from being written into licenses, not to prevent the enforcement of non-discriminatory licenses.

Fyodor is a member of our community in good standing who is responding proportionately (and appropriately under governing law) to a direct violation of his rights by SCO. I think he deserves the full and unreserved support of OSI and our entire community. "

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Bad Analysis? robT 5 2,984 Feb 27, 2004 10:53 AM
The terms of the GPL. jpe 1 2,124 Feb 27, 2004 8:47 AM

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