La version française de cet article est disponible ici
Free/Iliad is a French Internet provider with a whooping €1B in revenues. Its founder Xavier Niel boasts being a very profitable business with all salaries representing only a few percents of Free’s revenues: a performance that might be better explained by the amount of open source leveraged by their massive infrastructure.
Unlike Cisco for instance Free picks and chooses which open source should be distributed and which should not. In this instance, Free/Iliad chose not to distribute the source of the GPLed software running on their customers' routers, the aptly-named Freebox.
As a result, 3 open source developers recently sent the equivalent of a cease and desist letter to Free /Iliad reminding them of their duties regarding GPL-licensed code. (Google translation, from the French Financial newspaper “Les Echos” ) ).
Worth noting is that at for the first time a year ago, a judge decided upon the enforceability of the GPLv2 in France. (read a Google translation of an article from the magazine PCinpact)
What’s of particular interest here is the way Mr. Niel argues the GPL is irrelevant to this case. His claims is roughly this: my 3,000,000 GPLoaded-home routers are part of my network therefore the GPL doesn’t apply since I don’t distribute any software outside of my network.
His reasoning is articulated as follow:
1. We don’t sell our routers (the so-called Freebox) to our customers (i.e. the box belongs to us)
2. Those are just bricks (well 3,000,000 of them) in our network termination (Here he is careful to avoid French terms for lending or giving)
3. Since the GPL doesn’t compel me to distribute licensed software that is used on my network only, I’m not under any obligation to provide any source code.
Nice, Mr. Niel did read the GPL . Is GPLv2 enforcement doomed? Not quite, let's call to the RIAA (At last this organization might have found here some raison d'être)
What might have escaped Mr. Niel are the ludicrous -if not funny- consequences of his reasoning. Imagine the following scenario:
1. I’m a cable company and I will provide (not give, lend or sell, remember) all of my customers with a router-computer combos so that they can plug it into my cable.
2. Then I will buy from content providers ( news or game publishers, from national geographic, to sport magazines etc.) one and only one site license to use on my (only) network
3. Therefore if the above holds (as I’m sure the RIAA would agree :-) ), I can have all of my customers accessing all this content for next to nothing.
Well, let me think about it: with enough such site licenses for mainstream games, I can certainly jack up the pricing of my internet access 20 times or more, it’s still going to be worth for the end user!
How stupid does Mr. Niel think French judges are? (Please don’t answer that).
However if you want to help, send me your ideas to kill such preposterous defense and I’ll forward them to people that might be interested (please don’t put those ideas into your comments, they might be read by the wrong side of the force). You can also contribute here.
At the end think about it: what does distributing or conveying really mean?
If the Navy were to launch missiles with GPLed software in their warheads can the orphans sue for copyright infringement?
PS: Here is a funny account of a company trying to work around the GPL
Article quoted by:
- Matt Asay in c|net blog The Open Road (Where I go by the name of Pierre)
- Dave Guard in Free Software Daily
- Scott Ruecker on LXer
- Pamela Jones on Groklaw.net (who pointed out that the first French GPL ruling dated back a year ago)
- Mike Masnick on TechDirt