Tag Archives: License Compliance

GPL compliance and the persistent cancer theory

In the golden age of Open Source compliance offerings, one of the key marketing argument still appears to be: “The General Public License (GPL) is sooo risky. In case of GPL infringement, you will have to release all of your code – speak your intellectual property (IP) – under the same terms. Take our license scanner as we are the best to protect you against such nightmares.”

That statement simply is not correct. But very effective if you want to sell your services. Which company wants to be forced to release its valuable IP into the public only by not following specific license terms?

This myth was supposedly framed by Steve Balmer of Microsoft who once said back in 2001: “The way the license is written, if you use any open-source software, you have to make the rest of your software open source. […] Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches. That’s the way that the license works.”

His general understanding of one of the basic principles of Free Software and the GPL – reciprocity – speaks of great intellectual power. However this muddle-headed theory in total is utterly wrong but still persistent today serving as one of the main arguments to sell license compliance offerings.

Even infringing the terms of the GPL will never force you to put your own source code under the same license. Simple as that.

Sure, in the worst case you have violated a software license. In this aspect there is no difference between the GPL or any other even proprietary license. Copyright infringement claims are caused by

  • the actual violation of the license and
  • the unlicensed use of software.

You have to cope with its consequences. Legal remedies are

  • punitive damages and
  • injunction to not distribute your product any further.

Not more, not less.

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