Free software! Sale ends soon!

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It might surprise you, but there is a time limit on free software. Clause 3b of the GPL states that the written offer of source is good for three years. However, there is no dictate on the turn-around time between the request of source code, and its deliverance. Has anyone spotted a problem yet?

But, despite the legal requirements, contractual obligations, and self-opinionated mumbo jumbo often spouted about free software, there is another problem: peer pressure. This was brought to a head this week by the Slashdotting of a blog article from the GP2x community This re-highlighted the fact that GamePark Holdings (GPH) still hadn’t released the Linux kernel source to their handheld console, the GP2x. True, a version of the source was released last December, but it was incomplete. And pre-alpha. And useless.

This has resulted in a storm of controversy (of mainly slashdotters and existing GP2x users) over something comparatively minor. Although both groups have a right to the source, only the GP2x users can make use of it. Everyone else wants to see it solely “because they can". This peer pressure could show the free software community in a (more?) fastidious and demanding light. Does this help the cause? The company? The community?

By definition, anything compiled with GPL code comes under the GPL, and must be distributed as such. Although determining which code inside your home directory was actually compiled into the final executable is a little more work, it surely isn’t two months worth. And two months is a long time in the technology world. There have been three firmware releases in that time. How relevant is old source by that time?

The bottom line is that GPH are either lazy, busy, or ignorant of the GPL. The Slashdot community certainly believe the latter. But of the 269 comments added since the story broke, I wonder how many of them have actually tried recompiling it?

It still begs the question, however, what is the acceptable turn-around time to deliver source?



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Submitted by admin on

From: Bob Law
Date: 2006-01-20
Subject: RE: Free Software! Sale ends soon!

I believe you should be more clear when you say anything that has been compiled with free software has to be GPL'd. Anything that includes free software in its compilation has to be GPL'd. The last I knew, you could compile a package you write with a GNU compiler and resell it without it being GPL'd.


From: bjimba
Date: 2006-01-21
Subject: A nitpick from the infamous blogger

Hi, Steve! It's Jim Russell (aka bjimba), the guy who poked a blogpost into the hornets' nest. Thanks for the link.

The thing you should note when referencing the "three year" clause in the GPL is that it would only apply if the GP2X was actually accompanied with the written offer that is described in that clause. The GP2X that was shipped to me was not accompanied with such a written offer, nor was it accompanied with the source code. Those are the only two options for a commercial product to comply with the GPL. Neither was met.

The tricky part of GPL code is that you really can't force someone to release their modifications. If they don't, the copyright holders can enforce copyright law, and force them to stop distribution. Of course, that's not what we GP2X owners want.

Is the increased publicity good or bad? I think it's good. Others have told me in rather blunt terms that it's bad. I don't regret making the post, but some people really, really, really don't like me now.


From: Alceu_Frigeri
Url: [email protected]
Date: 2006-01-21
Subject: Just read the GPL

Just read the full clause 3,

So, 3a-> you outhg to offer, beforehand, the source code with the binary code


3.b-> You have to offer, WITH THE BINARY, a WRITTEN OFFER (valid for three years) to give the source TO ANY THIRD PARTY WHO MAY ASK FOR IT

3.c -> doesn't apply to commercial companies like GPH


The three years 'time bomb' refers that the (re-)distributor is obeid to offer a WRITTEN FORM stating they will give

the source to WHOEVER ASKS IT during the three years time frame... not that they don't have to give the source...

or that, past the three years, they don't have to give any source code...

The simple fact that they don't give, at the very beggining,

the source code, with or along side the binary code, put them at odds with GPL, and therefore they loose (copyright law) the right to use/distribute the code. End of Game.

As for the clause 3:


3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it. For an executable work, complete source code means all the source code for all modules it contains, plus any associated interface definition files, plus the scripts used to control compilation and installation of the executable. However, as a special exception, the source code distributed need not include anything that is normally distributed (in either source or binary form) with the major components (compiler, kernel, and so on) of the operating system on which the executable runs, unless that component itself accompanies the executable.

If distribution of executable or object code is made by offering access to copy from a designated place, then offering equivalent access to copy the source code from the same place counts as distribution of the source code, even though third parties are not compelled to copy the source along with the object code.


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When builders go down to the pub they talk about football. Presumably therefore, when footballers go down to the pub they talk about builders! When Steven Goodwin goes down the pub he doesn’t talk about football. Or builders. He talks about computers. Constantly...

He is also known as the angry man of open source.

Steven Goodwin a blog that no one reads that, and a beer podcast that no one listens to :)