[sf-lug] Potential GPL violation, with the potential intent to victimize our Elderly loved ones

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Wed Nov 11 14:51:07 PST 2009

Quoting Chris Mason (mason.christopher.thomas at gmail.com):

> I am concerned about this project/company:
> http://www.discount-age.co.uk/simplicity_computers/
> BBC Article Here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8352606.stm
> They are selling computers preloaded with Linux, non-free Sun Java
> JRE, and the non-free "Eldy" interface.
> The non-free "Eldy" software is a central selling point of the system,
> making it clearly a derived work - meaning that, under the terms of
> the GNU GPL, the end result itself must be licensed under the GPL.

As Bill said, huh?

I don't think the term "derivative work" (which is the correct term in 
copyright law, not "derived work") means what you think it means.

Also, I think you're a bit confused about what effect copyright violation 
produces, in case where actual violation exists -- which it pretty
clearly does not, here, unless you have some specific reason to think
'Eldy' is a derivative of GPLed third-party code that you haven't yet

Let's supposed that I write work A and issue an instance of it under GPL
v. 2 or 3.  Someone else comes along, creating and distributing a
derivative of my work under terms that don't convey all of the rights
I've specified.  

My licence terms predicated the permission to create/distribute
derivatives on conveying those rights to further recipients.  So, the
second coder has committed copyright violation, which is a tort.  
Under tort law, he/she might get enjoined from distribution, and
might end up getting ordered to pay me damages for the violation
(especially if I registered my copyright at the Library of Congress
Copyright Office).  However, nothing obliges him/her to "license under
the GPL" his work:  That is not among my available remedies as an
infringed copyright owner.

> Essentially, in addition to my GPL concerns, this is also my concern:
> After a target user (the slow-learning elderly person) invests time
> and energy in learning the system, the company can decide at any time
> to start charging $100/month or whatever figure they wish for the
> continued use of their e-mail and IM. The target user may feel s/he
> has no choice but to pay, as they may feel reliant on Eldy to continue
> e-mailing and chatting with their loved ones.

Indeed.  This is an excellent reason to be wary of proprietary code and

> Are my concerns reasonable, or am I off the mark? Should I report this
> to the FSF?

Your second concern is quite reasonable.  Your first concern -- the
legal allegation -- appears to be based on a factual error.

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