Open Source

Is open source a threat to businesses legally?

When it comes to intellectual property, McAfee warns that open source may be more of a threat to businesses.

When it comes to intellectual property, McAfee warns that open source may be more of a threat to businesses.

An excerpt from PC World:

"To the extent we utilize 'open source' software we face risks," McAfee said in its 10-K annual report, filed at the end of December.

The company said its ability to commercialize products could be harmed because of "ambiguous" open source license terms that could result in "unanticipated or uncertain obligations regarding our products."

The cases mentioned include Skype and Verizon, who are both facing lawsuits concerning GPLed code in proprietary products.

Proprietary and GPLed code combinations may prove to be quite a lot for companies, but does that make open source a threat to businesses? What about all the benefits they derive from the collective innovation in open-source code?

36 comments
Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

any problems. Also, the latest versions of the GPL allow for this as well. But the simple answer is you have a basic product that uses open source and is free, you then sell an add-on that isn't either. Bingo, you've a working model that's totally legal. Or you make the whole product GPL and give it away, but sell the support. Now an anti-virus company is really selling the updated signatures as a services - so give the software away free with no signatures and sell you signature update service. Lots of ways around things PROVIDED (unlike McAfee) you got some imagination and brains. eidt - sorry I missed this the first time around

Jaqui
Jaqui

only 18 months late. ;) actually, the addon product for a gpled app must also be gpled. it "requires" that software under the gpl, so is an extension of it and must be under the gpl as well is how they [ the writers of the gpl ] look at it. the addon ALSO supplies same functionality to abc app that is gpled, then it does not REQUIRE the gpled software so is not forced to be gpled. this is where the viral nature of the GNU-GPL does come into play. :/

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

to breath on my own. Have you looked closely at the last two GPL licences - I haven't yet, but did read a few articles about the arguments over them as they were looking at different ways to allow the use of GPL in some closed source projects. The last summary I saw looked like they were heading for a consensus that the GPL code would be publicly available and the closed source code wouldn't. If that finally got up it would be ideal for this sort of situation. I still think the best way is to give the app away and sell the support. or an extra that builds on it to work better.

nwoodson
nwoodson

I'm not an attorney so my sympathies are with the FOSS people. My observation is that all of the companies crying about any of the open licenses are trying to reinforce their claim that the only good, safe, commercially viable software is vendor-controlled, expensive and should be licensed to death. It also appears that it's immoral for GPL or BSD developers to have a good idea. It must, however, be right and proper to take said code, incorporate it into a commercial product, and attempt to obfuscate ownership in order to profit from it. [Remember, we're still waiting to see how Microsoft's allegations still play out.] My guess is that McAfee just wants to eliminate competition just like everyone else.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

breaking GPL ok , you have to make breaking any copyright OK. It's really annoying when the enemy turns out to be quite clever after all.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

So they could change the license. Now they use the code base, contribute back a decent bit, but hold in reserve some IP. AND others can continuse to use clam av as if it were GPLed

Jaqui
Jaqui

I think I'll go get the GNU-GPL sources for clam av. want a copy? http://sourceforge.net/projects/clamav/

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

My machines interact with Windows boxes so ClamAV is a standard item with my installs. My NAS box will make use of the Samba plugin when I finally get enough spare parts to assemble it.

charlie_k
charlie_k

If you are a company that wants to use open source it is important that you choose the right license. The GNU license is "viral" and requires that if you distribute product with open source elements, then all the code that links to it also becomes open source. I'm not a lawyer but it seems to me that the definition of "links" is ambiguous. There are many ways that code can link together some of which are more tightly coupled than others. I think that the risk of the GPL to corporations is considerable. The BSD license, on the other hand, does not have the viral component. It is a much less threatening license. In my own business, I will use the BSD but not the GPL. Charlie

seanferd
seanferd

In my own business, I will use the BSD but not the GPL McAfee could have made the same, or similar, decision. They could have just gotten off their a$$es and written their own, especially considering their views on open source in the first place. The whole point is, don't use it if you cannot or will not abide by whatever rules are attached. Just let them slap some Microsoft code (example used due to popularity) into their products, and let's see where that gets them. I do not see the whole "danger" or "risk" thing. (Forty-five more armies, will nothing stop this man?) If anyone wants to use something for free let them abide by the attached rules. I cannot fathom the problem here. If the only problem is with defining how the term "link" applies, they can contact FSF about understanding the implications, and the code's copyright holders for anything more specific. I am sure that McAfee, at least, has a massive legal team to do this for them. Put 'em to work. Not all open source software is GPLed, various licenses may apply, so McAfee can check with whomever is appropriate. Give credit where credit is due, anyway. I can't see the problems with releasing source code anyway, if necessary, seeing how they can take action against anyone who steals their code. They love doing that stuff. Why would they not expect the same behaviour in return?

pr.arun
pr.arun

Implying that the code that comes under the GPL should be made available even if used in a proprietary product. Companies would do fine to make the GPLed code available for alteration and distribution while the proprietary remains as it is. It is the demarcation that is relevant.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

What McAffee are whining about is that they can't violate the license agreement because it contradicts their much tighter restriction. Tough All you have to do is wrap the open source code up in a service and leave that under the OSS license it came from anyway. Not rocket science is it?

Tig2
Tig2

The core of OS X is Open Source- BSD. My EULA clearly points out what part is GPL and what is proprietary. And it gives me a clear understanding of what my rights are to each piece. It seems to me that Mac has done just fine with a half and half OS for quite some time now. I don't understand McAfee's heartburn. Oh, and Mac has made a pretty penny for themselves with OS X. Personally, I love it and enjoy using it.

Jaqui
Jaqui

actually moving OSX to be fully open source? They are slowly releasing the sources for even the proprietary code base.

Tig2
Tig2

I think that opening OS X is a good move. I also think that their T&C is the best I have ever read. Open Source is a sustainable business model. It appears that Apple has learned that.

normhaga
normhaga

Have you read the T&C, it forbids the use of OS X on anything but Apple hardware, not that this has stopped anything.

Absolutely
Absolutely

[pre]The company said its ability to commercialize products could be harmed because of "ambiguous" open source licence terms that could result in "unanticipated or uncertain obligations regarding our products."[/pre] It gives me warm, fuzzy feelings when I see a writer skilled enough to express sarcasm using "only" punctuation marks.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

OSS license agreement. As for the IP argument, well that's a non-starter as well, Open source = Public IP, that's the point of it. Send this chump back to his spreadsheet.

Jaqui
Jaqui

GPL software,could be. Open Source software tends to improve far faster than proprietary code, when it is useful to people, so it is often far more robust* than any proprietary software comparable to it. The problem is that a very large percentage of Open Source Software is under the GNU-GPL, which is where these proprietary software companies keep screwing themselves over. All the open source software licenses do not allow for open source code to be included in proprietary software. The LGPL, which is depreciated, did allow for proprietary code to link to open source libraries, but most of the open source licenses do not allow even that. What these businesses have to remember is that Open Source Software companies are earning money, by giving the software away, including the source code, and charging for support. If the McAffees etc want to use open source code, they will have to change business models and start selling SERVICES not software, as the open source businesses do. *robust to mean stable, more secure and as easy to work with

Justin James
Justin James

The problem isn't "open source". The problem is GPL. GPL is "open" in the sense that you can look at the source code. In terms of restrictions, it is just as restrictive as many proprietary EULA's, just... different. A truly "open" license is the BSD license. It's why I am constantly befuddled as to why folks base these appliances and other projects on Linux instead of BSD. Apple made the smart move when they did Mac OS X from BSD, not Linux, otherwise I'd be running OS X on my PC right now, for free. :) J.Ja

Jaqui
Jaqui

is quite restrictive in it's own fashion. It is, in many ways a better license than the GNU-GPL, but it does have restrictions.

Jaqui
Jaqui

I'm writing a license that addresses some of the issues I see with all licenses. kind of like apotheon is doing with his ccdcopywrite license. [ http://ccd.apotheon.org ] I personally find his license to be one of the least objectionable ones available. edit typo. I really need to stop posting when I'm tired .

Absolutely
Absolutely

... then put it under your own license, if you really want to.

Jaqui
Jaqui

and rolling my own linux doesn't mean I can pick the license it's under. I can pick the license for software I write though, as long as I use libraries and widgets that don't require a specific license.

Absolutely
Absolutely

[i]We just have to pick the license that best suits the needs...[/i] That statement is somewhat incongruous, don't you think?

Jaqui
Jaqui

isn't a perfect software license out there. perfect meaning it will fit all needs for all people / companies. We just have to pick the license that best suits the needs of the particular project, and that does include the needs of the client / employer as a higher priority than personal preference.

Justin James
Justin James

Yes, it does indeed have restrictions, but none as restrictive as GPL or Microsoft EULA, to use two well known examples. Of all of the major licenses out there, it most certainly is the gentlest. J.Ja

Absolutely
Absolutely

[i]If the McAffees etc want to use open source code, they will have to change business models and start selling SERVICES not software, as the open source businesses do.[/i] The change will be in the competitiveness of the market for those services. I don't believe McAfee has what it takes to be a player, in an open-source, laissez-faire capitalist market.

Jaqui
Jaqui

or the wouldn't have violated the gnu-gpl. Mammoth lost to Busybox, so the legal precedent has been set, open source licenses have legal standing. hmmm, whoever owns the code McAffee used should ask that McAffee release full source code for their software as part of the settlment, under the GNU-GPL since they already have code under it. ]:)

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

There bloated crud is bad enough on Windows boxes without the crap getting mixed in with FOSS code. Ok, I know.. the community would tear that sucker apart and put it back together with all the extra bolts and pannels left out but I couldn't resist a good short rant of an objection. ;D

Jaqui
Jaqui

doubt that anyone does. it must be bad, they are stealing code from open source apps, their coders must be useless. ;)

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

really want the McAffee code? I mean, their product is so bad, even Norton looks good in comparison...

armstrongb
armstrongb

Many companies large and small run open source operating systems that save lots of money for the organization. That is not a threat to anyone who does not sell software. McAfee is a company that I have no expectation to produce a quality product. They are very good at sowing FUD however. While using open sourse in a commercial product can spawn issues one does not see when using proprietary code, it is a choice a business can make. If McAfee is unhappy that by using open source they may hurt their commercial prospects then the answer is simple, do not use open source code when developing their McAfee products.

ashishtree
ashishtree

I dont think so, open source coming for good cause and it is growing because of low budget and good in resource. There is no threat about that if you will not create any illegal issue by own.