Open Source

Watching the watchers of the GPL

Ah, the GPL. The GNU Public License. It's probably one of the most controversial topics in all of the IT world. What is it and how is it enforced? Who backs it and who defends it? And who watches the watchers? Now there's the real rub. We all know that there are numerous groups out there standing on the open source soap box (myself included). But of all of us grandstanding for the open source community - are there those who can and those who can not be trusted? Do members exist among the ranks that distort the facts and bend the rules to suit their needs? Outside of Groklaw, I would say a firm, "You never know."

But fortunately there is one group, and it's a group that (I'm ashamed to say) I am only now becoming aware of. This group is was founded in 2003 by Harald Welte for the sole purpose of raising awareness of past and present GPL violations. In March 2008 Harald won the Award for the Advancement of Free Software from the Free Software Foundation.

Of course awareness is not the sole purpose of this group. They also serve as a means to give users a way to report possible GPL violations as well as assisting copyright holders against GPL-infringing organizations. The site also gives advice to vendors on selling GPL products.

Of course, reading the site brought me to the, which is dedicated to the people dedicated to developing free software. If you visit this site, you know the projects are within the boundaries of the GPL. It's the watchers watching the watchers who watch the watchers.

And then there's the Mac Daddy of them all - Groklaw. Groklaw is the legal arm of the GPL. Groklaw is truly the place to go when you need to know the legalese surrounding the GPL. But it's more than that. Groklaw is putting into place all of the practices they preach. Being law-centric, it would be easy for Groklaw to take everything they have researched and hide it away ala LexisNexis. But instead, they open source their research. It's all there for anyone to read and learn from. Which is very smart of them, because....

The true watchers of the watchers are the users and developers. One of the greatest aspects of the open source community is the community itself. In no other aspect of the IT industry (or any other industry I would wager) do you find a community so bent on watching each other's back. Many times I have reported violations of a GPL license to the developer of a GPL software, simply because I feel that if you take advantage of my open source brethren, you take advantage of me. And I know there are thousands of others just like me who would stand up for an open source developer (most likely someone they don't even know) simply because that developer is the creator of something that belongs to the community.

Many people will argue that Linux, OpenOffice, Firefox, or The GIMP is sub-standard compared to the proprietary equivalent. I allow that because, for the most part, that is opinion and opinions are, generally speaking, never right or wrong (facts on the other hand can be, of course). But I will argue with anything saying that the community of proprietary software comes anywhere near the community of open source. And I will always stand up for open source developers when I find a GPL violation. And now I know there are organizations that I can turn to for help in this task.

I would like to think that others, like you (you take the time to read an Open Source blog so you must care somewhat about open source software), would do the same. And I am sure that developers of open source software are glad there are organizations out there like Groklaw, Gnumonks, and But I would venture a guess that they are even more thankful for individuals willing to stick out their neck to help out the open source community.

So I want to raise a toast to all of those people out there helping to protect the GPL. May you live long and prosper, may the force be with you, and may you always take the red pill!


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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