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Re: The sad decline of copyleft software licenses? :(

From: Pen-Yuan Hsing
Subject: Re: The sad decline of copyleft software licenses? :(
Date: Mon, 28 Sep 2020 10:52:36 +0800
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On 9/25/20 10:51 AM, Denver Gingerich wrote:
On Fri, Sep 25, 2020 at 09:34:28AM +0800, Pen-Yuan Hsing wrote:
2. To my surprise, the highly proprietary messaging app WhatsApp uses the
GPL-licensed implementation of the Signal protocol developed by Open Whisper
Systems for its self-proclaimed end-to-end encryption:

I suppose the Facebook army of lawyers were able to perform the necessary
legal gymnastics to make a GPL program fit in their proprietary app, perhaps
by technically keeping the GPL'ed binary separate from the rest of the app?
(can someone more knowledgeable speak to this?)

No.  What is more likely is that Facebook paid Open Whisper Systems to give 
them a proprietary license to libsignal-protocol so that Facebook could use it 
without complying with the GPL.

As far as I can tell from reading the source code headers, Open Whisper Systems 
retains copyright in all of libsignal-protocol so they are legally permitted to 
engage in this proprietary relicensing.  I'm not a fan of this model, and would 
recommend people instead maintain multi-copyright-holder codebases instead, so 
the codebase can't be unilaterally relicensed by a single entity in this way.

I see, I haven't considered the possibility that Facebook might have "simply" obtained a custom, proprietary license from Open Whisper Systems to incorporate their implementation of the Signal protocol. I agree with you that I am also not a fan of this model!

We definitely need to push back against companies that are violating the GPL.  
That's the main part of my job at Software Freedom Conservancy, and I encourage 
people who notice GPL violations in any of our member projects (listed at - including BusyBox, Samba, and 
Linux) to report these violations to - I'll get 
back to you if we need more details (I manage that address).

One excellent way to help with this is to check your devices (phone, TV, car) 
to see if they include an offer for source code.  If so, then check if the 
offer works by going to the listed website or emailing the listed address to 
get the source code for your device.  If you can't find it or the source is 
incomplete, let Conservancy know at the email address above.

The only way we prevent the GPL from effectively becoming a permissive license 
is by enforcing the GPL, since big companies won't comply unless we do.

Thank you for your wonderful work on GPL enforcement! It's so important, as you say, to prevent it from becoming a de facto permissive license.

That said, GPL enforcement seems like a "passive" rather than "active" way to encourage GPL adoption. If anything, do you think there's a risk that because of GPL enforcement, that would "scare" even more developers into using permissive licenses because they just don't want to "think about it"?

Based on your experience, what's an active and positive way to encourage the adoption of a copyleft license such as the GPL?

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