CyberTech Rambler

July 23, 2009

Whether or not Microsoft contributed to Linux Driver because of GPL violation is immaterial [Updated]

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:52 pm

When Microsoft announced that it was contributing codes under GPL v2 to the Linux project, I read a few email from others with respect to the contribution, including the postings referred to by Mary Jo-Foley below.  After reading those, I concluded that there is a very strong hint that Microsoft contributed the code because it itself was in violation of GPL. Unfortunately, it is not conclusive. Obviously a few more people, including Jo-Foley smell a rat and follow up on it. The scoop that Jo-Foley got, i.e., in this post, is probably the closest one can get to fingering Microsoft’s contribution as curing a GPL violation.

To me, I won’t make a fanfair of whether the contribution was a result of violating GPL in the first place. I can see why tech journalists, such as Gavin Clarke (no pun intended) make a story out of it, as it is  their job.

Why? Because they all choose to concentrate on the wrong thing: That there was a violation. Microsoft is a big company, and they are involved in a lot of software projects. Once-in-a-while you will get copyright violation. Did someone in Microsoft realized that they are in violation of GPL when they wrote the code? I think so. Did they know it from day one? Very Likely. So did they adopt an attitude that let’s not worry about GPL until someone pointed it out to us. Probably, but this attitude is no different from another company. Did they think they will get away with it? No. It’s Microsoft we are talking about, so there are a lot people watching it like a hawk.

I strongly believe the period where Microsoft is in violation of GPL probably help in getting Microsoft to release those code by showing that there is demand that they cannot ignore.

What is important here is Microsoft released the code under GPL. Let’s not forget that once a violation of GPL is proven, there are actually two paths the infringer can take to cure the violation: One is to release the associated code under GPL, the second, equally valid and accepted, is to stop distributing the offending code altogether. This choice is given to all infringers of GPL, including Microsoft. Here they are forced to choose between the two. Assuming the preference is always to keep the source code closed, then the decision will be based on a calculation of which is the lesser evil: buries one desire to keep source code closed, or bit the bullet. All calculation from here depends on which decision benefit the company more. Fortunately, most GPL violation case ended with the infringer decided that to release the code is better for the company.  There are a few cases where withdrawing the offending code is not feasible as it will tank the company. However, this is not the case here. Therefore, the key point is that Microsoft itself sees the benefit of releasing the source code. Not that I am surprised they did, coz deep in my heart I believe Microsoft do see the value of GPL, regardless of what it says in public.

Now, let’s not forget that Microsoft could had equally withdraw the violating program code. Given that the people who discovered and work with Microsoft about the violation chosen to keep a low profile, we would not had known if Microsoft had gone down the route of withdrawing the code.

As for Microsoft PR department burying this violation and choose to blow the trumpet on it contributing code? Who will not do that?

Finally, I have to congratulate the people involved in getting Microsoft to cure the violation. They treated the big mammoth just like any other companies. This professional attitude is only to be commended.

[Update:

More detail on the violation @ CNET News and of course, a reiteration  at The H Open that nobody is pointing finger at Microsoft for infringing GPL]

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