CyberTech Rambler

November 12, 2009

Microsoft’s Windows Tool contaminated with GPL-ed code? Is it really a great deal?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:08 am

The news yesterday is Microsoft has to pull a tool from Microsoft Store because some preliminary (and cursory) analysis by Within Windows suggests it may be contaminated with GPL-ed code. Slashdot has a field day over this story as usual. While the hot heads are calling for Microsoft to open source the tool in question, cool heads are cautioning that this is NOT confirmation that the tool contained GPL-ed code. It is simply a precaution that reputable vendor takes when there is a potential copyright infringement claim.

What I will like to add is Microsoft has behaved very responsiblely. While Microsoft’s mouth need to be washed in strong detergent, their actions when dealing with license infringement is very reputable. For a company chunking out hundred thousands if not millions line of code every day, occassionally license infringement can occur. Not by design but the probability is against them. The trouble that Microsoft is facing is a result of them not being able to control what their mouth says, so any infringement is picked up and amplified a thousand times then a similar news from another company.

I do not believe Microsoft did this intentionally. For those who is gunning for Microsoft paying a heavy price for this act, even if you can prove that this is intentional, they can continue to dream on. The normal penalty is to stop distributing the infringing code, and may be a monetary compensation for past infringement. In this case it appears an alternative is available, i.e., locating and negotiating a license from the author. The fact that the tool was pulled suggest to me that internal audits had revealed that they did not have a license from the author. As some slashdot posters points out, it is the author who can pursue infringement. He can decide to grant a separate license to Microsoft that will “cure” the GPL infringement.

For those saying that Microsoft shold now open the source code to the Window tool, I must respectfully disagree. I believe this penalty is only appropriate as the ultimate sanction if one can prove that Microsoft did this intentionally. Any unintentional infringement should be dealt with by not distributing the code anymore, and the infringer replacing the code or removing the code from any computer with the infringing code.

We must not treat Microsoft differently from other companies. One of FOSS biggest philosophy is equal in dignity before software. It is our duty as advocate of FOSS to make sure we treat Microsoft just like anyone else.

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