Think again, FSF tells Microsoft on GPL3

Between the lines

Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) appears to be polishing up its legal sabers over possible violations of the General Public License (GPL) by Microsoft.

In a statement released today the FSF told Microsoft it's prepared to use its "resources" directly or indirectly to protect Linux copyrights and to ensure continued compliance with the GPL.

"We will ensure - and to that extent of our resources, assist other GPL3 licensors in ensuring - that Microsoft respects our copyrights and complies with our licenses," the FSF said.

It was a curiously worded, and round-about statement, released nearly two months after Microsoft effectively refused to recognize GPL3 or to be bound by the license's terms and conditions under its distribution and support deal with Novell.

Microsoft said in July: "We do not believe that Microsoft needs a license under GPL to carry out any aspects of its collaboration with Novell, including its distribution of support certificates, even if Novell chooses to distribute GPL3 code in the future. Furthermore, Microsoft does not grant any implied or express patent rights under or as a result of GPL3, and GPL3 licensors have no authority to represent or bind Microsoft in any way."

The FSF deliberately designed GPL3 to scupper Microsoft's Novell deal, by extending its support for Novell's Linux under GPL3 to all Linux users.

Today, the FSF argued Microsoft cannot exempt itself from GPL3. "Microsoft cannot by any act of anticipatory repudiation divest itself of its obligation to respect others' copyright. If Microsoft distributes our works licensed under GPL3, or pays others to distribute them on its behalf, it is bound to do so under the terms of that license," the FSF said.

Unless Microsoft changes its stance, legal action is the only possible end point for this latest chapter in the story of Microsoft versus open source. There is no legal precedent – to our knowledge – that has been used to enforce GPL or that could compel Microsoft to adhere.

GPL has - effectively - been something users have adhered to from a sense of goodwill. Clearly, Microsoft subscribes neither to a sense of goodwill or the FSF's Paddington Bear hard stares.

Microsoft was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.®

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