GPL Validity

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Software Licenses   >   Articles   >   GPL Validity


Is the GPL a Valid License?

There have been a number of legal disputes in the USA and Germany related to the GPL.

In all the cases which have been resolved, the GPL has proven to be both enforceable and legally binding. The SCO vs IBM case has not yet been resolved, however in that case, the principal remaining GPL-related issue appears to be whether SCO violated the GPL (IBM alleges that they did, but SCO claims that they did not).
  • In cases in Germany, copyright-holders have won injunctions and judgements preventing copyright-infringing use of GPL licensed software (where the copyright infringement arises from breaching the license's terms through GPL violations).

  • In 2005, a private individual, Daniel Wallace, filed two law suits in Southern Indiana, one against the Free Software Foundation, and the other against IBM, Novell and Red Hat, alleging that the use of the GPL violated anti-trust law. Wallace's lawsuits were however ultimately dismissed by the court, which comprehensively rejected his arguments.

  • The SCO Group has made various allegations (and filed lawsuits based on these allegations) relating to Linux, claiming that some of the code in Linux is there in violation of SCO's alleged intellectual property rights. In the course of these lawsuits, as well as on their web site and in other public statements, the SCO Group has made various claims and assertions about the GPL, including:

    1. The assertion that the GPL "violates the United States Constitution and the U.S. copyright and patent laws" (in a letter that the SCO Group's CEO, Darl McBride, sent to the US Congress and published on its web site).

    2. A defense (subsequently dropped) in a lawsuit to IBM counterclaims, alleging that "The GPL violates the U.S. Constitution, together with copyright, antitrust and export control laws, and IBM's claims based thereon, or related thereto, are barred."

    3. A defense (also subsequently dropped) in a lawsuit to IBM counterclaims, seeming to allege that IBM could not enforce the copyrights of IBM-owned but GPL-licensed works, without the presence of various third parties: "IBM has failed to join one or more parties needed for just adjudication of the counterclaims, including but not limited to the Free Software Foundation and contributors to the Linux 2.4 and 2.5 kernels."

    4. That the SCO Group's distribution of Linux (including IBM copyrighted works) did not violate the GPL, even though SCO was simultaneously attempting to impose licensing fees and various restrictions on Linux users (IBM counterclaims in the lawsuit include a copyright claim based on SCO's alleged distribution of IBM-copyrighted programs in Linux in alleged violation of the GPL).
So, to summarize, so far, wherever tested, the GPL has proven to be both a valid and enforceable license.

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