Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce SFC director Kuhn reacts to BusyBox flame war

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The executive director of the Software Freedom Conservancy, Bradley Kuhn, says that enforcing the GNU General Public Licence is a means of defending software freedom.


Kuhn was reacting to the flame war that has grown out of Linux developer Matthew Garrett's criticism of efforts to develop a replacement for the popular BusyBox program that provides minimalist replacements for the most common utilities usually found on a UNIX or Linux system.

The SFC has been enforcing the GPL on software since around 2008 - it does so for BusyBox - and Kuhn said he had decided to write a post on th SFC blog, restating things he had already said many times, in order that people were clear about the organisation's role in GPL compliance. On his own, he has been doing enforcement since 1999.

Several of those who posted comments on the Linux Weekly News website about the BusyBox replacement issue had mentioned the SFC.

"After all these years of speaking about, writing about, and doing GPL enforcement, I'm occasionally surprised at how much confusion still exists about how and why it's done," Kuhn wrote. "I've focused solely on doing GPL enforcement via 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entities, which means I do it only in the public good."

The primary goal of any GPL enforcement - in this case of version 2 - was to ensure compliance: providing users with source code so that they could copy, share, modify and install improved versions.

"The GPL itself is a copyright license (sic) that does a weird hack on copyright: it uses the copyright rules to turn them around, and require people to share software freely (as in freedom) in exchange for permission to copy, modify and distribute the software," he wrote.

The GPL states that in the event of a violation, then one loses the rights to distribute the program in question for all time - this is known as the "death clause" and is present in version 2 without any further addenda - unless the copyright holder(s) grants it another licence .

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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