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The Free Software Foundation wants people to distribute its software. It wants people to install it on their devices and sell those devices and make money. And it wants to encourage them to do this.

That's the message that Brett Smith, a licence compliance engineer at the FSF, would like others to understand. At a time when a lot of misinformation is being spread about the FSF, the GPL and the like, a message like this cannot be repeated too often.

Smith (below) told iTWire that while the FSF was looking for compliance with the GPL when it came to people using its copyrighted software, it was definitely not walking around with a loaded gun, looking to sue companies or individuals.

The FSF's attitude was basically that something wrong had been done and it needed to be corrected.

Brett Smith

"We want people to distribute (our) software. We want people to install it on their devices and sell devices and make money. All that's great," Smith said.

"And we want to encourage them to continue that. The way to do that is a co-operative approach which says 'please work with us. We don't want to sue you. We don't want to get tons of damages for copyright infringement. We just need you to come into compliance and to respect the terms of the licence. And when you do that, we'll go ahead and restore your rights. And everything will be settled'."

Smith said most violations came to the notice of the FSF via developers.

"Generally we get to hear of violations when some enterprising hacker buys some device and it has some feature than annoys them and they would like to do something about it. So they start poking around and after a while they realise it is running free software, and then they say, 'hey that's funny, I didn't get a copy of the source, I didn't get a copy of the licence'. They realise it is a GPL violation and report it to us. This alone provides enough reports for us to work on for quite a while."

Smith said that once a GPL violation was confirmed, the first step was to write a letter to the company, "explaining that we have learnt that they are in violation, that we would like to work with them to help bring them into compliance. And if they choose not to do that then they need to stop distributing the software because they no longer have a licence to do so."

He said the reaction of companies to such letters varied.

"It really depends on a lot of factors. It even depends on who reads the email that i send. If a lawyer gets it, the reaction is very different from what it would be if a developer gets it or if some support staff members gets it.

"The lawyers will play friendly with you, they say they want to co-operate, but at the same time they are very defensive, they don't want to reveal too much information. The process works best when it's fully co-operative.

"We can work with the developers to address specific technical deficiencies like the source is not complete here, there needs to be a copy of the licence there, that kind of thing."

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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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