[vorbis] PlusV

Jack Moffitt jack at xiph.org
Sat Oct 20 09:02:07 PDT 2001

>     So assuming what we have is a GPLed piece of software that is covered by
>     a third party patent that is enforceable, what happens? :)
> If you believe the patent covers this program and is enforcible,
> then you can't distribute the program without infringing either
> the patent or the copyright, which means you can't distribute the
> program at all.

Yes, I realize I can't distribute it.  But it is distributed by many
people, who obviously don't care or don't know better, including the
LAME development team (you can download LAME's source code, but not
binaries, from www.mp3dev.org).  So my question is, since they are
ignoring their own license and/or the patent restrictions, what happens?
Would a court say that because they are ignoring their own license, that
they shouldn't expect anyone else to?  And if a court might see a
patent-holder releasing patent-covered free software as an implied
royalty-free license, then would they not see a third party as granting
one as well?  Is the LAME team open to litigation if one of their users
(of which there are _many_) decides to sue the team because Thompson is
after this user?

I think at the very least I should call Mark Taylor (the current
maintainer of LAME) and inform him about this problem.  Do you recommend
any other licenses that would keep as many freedoms as we are able, but
allow them to distribute (and others to redistribute) LAME as source

>     What does this do to their Free Software status?  Can it be said that
>     LAME is not Free Software because of this patent issue?
> Essentially yes, we cannot consider it free software in the countries
> where the patent exists.

I was under the impression that something was free software or it wasn't
free software.  Is this status contigent on the county a user is in?  Or
the country of the software's origin?  How can something be free
software if not _all_ potential users are treated equally?  What good is
it that I can have these freedoms if half the world doesn't?  I suppose
with so many different laws, this is a difficult problem.  So is the
United States the frame of reference for free in this case? 

And analagous to the patent issue, what happens to free software in
terms of restrictions in law, for instance the export restrictions on
cryptography?  Is such software non-free if developed in the US, and
free if developed elsewhere (this is what I assume from having read the
gnu.org to-do pages)?

I have read much about free software, but I don't think I've ever
thought or read about it with these situations in mind.  I suspect that
there's some page at gnu.org that I haven't found that answers all of
these questions, and if so, please point me there :)

>       Would this
>     prevent LAME from suing someone who infringed on its copyright?
> Not at all.  Anyone who tried to obey a patent license by distributing
> LAME with less than full GPL freedoms would be infringing the copyright
> and could be sued for this.

So ignoring your own license does not grant the rights for others to
ignore it?

> Please don't use the term "intellectual property"; it is a recipe for
> confusing yourself.  I wrote an explanation, which you can find in
> http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html; please do read it.

I'll remember this.  That page is both insightful and funny :)


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