Long-time LWN readers have seen their share of, um, "interesting" Jeff Merkey quotes
over the years. Mr. Merkey worked at Novell, but left to form the
Timpanogas Research Group, which, at times, intended to sell "virtual
network disk" technology, the Ute-Linux
distribution, and a Netware-like kernel called MANOS. The company
spent vast amounts of money in litigation with Novell, and was ahead of the curve
the indemnification game:
TRG grants indemnification against infringement claims by Novell to
any commercial Linux companies, customers, distributors, etc. who
use patches, NWFS, THOR, Ute-Linux, MANOS or any TRG technologies
in their releases.
Mr. Merkey claimed to have disposed of the Novell issue by means of having
filed a sexual harassment suit against the company, but life was not to be
so easy. The closure of Timpanogas was announced in 2001:
I have dissolved TRG as a Utah Corporation and I am now focused on
a variety of projects for various clients related to Linux
development. Novell has recently threatened to try to take my
house and assets if I post any more NWFS releases or MANOS.
One would think that Mr. Merkey would have had enough intellectual property
litigation for one life, but that appears to not be the case. He recently
resurfaced on linux-kernel with this
We offer to kernel.org the sum of $50,000.00 US for a one time
license to the Linux Kernel Source for a single snapshot of a
single Linux version by release number. This offer must be
accepted by **ALL** copyright holders and this snapshot will
subsequently convert the GPL license into a BSD style license for
the code. In other words, what we are asking for is the ability to
snapshot kernel.org at 50K a pop for a license to each 2.<even
number> release, then take any even number release private.
The offer has spawned a number of side conversations on what an insultingly
inadequate offer $50,000 really is. Certainly any number of companies
would jump at the chance to pick up a non-GPL version of the kernel at that
price. But such discussions - and the offer itself - miss the real point.
Unlike many other large free software projects, the kernel does not require
any sort of copyright assignment from contributors. Those who get code
merged into the kernel retain their copyrights on that code. As a result,
the kernel has hundreds - if not thousands - of copyright holders. Getting
them all to agree on a licensing change would be a challenging task.
Simply finding them all is likely to be beyond just about anybody's
Critics of the kernel's organization claim that the lack of copyright
assignment exposes the kernel to legal claims. They also state that the
absence of a single copyright holder makes it difficult to enforce the GPL
against those who fail to respect its terms. In response, one can point
out that a copyright assignment would have been unlikely to deter the SCO
Group from its campaign against IBM, and that the Netfilter team has been
doing an admirable job of copyright enforcement.
What widely distributed copyright ownership does do, however, is to make a
relicensing of the code impractical, if not impossible. We need not worry
that Linus will someday succumb to temptation and sell out the kernel.
Some developers are suspicious of OSDL, but none fear that it will start
selling off private versions of the kernel to well-heeled companies. For
all that some
people like to compare certain distributors with Microsoft, those
distributors will never get into a position where they are shipping
proprietary Linux kernels.
Given this context, one wonders what Mr. Merkey thought he would be able to
accomplish. There is no risk of him being able to buy himself a GPL
exception for the kernel. The structure of the kernel's ownership is such
that taking it private is not a practical possibility. This discussion is
done; we must confess, however, to a certain curiosity about what
Mr. Merkey's next scheme will be.
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