Certain issues seem to come around over and over again. One of those,
certainly, is that of closed beta tests of Linux distributions. Can a
distributor run closed beta tests and still comply with the GPL? The
straightforward answer is certainly "no." If you distribute GPL-licensed
software to somebody else, you can not restrict their right to further
distribute that software.
That does not stop distributors from doing closed beta tests, however.
Corel did it. Caldera (oops...SCO Group...) has done it. Lindows has done
it. And UnitedLinux is doing it. The closed beta period ends on
September 23, at which point the UnitedLinux beta, with source, will
be available to all. In the mean time, however, one might wonder how the
current closed beta is being kept closed.
At the UnitedLinux press conference, FSF director Bradley Kuhn asked about
the terms of the non-disclosure agreement that was signed by the beta
testers. The UnitedLinux spokesperson evidently agreed to disclose those
terms. To help them remember, Mr. Kuhn has sent out an open letter on behalf of the FSF asking them
to follow through:
Even as you release your new product to the public, the past
situation must be clarified. Not only does the community deserve to
know, but I also believe it behooves you to put to rest and clarify
the legal ambiguities that arise naturally from doing a "closed
beta" of GPL'ed software.
It remains to be seen whether UnitedLinux violated the GPL, or whether it
just picked a set of beta testers who, of their own will, chose not to
distribute the UnitedLinux beta.
Closed betas will always raise this sort of issue however. They are also
unnecessary. There are distributors, with MandrakeSoft and the Debian
Project at the top of the list, who do all of their development and beta
testing work in the open. In return, they get a wider pool of testers, the
assistance of the free software development community, and the knowledge
that they will not be accused of GPL violations. Distributions, too, are
free software development projects; they benefit from frequent, public
releases. Is it really worth the trouble to keep a Linux distribution
Comments (8 posted)
The London-based Commission on Intellectual Property Rights has issued its
on intellectual property law and developing countries. There is much to be found there in favor of free
software and freedom of access to information in general. With regard to
DMCA-like legislation, the report recommends:
Where suppliers of digital information or software attempt to
restrict 'fair use' rights by contract provisions associated with
the distribution of digital material, the relevant contract
provision may be treated as void. Where the same restriction is
attempted through technological means, measures to defeat the
technological means of protection in such circumstances should not
be regarded as illegal.
Concerning software for use in government:
Developing countries and their donor partners should review
policies for procurement of computer software, with a view to
ensuring that options for using low-cost and/or open-source
software products are properly considered and their costs and
benefits carefully evaluated. Developing countries should ensure
that their national copyright laws permit the reverse engineering
of computer software programmes beyond the requirements for
inter-operability, consistent with the relevant IP treaties they
The full report covers a much wider range of topics, such as drugs,
traditional knowledge, agriculture, etc. Reading the whole thing is a
substantial commitment of time, but worth the trouble for those who are
interested in these topics. Those wanting a rather shorter experience can
Economist's coverage of the report.
Comments (none posted)
After a few quiet weeks, we actually have some news to report: we have
finally been able to set up a new merchant account which will allow us to
accept credit cards. Hopefully we'll have better luck with the new bank
than with the old - which is still
holding a portion of the
donations from last July.
What this means is that, finally, we will be able to go forward with our
subscription offering, at which point we will truly find out if there is
enough support out there to keep LWN going on a sustainable basis. There
is still some frantic code-bashing to be done; if all goes well, we should
be able to start taking subscriptions next week. Next week's LWN Weekly
Edition will be free to all readers; thereafter it will be available to
subscribers only for an initial period (which will probably be one week).
On another front, our new mailing list mechanism is up and running. The
first list is called "Notify;" it simply receives a message once a week
when the new Weekly Edition is available. This list thus replaces our old
lwn-notify list, which has been running since the beginning - almost five
years ago. Other lists, mostly providing access to our content via email,
will be available shortly (and mostly limited to subscribers). Mailing
list subscriptions require a (free) LWN account, and can be controlled
through the "MyAccount" link in the left column.
Thanks, yet again, for your support through this interesting period.
Comments (14 posted)
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