Saturday, November 11, 2006

GPL wins case in the United States

The GPL does not contravene American antitrust law, according to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal case is Wallace v IBM, Red Hat and Novell, in which one Mr Daniel Wallace claimed that he would like to compete against the Linux operating system by selling derivatives or writing an operating system from scratch, but that this was not possible because Linux is offered for free. According to Mr Wallace, the GPL is part of a conspiracy because it makes software free forever, and it is impossible to compete against free products. Someone should have explained to Mr Wallace that free is not free as in beer, but free as in freedom.

Mr Wallace lost the case in the first instance because he could not prove that he had suffered an antitrust injury. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals did not buy Mr Wallace's arguments either. Judge Easterbrook delivered an excellent decision, which is worthy of reproduction:

"Software that is not maintained and improved eventually becomes obsolete, and the lack of reward may reduce the resources devoted to maintenance and improvement of Linux and other open-source projects. If that occurs, however, then proprietary software will enter or gain market share. People willingly pay for quality software even when they can get free (but imperfect) substitutes. Open Office is a free, open-source suite of word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software, but the proprietary Microsoft Office has many more users. Gimp is a free, open-source image editor, but the proprietary Adobe Photoshop enjoys the lion’s share of the market. Likewise there is a flourishing market in legal treatises and other materials, plus reference databases such as LEXIS and Westlaw, even though courts give away their work (this opinion, for example, is not covered by copyright and may be downloaded from the court’s web site and copied without charge). And so it is with operating systems. Many more people use Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X, or Sun Solaris than use Linux. IBM, which includes Linux with servers, sells mainframes and supercomputers that run proprietary operating systems. The number of proprietary operating systems is growing, not shrinking, so competition in this market continues quite apart from the fact that the GPL ensures the future availability of Linux and other Unix offshoots."
Hear, hear! This lays to rest one more FUD attack on the GPL. Let's hope that SCO v IBM will finally produce the desired result.

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