FSF says Microsoft not exempt from GPLv3

By   |  August 29, 2007

The Free Software Foundation released a statement on Tuesday saying that Microsoft is not exempt from the requirements of the latest version of the Gnu General Public Licence, version 3. Their statement follows:

In its November 2006 deal with Novell, Microsoft attempted to use its patent portfolio to divide and conquer the free software community. It did so by extending narrow and discriminatory promises not to sue certain classes of Novell SUSE GNU/Linux customers for patent infringement, while leaving others vulnerable to attack, including noncommercial developers and users of other GNU/Linux distributions. Microsoft’s ultimate aim in this scheme was the de facto proprietization of free software: it hoped that frightened users would be willing to pay one favored distributor just to be safe from lawsuits. Though the details and timing were a surprise, it was no isolated incident; Microsoft has engaged in anticompetitive conduct in the software industry for many years, and has sought to attack free software for almost as long.

We, the Free Software Foundation, responded to Microsoft’s threat by revising the draft of version 3 of the GNU General Public License (GPLv3). In particular, we added a provision to ensure that, if any user receives a discriminatory patent promise from Microsoft as a result of purchasing a copy of a GPLv3 program from a Microsoft fulfillment agent, Microsoft would be bound by GPLv3 to extend that same promise of safety to all downstream users of that software.

In its press release dated July 5, 2007, Microsoft announced that it was withdrawing discriminatory promises of patent safety it previously made to certain Novell customers. We regard Microsoft’s decision with satisfaction. FSF first requested the withdrawal of those discriminatory promises in a meeting with Microsoft’s general counsel, Brad Smith, on November 9, 2006.  (We have no opinion on Microsoft’s legal obligations to the intended beneficiaries of the repudiated promises, or to Novell.)

We do not, however, agree with Microsoft’s characterization of the situation involving GPLv3.  Microsoft cannot by any act of anticipatory repudiation divest itself of its obligation to respect others’ copyrights. If Microsoft distributes our works licensed under GPLv3, or pays others to distribute them on its behalf, it is bound to do so under the terms of that license. It may not do so under any other terms; it cannot declare itself exempt from the requirements of GPLv3.

Microsoft has said that it expects respect for its so-called "intellectual property" — a propaganda term designed to confuse patent law with copyright and other unrelated laws, and to muddy the different issues they raise. We will ensure — and, to the extent of our resources, assist other GPLv3 licensors in ensuring — that Microsoft respects our copyrights and complies with our licenses.

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