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GPL wins in court battle

By   |  March 23, 2006

A US federal judge has ruled against antitrust claims that the General Public Licence promotes unfair competition, and in doing so has promoted its cause.

On Monday, US Federal Judge John Daniel Tinder, dismissed the Sherman Act antitrust claims brought against the Free Software Foundation.

The claims made by Plaintiff Daniel Wallace included: that the General Public License (GPL) constituted a contract, combination or conspiracy; that it created an unreasonable restraint of trade; and that the FSF conspired with IBM, Red Hat, Novell and other individuals to pool and cross-license their copyrighted intellectual property in a predatory price fixing scheme.

In his judgement, Tinder said: “[The GPL] acts as a means by which certain software may be copied, modified and redistributed without violating the software’s copyright protection. As such, the GPL encourages, rather than discourages, free competition and the distribution of computer operating systems, the benefits of which directly pass to consumers. These benefits include lower prices, better access and more innovation.”

“As the author of the GPL and copyright holder on the largest body of GPL’d covered free software, the FSF hears many theories of potential legal claims and challenges to the GPL. We hear the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) expressed, that the GPL has never been tested in court, and that somehow that is a sign of its weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth of course,” Peter Brown, FSF executive director, responded to the news.

“Put quite simply, if you don’t accept the terms of the GPL, then you have no rights to the copyrighted works it covers. What is there left to test? The GPL is a software license, it is not a contract. It gives permissions from the copyright holder. You don’t want to accept those permissions? End of discussion.”

Brown continued, “Let us all stop and consider the consequences of what this US Federal Judge has said. On being presented with the facts surrounding the GPL, he was able to define a range of benefits available to those that value the freedoms delivered by the GPL.

“The question we are all left with is, why would anyone put up with the inferred
consequences of proprietary software? If you care about lower prices, better access to software, or more innovation, then GPL’d software is for you. Or as the Free Software would describe that, you value freedom”.

Having dismissed the case, and finding in favor of the FSF and against Wallace, the Judge also allowed FSF costs against Wallace. Wallace has thirty days to appeal the decision, but the FSF says it expects no relevant news on this matter.

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