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08.17.09

Mono Team Puts Microsoft’s GPL-incompatible Licence and Patents-encumbered Software Inside GNU/Linux

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, GPL, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Patents, Red Hat, Samba, Ubuntu at 3:35 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Niagara falls
The vitality of viewing dangers ahead

Summary: What the Mono team is up to and some consequences revisited

THOSE who believe that Microsoft accepts the existence of GNU and Linux are simply not paying attention. As we warned several times before, Microsoft is squeezing GPL-incompatible licences into the F/OSS world and sometimes into GNU/Linux distributions, not to mention Microsoft APIs and hooks [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. The following is a portion of an E-mail sent to us by a guy who used to do contract work for Microsoft. Now he is with the Mono team and he is trying to squeeze Mono into Fedora — a project which is actually in the process of getting rid of Mono.

I asked my friend [anonymised] if he would help us get it packaged up in RPM format for Fedora. He tells me that the MS-PL is not on the approved list for Redhat packages:

[...]

[ed: I mis-wrote OSL-approved]

http://www.opensource.org/licenses/ms-pl.html

I do not see MS-PL on the DFSG wiki page:

http://wiki.debian.org/DFSGLicenses

However, Mono contains code licensed under MS-PL and it is part of the main section, implying that it is compliant:

http://git.debian.org/?p=pkg-mono/pac…

Are the MS-PL pieces of Mono stripped from the Fedora package of Mono?

mcs/class/MicrosoftAjaxLibrary/*
mcs/class/System.Web.Mvc/*

Since when are parts of Mono licensed under Microsoft’s MS-PL? This is significant.

The issue of patents aside, it serves to illustrate Microsoft’s increasing grip and influence over the Mono project. Now, if only Microsoft could sink Mono and Moonlight into the guts of each GNU/Linux distribution, that would be something, would it not?

At Groklaw, Pamela Jones points to a video of the Apple-Microsoft deal (Macworld 1997), remarking quite importantly that “Steve Jobs [is] explaining how and why Apple and Microsoft did the deal in 1997, and he reveals that it began as a patent dispute.” This announcement was mentioned not so long ago for other reasons.

“Microsoft wants “Linux tax” because otherwise it cannot compete on price.”All these Mono encumberments are probably relevant because of Ubuntu’s new patent policy. It would be irresponsible to stir the hornet’s nest by putting Mono inside Ubuntu, which in turn might lead Microsoft — not any other company — to doing to Canonical just what it did to Apple. Microsoft listed Canonical as a business risk in its SEC filing and the monopoly would love to do to Canonical just what it is trying to do to Red Hat and has already achieved with Novell. Microsoft wants “Linux tax” because otherwise it cannot compete on price.

When it comes to genuine interoperability pursuits, Novell quit like a coward and joined hands with Microsoft over software patents, whereas others — like Samba — actually got their way without patent tax. As Groklaw has just put it, “Thank you, EU Commission for requiring interoperability. Thank you, Samba guys, FSFE and their lawyer Carlo Piana for not giving out and not selling out.” Well, Novell sure sold out. As a direct result, some of its Samba engineers quit the company.

In other news, here is a reminder of Gartner’s disdain for Free software (which offers no kickbacks and contracts), as evidenced in [1, 2, 3, 4]. Over the past few months we’ve written about a FOSS-hostile and pro-software patents Gartner analyst called Prentice [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. Well, here he goes again:

One of the provisions in the Patent Reform Act of 2009 [PDF] is to recalculate the way in which damages are determined when a patent has been infringed. Currently, infringing a patent can be a very costly mistake. But the proposed legislation would allow for a reasonable royalty to be calculated as the price of licensing a “similar non-infringing substitute in the relative market.”

Does that mean that free open source products can now be considered substitutes in a relative market?

In response to this, Pamela Jones writes:

I read the section of the proposed bill he references, and it seems to me more likely that we can see why Microsoft is trying to do as many “Linux” patent deals as it can. Here’s the wording I notice:

“MARKETPLACE LICENSING. — Upon a showing to the satisfaction of the court that the claimed invention has been the subject of a nonexclusive license for the use made of the invention by the infringer, to a number of persons sufficient to indicate a general marketplace recognition of the reasonableness of the licensing terms … damages may be determined on the basis of the terms of such license.”

What if it means, instead, that some hardware folks who also have some Linux somewhere signed up because they are afraid of Microsoft, or it was one part of a larger and quite legitimate deal, or it was a small Linux vendor hardly anyone uses who was embraced? What does it mean, then? I hope someone has noticed this clause and has thought it through. Then again, given the history, what law can you write that works with 800 pound gorillas? Antitrust law, I guess. But why write a law so easy to undermine as this section seems to be?

Similarly, Dana Blankenhorn writes:

Google open source strategy not just a patent dodge

[...]

Google has lost this battle before because the pharmaceutical and medical device makers refuse to go along.

[...]

I have no doubt Google acts in its self-interest, as all companies and indeed all institutions and individuals generally do. But self-interest and evil are different things. Until Google crosses the line I’m not crossing them off my “nice” list.

In a reactionary fashion, Jones writes: “I don’t think dodge is a pretty word, but I don’t think either that it was meant in a derogatory way. Speaking for myself, while I agree with Dana that the patent reform act isn’t even happening at the moment, even if Google or anyone was thinking up strategies to avoid Microsoft’s attempt to use patents to strangle FOSS, I’d say, Please do. What would be wrong about that? I wake up nights thinking about how to do precisely that. Avoiding people’s patents is legally required, after all. You can be nice and smart at the same time.

Those who can reject Mono are hopefully paying attention because although there are plenty of software patents in the United States, few are as obvious an “infringement” as Mono (exact copy) and only a small proportion is owned by the company which has been trying to crush Free software for over a decade.

Groklaw has also found this barrage of amicus briefs regarding the Bilski case. Yahoo’s new life of a “Microsoft zombie” — to borrow SJVN’s token [1, 2, 3] — might play a role there.

As the first commenter there put it, read ‘em and weep. Yahoo! submitted one, which he summarizes like this: “The focus on physicality does not make sense in today’s technology.” The brief does, at the end, say that Bilski was properly rejected, because it was vague and overbroad. But then it says, “If Bilski had developed a process that, in machine-like fashion, directed commodities traders to take a clearly defined series of steps to hedge their positions, that process might lead to useful, concrete, and tangible results. Such a process would be a manmade tool for achieving a particular result, not an unpatentable law of nature.” Excuse my simplicity, but is this saying you can patent people acting like cogs in a machine, as long as the movements and steps they take are rigid and reproducible? Where does that end?

Allies of Microsoft are widely represented there. Among the new amicus briefs there are also many lawyer-oriented firms (not the same as engineers). Even the BSA submitted one and its connection to Microsoft is obvious [1, 2, 3, 4].

“Microsoft is unique among proprietary software companies: they are the only ones who have actively tried to kill Open Source and Free Software. It’s not often someone wants to be your friend after trying to kill you for ten years, but such change is cause for suspicion.”

Bradley M. Kuhn (SFLC)

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A Single Comment

  1. NotZed said,

    August 17, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Gravatar

    I know everyone uses the term ‘tax’, but it isn’t a tax, it’s a private rent.

    Tax might be a dirty word, particularly in the USA it seems, but taxes are necessary to provide services for everyone and to grease the wheels of industry.

    Private rents however are unnecessary extraction of wealth for non-productive purposes.

    I think MS wants to be like the big banks – who are involved with and extract rent from every single transaction required to function in a modern world. The big food companies like Nestle already have the cradle-to-grave food segment sewn up too, so they just want to be part of the action.

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