Bonum Certa Men Certa

Daniel Wallace Explains Why He Challenged the GPL (Copyleft) in Court



Richard Stallman
Richard Stallman's last interview as FSF president



Summary: Almost 15 years ago Daniel Wallace alleged that copyleft (or GPL specifically) was problematic and contravened federal antitrust laws; he lost the case and now he explains to us why he pursued that misguided litigation campaign

OVER the past few days we've been studying the GPL challenge that was widely discussed a decade and a half ago after Daniel Wallace, about 60 at the time, had alleged that it was an antitrust violation. He even took it to court. As Wikipedia put it:



Wallace v. International Business Machines Corp., 467 F.3d 1104 (7th Cir. 2006), was a significant case in the development of free software. The case decided, at the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, that in United States law the GNU General Public License (GPL) did not contravene federal antitrust laws.

Daniel Wallace, a United States citizen, sued the Free Software Foundation (FSF) for price fixing. In a later lawsuit, he unsuccessfully sued IBM, Novell, and Red Hat. Wallace claimed that free Linux prevented him from making a profit from selling his own operating system.


We found the current contact details of Mr. Wallace and Ryan, who comes from the same state where Wallace resides, did eventually call him. That was yesterday. "He said it was long in the past and that he was planning to develop a product based on BSD," Ryan reported. "He wouldn't go further than that. He just said he's 74 now and it's long in the past. He chose not to proceed because he was representing himself pro se and that it would have bankrupted him had he continued to appeal."

When we started exploring this we wondered aloud who might have funded or 'bankrolled' the lawsuit.

"When we started exploring this we wondered aloud who might have funded or 'bankrolled' the lawsuit.""He said it was just his opinion that the GPL doesn't "hold water" legally," Ryan continued, "and that giving software away and charging for services prevents others from making competitive products."

Did Microsoft have anything to do with this (like the SCO lawsuit)? "Doesn't pass the "sniff test" for Microsoft," Ryan said, "I think it's just someone who wanted to knock over copyleft because they had some idea for a product that couldn't compete. He seemed to not like Red Hat very much. He said that it was dishonest to give the software out for free and charge for services. The court kept saying that he failed to articulate an antitrust argument. They let him amend his complaint 4 times before they threw it out."

Groklaw wrote a lot about it at the time. Sadly, some Groklaw pages are no longer accessible.

"Groklaw wrote a lot about it at the time. Sadly, some Groklaw pages are no longer accessible.""He seemed to be under the impression that the GPL requires software to be free of charge," Ryan said. "It doesn't. It just makes it hard to sell because someone could take the same source code and come up with a different version. He said he got hit with huge costs for the legal costs incurred by FSF and the three companies (IBM, RH, Novell)."

"Although," Ryan continued, "he accidentally contributed something to the GPL. Instead of knocking it down, he gave us case law that it provides direct benefits to the market, as decided by the trial judge, and a three judge panel voting unanimously at the Seventh Circuit appeals court. Which can be cited if someone else is ever hit with antitrust complaints regarding a Free Software License. I'd say that Daniel Wallace's demeanor was more shocked that someone wanted to talk to him and evasive, but definitely kind of blindsided that someone would poke around at that after 15 years."

It's never too late to start pursuing answers and clarify.

"He said he was looking into some product based on BSD but wouldn't elaborate," Ryan summarised. "I mean, there are small tech companies in the Indianapolis area, so it's certainly possible that he wanted to make a server offering or a network product, where FreeBSD was competitive with Linux at the time, mostly."

"In reality, what Microsoft is doing -- licence-wise -- is far closer to a violation of antitrust law.""He has very strong opinions that the GPL is illegal under copyright law. He kept saying things like "I couldn't attack it using copyright law, so I went after it with antitrust law."."

As Wikipedia put it: "On May 16, 2006, Judge Richard L. Young dismissed the case with prejudice: "Wallace has had two chances to amend his complaint [...]. His continuing failure to state an antitrust claim indicates that the complaint has "inherent internal flaws." [...] Wallace will not be granted further leave to file an amended complaint because the court finds that such amendment would be futile.""

In reality, what Microsoft is doing -- licence-wise -- is far closer to a violation of antitrust law. IBM, Novell, and Red Hat collaborating in the open, or sharing code, isn't anywhere as problematic as what Microsoft does.

“No less than Bill Gates himself said in a recent Fortune article that Microsoft competes better against Linux in China when there's piracy than when there isn't.

“So, Microsoft actively looks the other way as people pirate its software. It builds its market share that way, and lets people get used to the idea of having Windows at a certain price.”

--ECT

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