I forget where, but Eben Moglen said some really interesting stuff about enforcing the GPL. When he started as the counsel for the FSF, he was ready to go after GPL violators to the full extent of the law, including damages, publicity, etc. Stallman was insistent that he only ever ask for compliance, and to do so in the least public way possible. Moglen grudgingly agreed back then and now talks of this decision as a major reason for
why they’ve been so successful at enforcing the GPL (hopefully I’m remembering that correctly).
That’s a big reason why there are no GPL precedents in court. First, its not necessary, its a license and its very clearly within the realm of law about licenses. Second, so few GPL violation cases ever even see a courtroom because when the choice is GPL compliance or a very high chance of a costly defeat in court, rational minds choose compliance. And when you look at the few GPL violation cases that have made it to court, it only makes this approach stronger: choose compliance or see, you’ll spend lots of money losing in court.
I just listened to a bit of the interview between Matt Mullenweg and Chris Pearson. This whole thing would have been resolved much quicker if Mullenweg never spoke to any of Pearson’s non-GPL related claims, like how important Thesis is, and just kept repeating the key message: all we want is compliance.
Moglen writes about the FSF approach here: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/enforcing-gpl.html
So many times when people talk about they don’t use Free Software, the answer is related to “its not used in the real world”, or “real work isn’t done with Free Software”. Almost all the apps I use in my consulting and freelance work are Free Software. Admittedly I am far from pure, I mostly use Mac OS X but often Ubuntu and Debian, but I am eliminating the proprietary software I use day-by-day.
I was doing some sound design work for a well known sound designer for a Fortune 500 company. These days, any self-respecting sound designer has a Pro Tools setup and lives and dies around it. We were having a phone meeting to hash out some of the annoying
technical details of the project and we needed to get an idea of how to fake a bigger frequency range than we had in the playback device we were designing for. So I powered up my audio editor of choice, Audacity, and started checking out the files that we had. I switched to the Spectrum view and starting talking about the frequency distribution of the various samples, started playing with filters to see what we could get away with, etc. On the other end of the line, I heard mouse clicking, some typing but mostly silence, until finally he said, “wow you’re so fast, what tools are you using?” I said with a little glee in my voice: “Audacity”.
It makes perfect sense to me: Audacity is a tool designed to be understandable and learnable by a wide variety of people. Pro Tools is a tool designed to make very complicated things easier, therefore it is quite complicated itself. The vast majority of the time, people are not doing very complicated things, even in the “real world”. Therefore the simple app wins almost always.