I have given a talk about the FSFE at the Ubuntu Party in Paris, last week.
La FSFE était présente aux Rencontres mondiales du logiciel libre, qui se tenaient ce mois de juillet à Strasbourg. Un grand merci aux organisateurs, notamment à Jean-Michel Ramseyer et Nicolas Jean pour le thème Internet du programme, qui se focalisait notamment sur les systèmes distribués libres.
C’est d’ailleurs l’un des nombreux sujets abordés par Karsten Gerloff, interviewé lors des RMLLs. Vous pouvez télécharger l’entretien, doublé en français sur le site des RMLL (streaming, m3u ou téléchargement direct, ogg/vorbis).
Tuesday, FSF France published an article which led to several enthusiastic reactions among specialized websites. And the news is indeed interesting since Paris Court of Appeals condemned Edu4 for violating the GNU General Public License, giving it therefore a legal value. Until then however, nothing new: Free Software most used licence has already been enforced in court in several countries such as,
- The United States, in Jacobsen v. Katzer case which said GPL was enforceable as Copyright condition;
- or in Wallace lawsuit which opposed him against FSF, IBM, Novell and Red Hat, during which the judge said regarding competition issues:
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.
- In Germany when Harald Welte won against Skype which used Linux without meeting GPL conditions (Harald Welte is also part of the French ISP Free case).
- And also in France in 2002, during a case between University of Grenoble and company Educaffix about a software which was derivative from another licensed with GPL.
Well, everything becomes interesting in this new case comparing to those mentioned below, because AFPA and EDU4 are not arguing as copyright holders over a copyright or licence issue: it’s about an end user (AFPA) and a service company (EDU4).
But we better have to be careful and avoid hasty conclusions. Let’s go back to where it begins.
In 2004, AFPA was convicted to a €900,000 fee for EDU4, when the court considered that unilateral contract rupture from AFPA was not justified. The contract in question is a public tender from 2000, won by EDU4. But in 2001, AFPA discovers EDU4 used Free Software VNC in its product and therefore argues it is not conform to the contract, which AFPA breaks.
But EDU4 appealed and AFPA asks for an additional expert in 2006. This expert report includes overwhelming conclusions: EDU4 has hidden the usage of VNC by removing original copyrights and GPL text (thus disabling its mechanism). Besides, modifications made to VNC had disastrous consequences on IT security and personal data protection.
It is based on those reasons AFPA had the right to break the contract, since there was obviously counterfeiting, lack of sincerity from EDU4 and furthermore high risks for IT security (with a backdoor). This is why the Court of Appeals condemned EDU4.
As a matter of fact I see no reason to consider that it would have been different with any other software licence than the GPL. Which leads me to think that matters of source code distribution, and moreover copyleft protection, were not considered pertinent to the Court’s ruling.
It is true that the ruling mentions a few times the issue of source code distribution, but it was never directly taken into account, but only to show as an evidence EDU4 lack of sincerity in the procedure (copyrights removal and confusion about the software legal nature.)
Furthermore, I would even argue that EDU4 did not have the right to distribute the modified software source code, since they broke GPL when conveying a modified version of the Software without AT&T copyrights or the GPL text. By failing to respect GPL, they did not have the right to use, share, modify the Software anymore.
In short, EDU4 is accused of software counterfeiting by changing copyrights mentions to put their own, and having sold a product which was not compatible with the original mission given by the public tender, because of security issues for AFPA.
So it seems to me that there are little, if none, implications for us because copyleft mechanisms of the GPL were not analysed in the process of condemning EDU4, simply because those mechanisms did not involve AFPA. They only involved EDU4 and VNC authors.
Who has the power to enforce GPL? Since the GPL is a copyright license, the copyright holders of the software are the ones who have the power to enforce the GPL. If you see a violation of the GPL, you should inform the developers of the GPL-covered software involved. They either are the copyright holders, or are connected with the copyright holders.
This year, French Net Neutrality has been strongly targeted with Hadopi — the Government’s project aiming at cutting off the Internet access of people who fail to ‘respect’ copyright. And European Net Neutrality will have to face many threats in the year to come.
We, as Free Softwares supporters, know that Net Neutrality matters and that we should care about it, wherever the threat comes from. But we must also focus on those activists, whose actions contribute to strengthen the little landlocked area where the network does nothing more than carrying data, exactly like our pipes propel the water.
Recently, Net Neutrality-support association French Data Network (FDN), the first historical French ISP, underwent a sudden contract rupture from SFR, its ADSL provider. This is serious threat to Net Neutrality because this shows that big companies can have the power 1) to avoid competition 2) to control which company can or cannot provide Internet access. And this is where it gets dangerous: because FDN respects Net Neutrality while being a viable business, it disturbs SFR. It does so in two ways:
- SFR is also a telecoms company. Its violation of Net Neutrality not only involves DNS-manipulation, it also involves forbidding some protocols (such as the Skype protocol) so that potential competition cannot be possible.
- SFR is property of Vivendi-Universal, the number 1 music editor in the CD industry, which has been trying for years to lock the Internet in order to get more profit.
And this is why FDN disturbs, but also why we all should care for the integrity of the Internet. Because, big business or not, when it comes to freedom of expression and artistic creation, we should have the right to make sure that people are neither controlled nor monitored. This is what Net Neutrality is for. It is not fundamental itself, it is fundamental because it makes sure we have a framework that allow people to be free.
As Montesquieu said: a country that does not have the Separation of Powers defined has no Constitution at all.(*)
A worldwide Internet in which Network Neutrality is not defined has no Freedom at all.
This analogy was given by FDN president Benjamin Bayart during the political session of the 2009 RMLL in Nantes, about Net Neutrality and Freedom of speech on the Internet. He also exposed his views on Net Neutrality and his contention with SFR-Vivendi-Universal in an interview in French newspaper Libération. See the discussion going on here.
[*] Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789. Article 16 « A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all. »