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Date Mon 28 January 2008

The other big news in tech today - as posted on slashdot, the author of the pchdtvr/atscap package previously on SourceForge has announced his attempt to retroactively remove his package from GPL coverage. His post states, in part,

I have revoked the licensing under the GNU General Public
License (herein after referred to as “the GPL”) for the
atscap version 1.1 codebase, all prior versions of the
atscap codebase and all the various release candidates of
the atscap codebase.
[…]
As sole author of both the atscap and the pchdtvr codebases,
the licenses under the GPL were granted at my sole
discretion and the licenses under the GPL are now hereby
revoked at my sole discretion.
[…]
If you are currently using the atscap or pchdtvr packages,
or any part thereof, it is in your best interest to remove
the software from your system(s) and destroy all copies in
your possession.
[…]
If you have incorporated the atscap or pchdtvr codebase, or
any part thereof, into any of your projects, it is in your
best interest to remove any and all of my code from your
 project(s).

So not only is this guy trying to retroactively unassign rights that he has previously irrecovably assigned, but he’s asking developers to pull his code from their codebase???? I mean, that’s not just an inconvenience. Does he comprehend what he’s asking? To pull a few excerpts from GPLv2:

  1. You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program’s source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty; keep intact all the notices that refer to this License and to the absence of any warranty; and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program.
  2. Each time you redistribute the Program (or any work based on the Program), the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensor to copy, distribute or modify the Program subject to these terms and conditions. You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients’ exercise of the rights granted herein.

Apparently this is being discussed at length over at GrokLaw, including the analysis, “If you change your mind and don’t want to use the GPL any more, you can stop and use something else on new code going forward, and you can dual license your own code, but you can’t redo the past and pull back GPL’d code”. The developer is telling people to delete their copies, and to cease distribution. Now, I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not an expert on copyright law. But I didn’t think that one party to a contract could unilaterally alter it if there weren’t any terms allowing such an action, and the GPL FAQseems to support this.

Take an example: Your car breaks down. You have planned a family vacation tomorrow. The car dealer, out of the kindness of their hearts (ha ha) gives you a free loaner car. You sign the agreement to keep the loaner until your car is fixed, pack up the car with all of your luggage, and head off on the trip, stopping at a hotel along the way. In the morning, you wake up, walk out to the hotel parking lot, and find all of your luggage in a pile in a parking space - no car! On top of the pile is a letter reading, “we’re sorry, but we decided that we don’t want you to have this free loaner car anymore. We’ve taken it back. Have a nice trip.”

My biggest curiosity, though, is what happened to the developer. He was using the SourceForge account “inkling”, but it seems like both of his previous projects are now gone, along with any other relevant information. I’d sure like to see his response to the community regarding this incident.


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