No, you cannot retrieve the open source code

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Some people still don’t know what this means or what happens after they release their program under an open source license. In the most recent example, mikeeusa, the author of an obscure game called GPC-Slots 2, claimed that he was revoking the program’s GPLv2 license from certain people and “from anyone who adds a ‘Code of Conduct. ‘anywhere near my code (to’ fight sexism ‘.). ”

While this specific case doesn’t really matter – the text-based casino game hasn’t been updated for over a decade and appears to have no players – the question of whether ‘users can be prevented from using code once it has been placed under the GPLv2 that has bothered enough people to make it one of the hottest stories on the Linux kernel mailing list (LKML ) for over a week.

This question of whether you can extract code from an open source program under the GPLv2 comes up over and over again. During the last go-around, some people argued that they could remove their code from Linux. Richard M. Stallman, author of GPLv2 – the open source license that governs Linux – but no fan of Linux, replied: “Developers of Linux, or any free program, can remove any code from any time, without giving a reason. However, this does not require others to remove this code from their own versions of the program. ”

In short, once you’ve opened your code, you can’t close Pandora’s copyright box. But Stallman is not a lawyer. I asked several savvy open source lawyers what they thought of this last argument. That’s what they told me.

Software Freedom Conservancy’s executive directory Karen M. Sandler said the Conservancy recently clarified this issue. The relevant section of the Copyleft and the GNU General Public License: A Comprehensive Tutorial and Guide states: “The GPLv2 contains several provisions which, taken together, can be interpreted as an irrevocable license of each contributor. ”

Here is their logic:

The GPLv2 says “by modifying or distributing the program (or any work based on the program), you indicate your acceptance of this license to do so, and all of its terms and conditions for copying, distributing or modifying the program or the works based on it. on this one “(GPLv2§5, emphasis added). A contributor by definition modifies the code and has therefore accepted all of the terms of GPLv2, which includes GPLv2’s network of mechanisms that ensure the code can be used by anyone.

Specifically, the downstream licensing states that “the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensor to copy, distribute or modify the program subject to these terms and conditions.” (GPLv2§6). Thus, at this stage, the contributor has granted a downstream license, provided that the downstream respects the terms of the license.

This downstream license is irrevocable, provided once again that the downstream user respects the terms of the license: “[P]parties who have received copies, or rights, from you under this license will not have their licenses terminated as long as such parties remain in full compliance “(GPLv2§4).

Thus, any person downstream from the contributor (that is to say any person using the contributor’s code), has an irrevocable license from the contributor. A contributor can claim revocation of their grant and then sue for copyright infringement, but a court will likely find the revocation to be ineffective and the downstream user had a valid license defense against it. a claim for violation.
However, for the sake of argument, we will assume that for some reason the GPLv2 is not enforceable against the contributor, or that the irrevocable license can be revoked. In this case, applying the promissory estoppel will likely mean that the contributor will still not be able to enforce their copyright against downstream users.

The estoppel defense, in its simplest form, is that once the code is released under an open source license, the community can reasonably assume that the developer cannot take back the right to use their code.

Of course, this is only an argument under the GPLv2.

As Heather Meeker, an intellectual property law partner at the law firm O’Melveny pointed out in an email interview, “GPL3 specifically says, ‘All rights granted under this license are granted. for the duration of the copyright in the program, and are irrevocable if the stated conditions are met. ‘ Arguments that the license is “bare” or revocable in fact contradict its terms. And in fact, most of the GPL code is available under GPL3, if the licensee chooses that version. Only a few projects are only under GPL2.


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The problem behind the legal issue is not that the code can be removed from a given open source license. This one, despite what some people with a misunderstanding of copyright law may claim, is settled. No, the real problem is the trolls who argue that the codes of conduct are wrong and that they can be fought by using the threat of removing the code as a silver bullet to stop them.

Codes of conduct are here to stay.

Open source is maturing and transforming to be a Wild West forum – where anyone can say anything in a workplace with an increasingly large and diverse workforce, which demands respect for all its participants. There will continue to be feuds between those who oppose and support codes of conduct in tech circles, but threatening to remove a project’s code from them is not a valid threat.

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