Reading Matt’s blog today, I found this press release (via Groklaw) from the FSF.

The title says it all: “Microsoft cannot declare itself exempt from the requirements of GPLv3”

We discussed this a little bit on a previous post. I was corrected that the FSF wouldn’t lead the legal battle, but that the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) would. If you recall, I’d looked into the finances of both organizations. SFLC had $509k in assets as of 2005, and the FSF had about $892k in assets as of 2006. (Note: the year for the FSF data wasn’t completely clear).

In the comments to Roy & others, I’d pointed out that Microsoft is essentially saying GPLv3 does not apply to the deal with Novell and now it’s up to the FSF/SFLC to respond.

Today’s press release appears to the part of the reply. Matt suggests that:

“Microsoft is in no position to determine which open-source licenses it respects. If it distributes software under the GPLv3, it is bound to abide by its terms. Period. End of story.

I suspect that if Microsoft pushes this issue, it will find a long list of people happy to fund the FSF’s lawsuits against Microsoft.”

Without any insider knowledge on this topic, I’ll predict that there will be few large vendors (with deep pockets) rushing to generously support the FSF/SFLC in this battle versus Microsoft. There may be individuals who donate to such a cause. Current vendor patrons may even donate for the sake of optics. But I find it difficult to believe that large IT vendors will see this as a good investment of their donations.

Do we really believe that Microsoft is going to sue customers using versions of Linux other than SUSE? I don’t. Whatever you think about Microsoft, they’re not the RIAA. At best, the FSF/SFLC would be able to ensure that Microsoft “truly” / “legally” (whichever you prefer) extends patent protection to any Linux user or customer. If you discount the FUD, aren’t we there already since Microsoft isn’t about to sue individuals or customers? At worst, the Microsoft legal team could work to invalidate the GPLv3. I don’t want to create FUD here, since the FSF states that the GPL has been tested in a court of law. But don’t think that the clever lawyers at Microsoft will lie down and get run over. Whether the Microsoft legal team is successful in their defense or not is a different question.

Yes, I know, it sucks to think of the situation in this way. We’d like to see Microsoft “pay for their treatment of OSS”. But when you look at the cost / benefit ratio, I believe it is not in the interest of IT vendors to back the FSF/SFLC in this battle vs. Microsoft.

But I’m not a lawyer, so what do I know?

UPDATE:

Notes from Ed Burnette’s post today re. GPLv3 & Microsoft:

GPLv3 states:

“…..unless you entered into that arrangement, or that patent license was granted, prior to 28 March 2007.”

Ed states:

“So clearly, GPLv3 will have no effect on the MS/Novell agreement, which was completed in 2006.”

And:

“My guess is, it’ll never come to that, because both sides would be afraid of losing and setting a precedent.”

Score 2 for the non lawyers :-)

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”