atscap and pchdtvr GPL revoked or can it be

By reeset / On / In General Computing

I’ve never used this package (apparently its used for HDTV scheduling/recording on Linux), but this link on Slashdot caught my eye:  Apparently, the developer of this software package is seeking to revoke the GPL license not just for his current code, but his past code/package as well.  I have a difficult time believing that this is possible, but I’m sure we will soon find out.  My guess is that this guy is productizing his software and has a good idea who is currently using, selling and distributing his source so there will likely be some kind of legal challenge to the GPL as well.  It’s always interesting to see how these kind of things play out in the U.S. courts which can sometimes be a little schizophrenic, though I’d have a difficult time believing that this type of retroactive license change is actually possible.



7 thoughts on “atscap and pchdtvr GPL revoked or can it be

  1. This matter has been discussed a good bit on Groklaw [] today, and we were pointed to the GPL FAQ at the Free Software Foundation site.

    “Can the developer of a program who distributed it under the GPL later license it to another party for exclusive use?

    No, because the public already has the right to use the program under the GPL, and this right cannot be withdrawn.”

    The rights conferred under the GPL cannot be withdrawn once the software has been distributed. (Disclaimer: IANAL) The author may choose to cease distribution (as he/she/it apparently has) and refuse to support it any further, but since each person who received a copy has the same rights to use, modify and distribute as he/she/it has (that’s a condition of distribution under the GPL), those rights cannot be revoked in copies which have already been distributed.

  2. Actually, I’d read this already and have been following the groklaw discussion. The problem is that the faq is a legal opinion that has never been tested. There’s only been one court case that readily comes to mind ( and in this case, the issue of whether an item made available to the public via GPL (or creative commons for that matter) can be withdrawn. In this case, the judge was ready to order 3rd parties to stop distributing the GPL’d code — but a settlement stopped the process (or at least, took it out of the courts). What needs to be created in a case like this is precedent — not just a legal opinion.


  3. Don’t worry about the FAQ. Read the text of the license yourself. It’s spelled out explicitly in GPLv2 part 2:

    All rights granted under this License are granted for the term of copyright on the Program, and are irrevocable provided the stated conditions are met.

  4. Again — this hasn’t played out in a court and until tested, you cannot use words like irrevocable. Particularly since the one case cited above, the judge was ready to sign a temporary order to stop all distribution of GPL’d software.

  5. I think the big question is that this guy is trying to make retroactive changes to a contract/license agreement.

    I don’t think it’s considered conscionable for one party to unilaterally alter a contract/license without any terms in that document to do so. This is tantamount to signing a car lease and then having the dealer come to your house the next morning and taking the car back, because they don’t want you to drive it anymore.

  6. This is definitely the issue — but a bad analogy because it happens all the time in business. Cell phone contracts, cable contracts, insurance contracts and credit card contracts are ones that jump immediately to mind.

  7. Ken Bloon in #3: Whereever did you find this “part 2” of the GPL where that quote comes from? It’s certainly not part of the GPLv2 as distributed with any of the programs I have on my Linux system.