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Re: Software patents and Debian

On Thu, Aug 17, 2006 at 10:44:25PM +0800, Weakish Jiang wrote:
> Bas Wijnen wrote:
> > I thought we didn't care about them except if they were actively enforced,
> > because it's completely impossible to avoid all patented software,
> > considering the junk that gets patented.  
> >
> Unless the patent is licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at
> all, it won't conform to the DFSG, even if it is not actively enforced.

Ok, I should be more careful with what I say on debian-legal. :-)  What you
say is obviously true if the programmer of the software has a patent on that
software.  However, in this case (and, I suppose, in the case of any other
program), there are patents held by third parties.  They may or may not
actively enforce them.  It is likely that distributing the program is a patent
violation by the programmer, at least in some countries (such as the US).  It
is also a violation for us to distribute it in those countries (if the patents
are valid, which is doubtful, but some of them may be, and this particular one
for mpeg4 probably is, I think).

So the license of the software is fine, the problem is that the programmer may
be illegally distributing the software to us, and it would be illegal for us
to distribute it to anyone else.  We can of course claim that we don't know,
and assume that the programmer knew what he was doing.  This is not unlikely
(actually, it's even true for me).  This means we only have to stop
distributing when the programmer does indeed get sued and loses the case.

The question was if that is indeed the way Debian does these things.  And in
particular, people do get sued for using the mpeg4 codec, IIUC.  So does that
mean we would at least consider it non-free?  Or not distributable at all?

Of course IANAL (that's why I'm asking here ;-) ), so in case of any
inaccuracies in the above, I'd appreciate corrections.

Oh, and about the suggestion to remove the problematic code: That's an option,
but I prefer not spending time on removing functionality from programs.

Bas Wijnen

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