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If an OSS project is not backed (for example, by the Apache Foundation), how is the OSS license upheld?

My specific scenario is this: if I create an GPLd mobile application with a non-commercial transformations clause, what's to actually stop someone from re-releasing it as "Pro" and charging for it?

I assume the owner of the store (Apple/Google/MS) aren't going to uphold licenses on my behalf. Would it come down to me personally having to pay for a lawyer (which seems like a lot of effort to protect a good will gesture)?

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You could ask the Software Freedom Law Center for help (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_Freedom_Law_Center). –  cgt Jan 2 '13 at 23:34
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Another help is gpl-violations.org –  johannes Jan 2 '13 at 23:46
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Actually, the owners of the store well might remove the offending app if you merely threaten legal action. I imagine they take accusations of copyright infringement quite seriously. However, even if that is true, your question is still applicable for non-store distribution (e.g. sales from a private Web site). –  apsillers Jan 3 '13 at 0:03
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Actually, upon further consideration, you could probably have the offending app taken down with a simple DMCA takedown request to the store, as long as the store was reputable and inside the United States. –  apsillers Jan 3 '13 at 0:31
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I'm not sure, unfortunately -- my gut says as long as your target is in the U.S., you can throw the the DMCA at them, but I'm not 100% sure. In any case, Google Play has a form for reporting infringement which looks like the exact information required for a DMCA notice (maybe it is a Web form for submitting a DMCA notice?), and it allows non-U.S. countries for the complainant's contact address. –  apsillers Jan 3 '13 at 0:56

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I Am Not A Lawyer, ask a real lawyer, yada, yada, etc.

Basically what's stopping them is the GPL itself + Econ 101: they'd have to admit that it's just your code sold for an infinitely higher amount. Otherwise, you can (legally) force them to provide the source code to you (if you buy their app) and then incorporate it in your version.

This freedom is a foundation of the GPL and it is not considered stealing or otherwise bad/unethical within the GPL community.

Everybody gets to use what you wrote, and what someone wrote over it (modified). The source code is an integral part of a product in GPL and so is the right to redistribute it freely.

The only thing you would lose if someone forks your app is the ability to license to yourself their codebase under a different license (than GPL).

To explain this further, if you write something from A to Z, you have full copyright and you can do with it whatever you want, including licensing it to some people under the GPL, while you can license it to yourself under another license. However, when someone else has created a derivative work, you no longer have copyright over their edits of your software and you need their permission to use their edits under a non-GPL license (Your GPL rights are guaranteed by the GPL itself, since it is "viral" and it automatically spreads to the modified source, a.k.a. the derivative work).

Also, if you write the app yourself, you can release it under another license that forbids other parties to sell derivative works from your app. This way you would be legally protected from such problems.

In reality, things are actually quite different. In many cases, the owner of the store is either not cooperative, not a legal entity at all, operating in the 'shadowy' zone of law, in another country, where your copyright does not allow you to force them to take down the app, etc.

However, most big stores would actually go out of their way to oblige to the party that claims its rights are infringed. This is because copyright infringement laws are getting more and more (too much, IMO) stringent and the potential loss for a service provider that does not comply with a DMCA takedown far outweigh the losses of a legit app taken down by a mis-targeted takedown notice.

Of course, you should refrain from posting fake DMCA takedowns, since I believe this is a crime at least in the US, and even if it's not, you are less likely to be taken seriously, if your account spams takedown notices 24/7.

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Only the person whose rights were violated can sue, or they can authorize someone else to sue. You can't just go around and randomly sue people on other people's behalf.

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The website gpl-violations.org offers support to small GPL-based open source projects when they need to defend their copyrights (although their main tool is raising public awareness).

There is also the Software Freedom Law Center which which offers legal support for developers of all kinds of free software.

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