Back in 2012, there was a great disturbance in the FoSS; er, Force. There was software being sold on a digital marketplace called ClickBank. Normally this would be fine, however in this case the seller had taken a very popular FoSS project fondly known as Blender and re-branded it. On the surface, this doesn’t sound all that bad. Unfortunately there is more to this than meets the eye.
Selling GPL Software Is Legit…However
Any software licensed with the GPL is allowed to be sold at any price. This may shock most people, but it’s a point of fact. That said, there is some fine print to consider when someone does this.
- You must provide access to the source code to anyone who wants to see it.
- You must NOT violate any trademarks or copyright protected material involved with the original project.
The copied software previously mentioned that was being sold on ClickBank in 2012 did in fact violate that second rule and completely ignored the first rule. According to the official report on this issue, the culprit appears to be a Chinese company that has absolutely no respect for the hard work of others.
Images used in the 2012 ClickBank offering were stolen from a variety of sources listed in the official Blender blog post. This alone was a major problem and illustrates the problem many successful FoSS projects face when unscrupulous businesses choose to steal original created works.
Now here’s the thing….I don’t really believe Blender gives two flying rips about the images that were stolen to resell Blender software under a different name. I think the Blender project is livid that someone is profiting off of their software. Even the fact that the resellers copied testimonials and claimed credit for the software creation isn’t truly the issue. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.
People Hate FoSS Resellers
To this date, I firmly believe most people have a burning dislike and distrust of anyone who profits off of a FoSS project without giving back to it. Going even further, I have seen evidence over the years that even if the source code is being provided and money is being donated back to the project in question, FoSS advocates rail against the company making a profit.
Linspire/Lindows is one such example that comes to mind. Even though the company behind Linspire did in fact donate money back to the Debian project, most of the Linux community were disgusted with the distro’s very existence up until it went belly up. So even though Linspire did everything correctly according to the GPL, it was loathed for it’s audacity to turn a buck.
Flash forward to 2012, Blender’s leadership is flooded with email from concerned Blender fans seeing the software being re-branded and turning a profit for a company that had absolutely nothing to do with Blender whatsoever. Sound familiar? Even though Lindows (and later Linspire) was extremely careful to tread carefully with their branding and trademark efforts, the reaction from the Linux community was how dare they sell something you can get for free elsewhere.
Look, I’ll be first to point out how sleazy the Blender clone was (and still is). They stole testimonials, artist’s creative works and claimed them as their own. It’s awful and people should avoid FoSS cloned software as it’s simply an awful thing to support.
On the flip side of the coin, people BUY LibreOffice, Audacity and other FoSS products on eBay (among other places) every single day. The reason people aren’t freaking out about it? Pricing. Most of the time CD and USB key sellers of FoSS projects are selling the software with the branding intact. That’s it folks. Pricing and branding intact. That apparently makes selling FoSS software completely acceptable in the court of public opinion.
My Unpopular Opinion
When I was working with OpenShot as their community manager, I ran into the issue weekly in our ticketing system and on our social pages. It happens. People absolutely sell OpenShot as if they invented it. What did we do? Absolutely nothing other than educate those who reached out to us why they should get OpenShot from the official website vs a reseller. It’s all you can really do without diving into a long legal battle.
Folks, if you license something under the GPL or similar Open Source licensing, you’re going to have people profiting from your work. That’s a fact of life. And yes, some of those people will also steal the images and testimonials from your official site.
Is there a way to stop abuses like this? Absolutely – use a more restrictive license. Wait, that doesn’t work either. People pirate software all day long. So if the licensing doesn’t help, what does? Acceptance. Accept that your project is so successful that people will take credit for your work. Considering they’re almost always in a country where you can’t pursue a legal remedy, best thing is to constantly remind your users you are the creator of the software in question. That’s it.