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Novell opens legal books to GPL pundits

Linux vendor determined to show that Microsoft partnership is cleared by GPL provisions

Tom Sanders in California, vnunet.com 08 Nov 2006

Novell has partnered with the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) to ensure that its partnership with Microsoft does not violate any terms of the General Public Licence

"The SFLC has been offered cooperation by Novell sufficient to permit a confidential audit to determine whether the licence provisions of the GPL have been complied with," SFLC chairman Eben Moglen told vnunet.com

The SFLC provides legal services to the open source community, and is coordinating the forthcoming version 3 revision of the GPL.

Microsoft and Novell unveiled a partnership last week around Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Linux distribution. The deal will protect SuSE Linux users from potential legal claims by Microsoft.

Moglen sharply criticised the agreement last week, claiming that it would be incompatible with the GPL3 and possibly the current GPL2.

Section seven of the GPL2 prohibits people or corporations from distributing the GPL code if they have entered into any agreements that contradict the conditions of the licence.

"If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this licence and any other pertinent obligations, you may not distribute the program at all," the GPL states.

The upcoming version 3 further restricts the use of patents in combination with the GPL by explicitly prohibiting distributors from asserting any patent claims against open source developers.

Moglen insisted last week that the GPL3 provisions could not be circumvented.

"Maybe it will turn out that [Novell and Microsoft] have cleared the [GPL2] barrier by a millimetre. But they will not clear GPL3 by a millimetre," he said.

Novell published a document on Tuesday on its website addressing some of the concerns from the open source community. 

The company claims that it has worked around the GPL provisions by providing patent licences directly to customers and not between the two vendors.

"Novell's customers receive a covenant not to sue directly from Microsoft. We have not agreed with Microsoft to any condition that would contradict the conditions of the GPL and we are in full compliance," the company claims.

"Novell's end user customers receive a covenant not to sue directly from Microsoft for their use of Novell products and services, but these activities are outside the scope of the GPL."

All Open Source

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