DotNetNuke squares off against the GPL

DotNetNuke goes on the offensive

I am consistently amazed by the lengths people will go to to try to succeed in the marketplace.

Actually, that's not true. Having been around fellow humans for 45 years, I would have to say that such destructive behavior doesn't really surprise me. What does surprise me, though, is the repeated use of the same, tired memes when it's been proven time and again that they don't work.

So it was with sad dismay that I read a DotNetNuke blog entry this morning that took unabashed aim at the GNU Public License (GPL) used by DotNetNuke's (DNN) primary (and more successful) competing content management systems, WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal.

In the Dec. 13 blog entry, Scott Willhite, Director of Community Relations for DotNetNuke Corporation, unsubtly takes potshots at the GPL with just about every piece of ammunition he can think of.

The basic premise of Willhite's article is that DNN's BSD-style license immediately provides more legal indemnification than the GPL, and therefore protects DNN customers more than the other open source CMSes with which DNN competes.

"Anyone who has been involved a lawsuit accusing infringement of any kind knows what kind of burden and disruption such a suit can place on a business… and it's not good. So if one license type is more susceptible to this kind of risk, that's worth considering… right? If you can be indemnified from this risk, that has value; DotNetNuke provides this value to its users."

That's a nice sentiment, but unfortunately it's not really true. The type of software license has little bearing on whether or not the developers or the users of a particular software project. If someone wants to sue, they will, and no license will afford little protection from that.

That does not stop Willhite from insinuating otherwise: "Don't take my word for it, try a little searching yourself to see what kind of lawsuits surround usage of GPL or LGPL licenses vs. BSD style licenses," he wrote.

Okey doke, let's do that. Here are my Google search results for general "everything" and news on the following terms:

GNU GPL patent lawsuit1,010,0002
LGPL patent lawsuit2,360,0000
BSD patent lawsuit315,0000
GPL lawsuit926,0000
LGPL lawsuit2,700,0000
BSD lawsuit406,0001

So, based on search results numbers alone, it sure does look like there's a lot more trouble in GPL/LGPL land than BSD-land. Though if you actually take the time to read the content of the search results, there doesn't seem to be a lot of dire warnings about any of the licenses. But, admittedly, I didn't have time to read all of it.

Nor do these searches reveal the huge, gaping hole in Willhite's argument, which seems to be that BSD and similar permissive licenses contain specific patent protection and indemnification clauses, and as such should be safer.

So I wonder how Willhite would care to explain the current patent lawsuits being fired off against Google and its customers for alleged patent infringement in Android, when Android is licensed under the Apache Software License (v2)? The ASL, by the way, which has its own patent clause that has hardly prevented the likes of Oracle, Apple, and Microsoft from launching their own patent suits against Google and Android-using manufacturers.

Willhite even seems to hint at these lawsuits, when he tries to call out the ambiguity of the GPL:

"But it is the very fact that the [GPL] leaves room for argument that causes the problem, because legal arguments ensue… especially where a business is being successful or perceived as a strong competitor."

Sounds like the Android lawsuits to me, but funny how Android isn't even licensed under the restrictive GPL… it's a permissive ASL project.

The fact of the matter is, the choice of software license is important, but not for the fear-inducing reasons that Willhite tries to portray. If someone wants to sue you for building or even using software, they're going to sue you without worrying about the license. SCO would have gone after Linux for copyright infringement whether Linux was licensed under the GPLv2, GPLv3 (which also has a patent protection clause), ASL, or BSD license. They saw a shot to make some "easy" money and took it.

When Willhite implies in his article that using GPLed software is an invitation to hire lawyers, he's talking about the only issue where licensing really could mean something: compliance. And compliance is indeed important and should be carefully considered: if you're planning to alter the software's code in any way.

For the huge majority of free and open source software (FLOSS) users that just download and install the applications without touching the source code, compliance is not a factor. Even interacting with other software is a non-issue, if it's done at the binary level.

I would be very interested if WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla! have received a lot of inquiries about patent indemnification or compliance, because maybe it's a bigger concern than I would suspect. But since I believe most CMS users just get the applications and run them on their servers, this probably doesn't come up as much as DNN would like to have us think.

There is a lot of room for competition in the open source CMS arena, but software licenses are not an effective point on which to compete. By choosing this as a battleground, DNN is just parroting all the FUD that has come before.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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