Could many smaller Linux distributions be in violation of the GPL? Thats what Warren Woodford, the man behind the popular MEPIS distribution thinks.
As detailed in Bruce Byfields excellent NewsForge story, “A GPL requirement could have a chilling effect on derivative distro,” Woodford recently ran afoul of the GNU GPL (General Public License) requirement that downstream distributors of GPL code are obligated to provide source code to users in an easily accessible format.
Woodfords error was that while he does provide MEPISs modified Debian/Ubuntu kernel source code in a Debian source-package, he had not provided copies of the source code that was available somewhere, which he had not modified.
So, for example, say I released Stevens Special Penguin Sauce Linux. In it, Id have my own modifications to the kernel source code, and the usual Linux utilities like the vim screen-based text processor. I would have to provide my users with not only my kernels code, but also with vims source code as well, even though I hadnt done a thing to its code.
Although Woodford is in the process of complying with the FSFs (Free Software Foundation) request, hes not completely happy with it. He thinks that “of the 500 distributions tracked by DistroWatch, probably 450 of them are in trouble right now per this position,” according to the NewsForge article.
Further, Woodford told Byfield that he believes the requirement to provide all the source code is a bit much to ask of anyone whos creating a distribution out of their garage. He feels, as does John Andrews, Damn Small Linuxs source code maintainer, that the burden is too much for a small-time Linux distribution developer. They think that if the FSF were to crack down on such small-time violations, it would strongly discourage many would-be open-source developers.
Is Woodford right? Are many, if not most, smaller Linux distributions in violation of the GPL in this manner?