And the news is...
MySQL AB, a Swedish company that developed a powerful database program of the same name and released it under the GPL, is suing a company called NuSphere. MySQL alleges effectively that NuSphere stole what MySQL were giving away, by locking their code up in a closed, proprietary product.
And here's the punchline. All over cyberspace you can hear the sound of pennies dropping. Everywhere you found geeks ranting about how copyright is an evil monopoly by authors... Doh! We forgot Point Zero in the list above: 0 I issue this program under the GPL because I have strong author's rights in it, so if you disobey these terms I can sue.
Gifts depend on ownership
The current lawsuit may yet be settled without setting a precedent in a higher court. But the message is getting through. Richard Stallman, the figurehead of the Free Software movement, gave a talk in London recently and came out firmly in favour of authors' rights. He objected vociferously to two things. One was software that makes it impossible to copy electronic media, and the other how long copyright lasts.
And soon the US Supreme Court will be asked to overturn the Act that extended copyright there to 70 years after the death of the author - and 95 years after publication for works owned by corporations. The lead plaintiff is Eric Eldred. He makes copyright-expired works available on the Web. He doesn't like them being disexpired.
The US National Writers' Union supports the Eldred claim. NWU President Jonathan Tasini observes that "this kind of unreasonable copyright extension does not benefit individual authors - it is essentially a corporate subsidy." It may benefit your grandchildren, if any - unless you've given in to one of those contracts demanding, with menaces, all rights in your work and your grandchildren, if any.
Already the New York Times is in a bit of a spin, though you'll have to pay $2.50 a piece to read about it online now. After Jonathan beat the Times in the Supremes, it started pulling freelances' work from its database, then arguing that it was the inconvenience of us having rights that was causing these holes in the historical record. Now Eldred comes along, arguing that the Times owning copyright creates, er, a chasm in the historical record.
What the Eldred and MySQL cases have in common is that they both challenge the myth, common in legal circles, that there is a group called "rightsholders" that has identical interests. Eldred objects to corporations privatising the historical record, especially when they refuse either to publish or to license it. Individual authors' rights would largely solve that, with possibly a few cussed exceptions. And MySQL is precisely about individual software authors cunningly preventing corporate rights-grabs. Let's point this out wherever we can.