Germany confirms the validity of the GPL…again. has the scoop and Groklaw has commentary worth reading as well: Harald Welte, and his lawyer, Till Jaeger, co-founder of the Institute for Legal Issues of Free and Open Source Software have enforced the GNU General Public License (the preeminent free software license) in Germany again, this time against D-Link Germany GmbH. The first time was in Munich in 2004.

D-Link’s lawyers argued that the GPL is invalid. This is a trap of an argument because the GPL is valid, and because if the GPL can be shown to be invalid the natural response is “By what right did you copy, modify, or distribute the covered software?”. There is no suitable response; if any copyright license were shown to be invalid, the copyrighted work would revert to the default for copyright which (put simply) is to disallow all regulated behavior.

Pamela Jones points out the trap on Groklaw:

Moglen has explained for many years that the way the GPL works is this: if you don’t accept it or violate its terms, you have no right to distribute at all, and if you do distribute anyway, it’s a copyright violation, because only the license gives you any distribution rights.

Well, that’s what the German judge said to D-Link, that if you don’t accept the terms of the GPL, where’s the permission to distribute at all? Even if you could prove the license wasn’t legal or binding, you gain nothing, because you thereby lose all rights to distribute. Some seem to think they get to misappropriate the code if they could just get that pesky GPL out of the way. Nope. It’s a package deal. And that is exactly what Moglen told you, but some just wouldn’t listen.

Prof. Eben Moglen on enforcing the GPL is well worth reading. If you license or distribute GPL-covered software, you’ll want to know that you’re using a license you too can stand behind in court, if need be.

It’s sad to see any GPL dispute go to court because it means that the litigants could not resolve their differences and reach an amicable end. But now we’ve got multiple cases in multiple countries to draw upon whenever someone tries to raise fear, uncertainty, or doubt of the GPL’s validity.