The Insider Advantage

Wed, 22 May 2024

All enforcement efforts for the GPL family of licenses should steadfastly adhere to the Principles of Community-Oriented GPL Enforcement, and I begin from that standpoint.

With their dual role of granting the four freedoms and providing a responsibility to preserve them when sharing software, the GPL family of licenses provides a way to defend software freedom. The majority of license violations are resolved amicably through early engagement and don't escalate to legal action.

The GPL family of licenses are copyright licenses, and one way that license enforcement can happen is with the copyright holder using copyright law. Still, legal action should be reserved as a last resort. A lesser-explored avenue for community-driven initiatives lies within the companies violating the license. It taps into the mechanisms already in place within many corporations: their Compliance and Ethics Department.

Companies often have a Compliance and Ethics Department in place, tasked with ensuring adherence to laws, regulations, and ethical standards. Leveraging these departments can be a strategic move in resolving license violations.

Consider this scenario: An employee, aware of a licensing violation within their company, discreetly approaches the Compliance and Ethics department. They could catalyze internal action by framing the issue as a breach of trust and ethical standards that's opening the company to potential legal liability. Resolving license violations internally helps avoid negative publicity and legal battles and fosters a culture of compliance and trust among employees.

This tactic, however, is not without its caveats. This approach relies on employees being aware of the issue and feeling empowered to raise it internally. Companies can foster this by promoting a culture of openness and providing channels for anonymous reporting.

Nevertheless, this concept has several advantages that warrant consideration. This approach aligns with the Principles of Community-Oriented GPL Enforcement, which emphasize communication, education, and collaboration. In the context of companies' Compliance and Ethics Departments, this could mean communicating the importance of GPL compliance to all employees, educating them on the implications of non-compliance, and collaborating with other departments to ensure full license compliance. This approach prioritizes resolving the issue within the company, fosters a culture of compliance, avoids the negative publicity of a legal battle, and provides a safe and confidential way for employees to report concerns with whistleblower protection.

This approach is not a replacement for existing enforcement methods but a potential complement. While this approach holds promise, it's important to note that it's not a guaranteed solution. Not all companies have a robust Compliance and Ethics Department; some may be unwilling to address license violations internally. In such cases, external enforcement may still be necessary.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution for every case and this approach may only be the answer in some cases, but it offers one option for resolving license issues amicably and efficiently inside the company. Let's explore all the options at our disposal to bring about compliance.