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Leading items and editorials

The first round of the DVD case is over, and the MPAA has won. For those who are interested, Judge Kaplan's ruling is available as a 90-page PDF file. The judge found in favor of the MPAA on every front:
  • There is no right to reverse engineering in this case, because the defendant (2600 Magazine) did not actually write the DeCSS code.

  • Free speech protections do not apply because code has a "functional" component which the law, according to the court, has a right to regulate. This finding would seem to imply that an English verson of the DeCSS algorithm would be protected - as long as it does not compile and run.

  • None of the fair use defenses were accepted either. The purpose of building a Linux DVD player was discounted because DeCSS can also run on Windows.

  • Linking to a site which offers DeCSS was considered to be the same as providing it directly.

This case is far from over, of course; now it moves into the appeals stage. It could be a long time before any sort of final resolution is reached.

This verdict is a chilling one for users of free software (and those who value freedom in general). Our ability to write software to meet our needs has been significantly restricted - at least, in the United States. This sort of ruling is a direct threat to our ability to use free software in the future. There is no doubt about the free software community's ability to to develop the software it needs. But if that development becomes a crime, then free software is in trouble.

As an example of where things could go, consider the recent reports in the media that the plaintiffs in the Napster case are likely to seek damages against not only Napster the company, but also directly against its investors and the programmers that wrote the system. Here we have gone beyond attempts to suppress the Napster service; this is an attempt to penalize those who write code.

Napster is a proprietary system. But if Napster's programmers can be hauled into court for the crime of coding, the same can happen with those who write free software. It is sufficient, evidently, to show that the software in question can be used for copyright infringement. The Free Software Foundation, source of the GNU "cp" command, had better watch its back. And we all need to be concerned.

How to respond to attacks on Linux. Linux has been blessed, in recent times, by a relative scarcity of FUD ("Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt") attacks. But they seem to be on the rise again; perhaps the critics have grown tired of sneering at stock prices and have turned their attention back to the technology itself. As always, some of the criticisms make more sense than others.

The classic example of the week, of course, is ABC columnist Fred Moody's latest, which not only tries to trash Linux, but descends to the level of personal attacks on Linux users as well. We'll not dignify the text with a quote here; suffice to say that the article would be considered a low-level troll in any Usenet group or Slashdot comment. (The article may have moved by the time you read this; if so, it will be findable via the archive page).

LWN hasn't sermonized on response to FUD for a little while, so maybe it's time. Mr. Moody has most certainly received no end of critical email, some of which will be even sillier and more childish than his own writings. Such mail just becomes another weapon in the hands of those who would bash Linux - Mr. Moody uses his to accuse Linux developers of being "not great thinkers." Yes, he knows that it's not the developers who are sending that mail; that's not the point.

Linux is winning. Free software is better. We do not in any way need to resort to low-level attacks as a defense against FUD. The free software community is much better served by calm, dignified, and factual responses to these sorts of attacks. Please, before answering any sort of critical press, take the time and effort to do so in a way that reflects well on Linux. Please don't feed the trolls.

For more suggestions on how to respond to attacks, we strongly recommend taking a look at the Linux Advocacy HOWTO.

The GNOME vs. KDE thing. It has been a little while since we have had a good GNOME and KDE fight, so it shouldn't be surprising to see one turn up now. These battles have grown somewhat tiresome over the years. But this one is just a little different, and it's worth looking at what is going on.

The interesting thing is that the developers of both systems don't seem to be all that involved. No GNOME developer used the project's time in the spotlight last week to attack KDE. The KDE camp, perhaps feeling ambushed, has been a little more vocal; but they seem to be much more concerned with the upcoming 2.0 release.

To the extent that there has been shooting between the camps, it has been at a relatively interesting level. For example, the two projects have taken very different approaches to building component-oriented systems; GNOME has chosen CORBA, which has standards and network transparency behind it, but is also a heavyweight and complex solution. KDE has taken the "light and easy" approach with KParts. It will be most interesting to see which choice looks better in a year or two. Meanwhile, there should be a technical conversation on the merits of each approach.

So why, then, are we seeing articles in the press referring to the "war"? There seems to be a certain interest in fanning the flames here. See this week's Linux in the News page for some examples. Just like in the wider world, it's easier to write an article if there's some big battle to talk about.

Let's not go along with that. There is no "war" here. There are two competing implementations of a Linux desktop. The Linux community is richer for having both of them. The two embody different approaches to usability, different technical choices, and different organizational choices as well. Nobody knows what is the best way to do a Linux desktop - if, indeed, there is a single best way. The two projects are experiments which have a lot to teach us. Both are good things, neither is going away anytime soon, and there is no point in talking about "war."

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: Finally, Netscape fixes for Brown Orifice, plus Helix advisories, and more.
  • Kernel: vger.rutgers.edu reborn as vger.kernel.org; Linus and the "curse of the gifted."
  • Distributions: A new development tree for Debian, new distributions Repairlix and Fd Linux.
  • Development: Database benchmarks, new KDE, new Gimp.
  • Commerce: Transmeta IPO; financial results from VA Linux and Caldera; KDE wins award.
  • Back page: Linux links, this week in Linux history, and letters to the editor
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

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August 24, 2000


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