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#1 2013-02-21 01:01:47

Pots1012
Member
Registered: 2011-09-14
Posts: 19

How to use Linux legally for business in the US

Hello.

I am doing some research on software patents and how they inhibit businesses in the US from using FOSS.

My question is, basically, what would a business have to do in the US to use Linux in place of Windows/Mac and make sure they are not violating software patents? Violating these patents (for example, including an illegal H.264 codec in a company's system image so that video can be played by employees) present a serious liability to US businesses and could potentially discourage them from abandoning a proprietary OS for a free one.

One portion (of many) of this discussion I do not understand is how does one guarantee their system is clean of illegal codecs? For example, assume if one used his/her package manager to delete any codec-related packages he/she could find. If this person used a web browser to navigate to a website that included in-page H.264 videos or sound effects encoded using MP3, would this content merely not function (meaning, the person would be legally safe but unable to play the content)? Or do web browsers have these illegal codecs built in? I don't understand how website programming works enough to know the answer to this particular question.

I would appreciate any insight on this issue (and/or any thoughts you might have on this subject).

Thank you for your time.

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#2 2013-02-21 01:22:09

headkase
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From: Canada
Registered: 2011-12-06
Posts: 1,414
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Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

See distro's to avoid here if you are in the US:

http://www.gnu.org/distros/common-distros.html

And, linked from that page, see ones that should be safer:

http://www.gnu.org/distros/free-distros.html

With Parbola:

https://parabolagnulinux.org/

Being Free and based on Arch.

Now, the problem, completely free is very picky about the hardware it will run on so you will want to procure hardware specifically built to run under a Free system without issues.  Licensed distributables you can get away with using, for example: Adobe Flash Player.  Just accept the license agreement and you should be good to go.  The minefield is that somewhere in even the Free code there could be a patent lying in wait.  Something that someone in the US patented and the Free systems programmers were not aware of it.  This is an issue in the US because commercial Operating Systems such as Windows will indemnify their users against patent infringement.  On Free systems however you, the business using them, could end up being on the hook for significant damages.

The reason a completely Free system is very picky about what hardware it will run on is because all those binary blobs in common Linux distributions contain code that just makes stuff work.  Without that you have to make absolutely sure that what you have will work with just Free software.

See:

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/fighting- … tents.html

Last edited by headkase (2013-02-21 01:25:52)


We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us.

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#3 2013-02-21 03:41:58

headkase
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From: Canada
Registered: 2011-12-06
Posts: 1,414
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Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

The answer to "is it built into a web-browser" is that is sometimes is and sometimes isn't.  MP3 and such usually isn't built into a web browser, support for it comes from system-installed packages.  Right now the most common method to access multimedia in a web-browser is to use Adobe Flash Player.  That is fine to use as you can accept the license for it and be in the clear legally.  Video and audio codecs are in the process of being standardized right now.  Eventually in the future a browser should be able to handle multimedia itself without having to rely on a plug-in such as Flash.  When that happens expect whatever the standard ends up being to be "safe."  In that it will likely be a no-cost piece of software that at worst you accept a license for.

And as a further aside, "illegal codecs" is hogwash.  Mathematics is not patentable or copyrightable.  Codecs implement an algorithm of a type and all algorithms are math with control structures.  It is idiocy that software patents exist at all.


We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us.

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#4 2013-02-21 03:48:08

Pots1012
Member
Registered: 2011-09-14
Posts: 19

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

headkase wrote:

The minefield is that somewhere in even the Free code there could be a patent lying in wait.  Something that someone in the US patented and the Free systems programmers were not aware of it.  This is an issue in the US because commercial Operating Systems such as Windows will indemnify their users against patent infringement.  On Free systems however you, the business using them, could end up being on the hook for significant damages.

Interesting. So, Windows and Ubuntu are both backed and distributed by a corporate entity (Microsoft and Canonical, respectively). Why is it in the case of Windows the user is free while the Ubuntu user could be the victim of persecution? Wouldn't the Ubuntu user have the same protections a Windows user has?

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#5 2013-02-21 03:50:28

Pots1012
Member
Registered: 2011-09-14
Posts: 19

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

headkase wrote:

And as a further aside, "illegal codecs" is hogwash.  Mathematics is not patentable or copyrightable.  Codecs implement an algorithm of a type and all algorithms are math with control structures.  It is idiocy that software patents exist at all.

I completely agree with you. Unfortunately, here in the US, we protect a barbaric patent system. Until that changes, a business owner must avoid these "illegal codecs" (which are, in fact, illegal here) or face legal action. That is what I am trying to decipher: is it possible for a business owner to make use of a FOSS Linux system (rather than a Windows-based one) as part of his or her work and be safe from a legal attack?

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#6 2013-02-21 04:17:58

headkase
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From: Canada
Registered: 2011-12-06
Posts: 1,414
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Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

Ubuntu lets you purchase indemnification:

http://www.canonical.com/enterprise-ser … ance-terms

However you are not indemnified unless you purchase that.

This discussion will probably answer some of your questions (61 comments, drag the slider to show more):

http://ask.slashdot.org/story/03/03/14/ … -for-linux

--

We agree that software patents are crap.  Copyright is what should be used, you can copyright a specific implementation but you should not be able to patent the underlying math.  The situation is that if there is money to be made then business' will lobby for restrictions on a market, something to give themselves an advantage over their competitors.  Software patents are just another form of currency and you must buy into them to do business.  You must either have cash to buy licenses or software patents of your own, as a currency itself, to cross-license if you want to do business.  It keeps the "little guys" out and also acts as a drag on innovation.  Business trumpets that software patents are needed for innovation but it is the opposite in practice.

Last edited by headkase (2013-02-21 04:20:16)


We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us.

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#7 2013-02-21 13:07:19

Pots1012
Member
Registered: 2011-09-14
Posts: 19

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

That Slashdot thread was quite informative, thank you. Although, it was from 2003. I'd be interested to know how things have changed since then.

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#8 2013-02-21 18:26:25

headkase
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From: Canada
Registered: 2011-12-06
Posts: 1,414
Website

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

I've already given you plenty of information.  Google is your friend, search around a bit.. wink  Perhaps someone else may chime in on this thread?!


We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us.

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#9 2013-02-21 20:21:08

ewaller
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From: Pasadena, CA
Registered: 2009-07-13
Posts: 12,433

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

I find this thread a rather odd contrast with another of your threads.

What are you trying to achieve?


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Like you, I have no idea what you are doing, but I am pretty sure it is wrong...Jasonwryan
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#10 2013-02-21 21:54:43

Shark
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From: /dev/zero
Registered: 2011-02-28
Posts: 663

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

ewaller wrote:

I find this thread a rather odd contrast with another of your threads.

What are you trying to achieve?

Actually i don't find these two posts in odd "relationship" – they are interconnected. In first post he is asking about Linux career and the second post is dealing with legal bindings/hinderances of the Linux (business) career. I find this two themes interconnected and really interesting.


If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.
Henry David Thoreau

Registered Linux User: #559057

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#11 2013-02-22 00:44:05

Pots1012
Member
Registered: 2011-09-14
Posts: 19

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

ewaller wrote:

I find this thread a rather odd contrast with another of your threads.

What are you trying to achieve?

Not in "odd contrast" at all.

I currently support Windows systems and servers. I enjoy my job, but I really enjoy working with Linux and I appreciate the community aspect of open source software (in addition to many other aspects). I have been looking into the possibility of offering small businesses an affordable IT solution (which would include selling hardware and support) based on open source software rather than the typical Windows + Office setup. One thing that might seriously impede on such an ambition would be a patent troll coming along after the firm was successful for some years and suing for patent violations (they seem to be able to leverage the current bogus US patent law to find a million ways to sue companies in this manner). In other words, if I ever were to pursue this, I would want to reasonably ensure that everything wouldn't come crumbling down at any second should one of these troll companies pop up. I suppose that to ensure this, I would have to be reasonably sure that I wasn't using any questionable software, libraries, codecs, etc...

Which brings me to the creation of this thread. I see this forum as a good source of information relating to the topic. In addition, Arch would be one of the main distributions I would consider using in this scenario.

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#12 2013-02-22 00:51:57

ewaller
Administrator
From: Pasadena, CA
Registered: 2009-07-13
Posts: 12,433

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

Fair enough.  The part that I found odd was that you had expressed a desire to move in the direction of a Linux career; but now seemed to be shying away.  I was trying to determine if you had received some push back from perspective employers; or whether you have had a change of heart.  I also confess, I left a little barb in my post as troll bait -- just to be sure.  I apologize for that, you certainly did not take that bait.  tongue


Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature -- Michael Faraday
Like you, I have no idea what you are doing, but I am pretty sure it is wrong...Jasonwryan
----
How to Ask Questions the Smart Way

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#13 2013-02-22 01:14:02

Pots1012
Member
Registered: 2011-09-14
Posts: 19

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

ewaller wrote:

Fair enough.  The part that I found odd was that you had expressed a desire to move in the direction of a Linux career; but now seemed to be shying away.  I was trying to determine if you had received some push back from perspective employers; or whether you have had a change of heart.  I also confess, I left a little barb in my post as troll bait -- just to be sure.  I apologize for that, you certainly did not take that bait.  tongue

Ah, I see. All is well. smile

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#14 2013-02-22 09:50:11

theGunslinger
Member
Registered: 2011-05-20
Posts: 299

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

Wouldn't removing the problematic packages solve the issue? Also how do Google, Amazon, Facebook and other companies using Linux go around this?

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#15 2013-02-22 13:29:37

Pots1012
Member
Registered: 2011-09-14
Posts: 19

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

theGunslinger wrote:

Wouldn't removing the problematic packages solve the issue? Also how do Google, Amazon, Facebook and other companies using Linux go around this?

To your first question, that's what I would think too. Part of my original question was to clarify this (that is, I was wondering if questionable codecs would still reside within browsers despite me having removed the ones I could find using my package manager).

To your second, from what I understand, the reason those companies can operate is two fold: (1) they are wealthy enough to afford to defend themselves during patent litigation and (2) they are able to build up a fat pile of patents to sit on and use again patent trolls when they come. It is my understanding that Google, for example, has been hoarding patents purely for defensive reasons. Sadly, a small Linux-based startup wouldn't have either of these tools to use against trolls if they came sniffing around for cash. In turn, such a startup would need to somehow be sure that any software they were using was not compromised by some obscure patent held by a troll hiding somewhere else in the country. As mentioned before, this is the sort of situation that arises when you have ludicrous patent law (as we do in the US).

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#16 2013-02-22 17:18:25

x33a
Forum Moderator
Registered: 2009-08-15
Posts: 3,248
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Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

Pots1012 wrote:
theGunslinger wrote:

Wouldn't removing the problematic packages solve the issue? Also how do Google, Amazon, Facebook and other companies using Linux go around this?

To your first question, that's what I would think too. Part of my original question was to clarify this (that is, I was wondering if questionable codecs would still reside within browsers despite me having removed the ones I could find using my package manager).

If you remove the codecs using the package manager, there cannot be any plugins left for the browser either. If you still find something plugins listed, simply disable them from the browser.

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#17 2013-02-23 00:58:42

Inxsible
Forum Fellow
From: Chicago
Registered: 2008-06-09
Posts: 9,059

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

If you are using this setup for your own office/business, couldn't you just have a Configuration Management team (1-3 ppl) responsible for the updates etc on the linux systems ? It would be their responsibility to make sure no "illegal" software was installed on any of the machines on the network.

If you are planning on selling such a setup and the support with it, you could again do the same as above with the caveat that the config mgmt team might have your client's employees. In this case you pass the buck by having an explicit contract which removes you from all liabilities if the client or anyone on their behalf installs anything "illegal". They can still sue you if you or your team install something "illegal".

Finally you will also have clients who want to purchase the setup but not the support in which case you can again pass the responsibility onto the client the minute they sign a waiver saying that all software installed in the pre-built setup is legal software and anything done with that setup is the client's sole responsibility.


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#18 2013-03-04 21:12:42

andrekp
Member
Registered: 2012-06-07
Posts: 112

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

Maybe the answer is that if you want to do something that requires a proprietary codec, you have to pay for it somehow, then that clears you up.

For example, an individual might use libdvdcss, which MAY be illegal in some places because it brute forces decryption.  But you can pay for the fluendo player ($25 bucks or so) and that covers the actual royalties, or whatever, is required to play DVD's legally.

So while an individual might not care and simply use libdvdcss to do the dirty work, a company might have to make other choices and pay for some software to achieve necessary functionality.  Maybe there's a web site or something that can match up need with legal software to run it.

I don't claim to know more than that, however.

Last edited by andrekp (2013-03-04 21:15:24)

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#19 2013-03-04 23:13:01

cfr
Member
From: Cymru
Registered: 2011-11-27
Posts: 5,661

Re: How to use Linux legally for business in the US

Some distributions regularly audit their packages to ensure that they are not installing non-free software. FSF maintains a list of approved distributions which should not include any non-free code.

You might also consider what Red Hat does. Since they sell RHEL commercially, I'd guess they have some way of dealing with the potential legal issues involved.

I don't think Arch would be a good choice partly because Arch does not have the capacity to do the sort of legal work done by the larger distributions and partly because it really isn't a distribution which should be installed for somebody else to use. It requires the user to understand and maintain their own system. That's not a great model for rolling out in a business model. Moreover, it should be updated very frequently to avoid problems. That's also not a great model for this sort of purpose. And user intervention is often required and users are expected to be able to deal with breakage. Of course, you can act as an intermediary but then you will need to be constantly maintaining things in a way that doesn't strike me as an efficient use of time.


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