[gst-devel] gstreamer cleanup

David Schleef ds at schleef.org
Thu Jul 3 12:59:05 CEST 2003

On Thu, Jul 03, 2003 at 09:22:07PM +0530, Joshua N Pritikin wrote:
> On Thu, Jul 03, 2003 at 05:11:32PM +0200, Ronald Bultje wrote:
> > Patents? Each country has different ideas and different ways of
> > interpreting this term. It's too simple to just let it go because "some"
> > country in the world "might" be bothered by companies that deliver that
> > "sort of" code to their customers. Does it hurt *us*? That's the
> > important question, imo.
> i'm not a legal expert, but i think we just need to create some
> "distance" between gstreamer and (possibly) patent encumbered
> plugins.  i don't know how much "distance" is a good balance
> between sufficient legal protection and sacrificing usability.
> My preference is just to add a warning to the plugin information:
> "maybe patent encumbered -- use this plugin at your own risk"
> And perhaps a command line option to enable/disable patent
> encumbered plugins.  Dunno if this is legally worth it though.

It is important to keep in mind that in the US, dealing with patents
is completely unlike dealing with copyrights.  Any code or text is
copyrighted automatically -- thus, unless you have prior permission,
you cannot copy code or text.  Everyone knows this, and if you
violate this, you are liable for all _past_ infractions.

Patents are different.  If you have no prior knowledge of a patent
on a particular method, and happen to use a method covered by that
patent, the patent owner can inform you that they own the patent
and tell you to stop.  If you stop, it is the end of the story.
If, however, you continue to use the patented method, you are liable
for current infractions.

However, if you do have prior knowledge of a patent, you can be
held accountable for all infringement.  And there are specific
methods documented in law that explain how a patent owner should
inform others of a possible patent, specifically, writing "Pat.
5680157" on the object.  For this reason, I cannot build and sell
mice without checking to see if my product is covered by that
patent, since I have been informed by the notice on a device I

Thus, in the great irony of the system that is supposed to "promote
the useful arts", in order to protect myself, I must completely
avoid any knowledge of any patents and also not tell others.  This
is the philosophy many software projects, especially GCC and the
Linux kernel, both of which are known to violate several patents.
Which ones?  Nobody will tell.

This only works when _we_ distribute code.  A redistributor, such
as Red Hat or Sun, may have significant more knowledge about some
patents, and as such, they may find it a courtesy if we separate
out certain segments of code that they may find problematic.  But
we don't want to know why.

And we certainly don't want to acknowledge any potentially patent
violating code, since that's just hanging up a sign that says "Sue
the fuck out of me!"


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