Antitrust Attack on the GPL

By John Ottaviani

In the latest attack on open source software and the General Public License , Daniel Wallace, acting as his own attorney, has sued the Free Software Foundation in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana for violations of federal antitrust law. The four page complaint claims that FSF has entered into contracts and has conspired with individual software authors and commercial software distrbutors such as Red Hat, Inc. and Novell, Inc., to artificially fix the prices charged for computer software programs through the promotion and use of the GPL. Mr. Wallace claims that this scheme threatens to diminish or destroy his ability to earn future revenues as a computer programmer. The complaint is devoid of specific details, however.

Mr, Wallace’s claim is creative, but seems destined for an early dismissal. He will need to supply the court with a good deal of evidence of price fixing, little of which has been seen to date, even to survive preliminary dismissal motions. Moreover, as a non profit organization, the Free Software Foundation is likely to be exempt from the Clayton Act charges by virtue of 15 U.S.C. Section 13c . Whatever one’s feelings on the enforceability of the GPL or the almost evangelical fervor with which people attack or defend those who take a position on the GPL, this case probably will not change the debate in any significant way.