IP Theft as plagiarism - Embedded.com

IP Theft as plagiarism

My parents and the nuns at St. Camillus drilled the Ten Commandmentsinto our little heads. I had no idea what “adultery” was, and in gradeschool never found an opportunity to commit that particular sin, butthe rest were pretty clear. Thou Shalt Not Steal is very unambiguous,and very easy to adhere to.

Though we were being taught moral behavior for its own sake,stealing always had practical barriers as well. Shoplift a candy barand the proprietor might catch you and for sure Mom and Dad wouldcreate their own special version of hell.

I'm not sure if the moral teachings or the potential repercussionsultimately shaped our worldview, but now most of us cannot conceive ofnicking the GPS from that car with the inadvertently left-open window.When the shopkeeper mistakenly gives too much change, of course you return the extra.

And of course a civilizedperson doesn't steal music or videos.OrIntellectual Property (IP). Evenif the risks of being found out are miniscule.

The music/video discussion is an old one. Though I think the RIAA and MPAA are both wrong, and willhave to come to terms with the digital world, those who illegallydownload this material are wrong, too. It's theft. You may disagreewith copyrightlaw (and I think the currentduration is absurd ) but the rules are clear.

Professors rightfully complain about pirated material turning up interm papers. But with so much on-line it's hard to see how a teacher,in reviewing dozens of manuscripts, can elicit the stolen from that astudent created. Tools do exist to ferret out plagiarism, but I wonder howmany professors use them.

But there's another twist to the discussion, that of usingengineering IP, like open source software orHDLblocks, illegally.

Just like that watchful shopkeeper, the open source community hasorganizations enforcing license compliance. The Software Freedom Law Center hasbrought many IP scofflaws to justice. But, illegal use of IP,especially when buried in firmware, is also like illegally downloadingmusic: odds are most violators will get away with their crimes.

Even the well-intentioned majority may have trouble complying. The Free Software Foundationrecognizes over 50 different licenses. Others also exist. Terms varyconsiderably between them. Navigating the maze of rules may not beeasy.

How does one even know the provenance of a chunk of code if, forinstance, you reuse a package inheritied after acquiring a business?What about code created by an offshore firm, one where IP protectionmight be more casual than in the US?

GPLv3 is over 5600 words, nearlytwice the length of GPLv2. Though great care wastaken to keep the legalistic lingo at bay it's not a License forDummies. GPLed code is wonderfulstuff, but tread carefully lest an innocent mistake compromisesproprietary software.

Companies like Blackduck offer services thathelp insure companies don't violate open source licenses. That seems avery useful service, though I'd imagine it's not cheap.

For some reason the theft of bit streams is widely viewed verydifferently than that of real property. Yet transgressing an IP licensecould cost millions. What's your company's policy?

My question for you this week is: “How do you use FOSS?” To vote, go to the Embedded.com Poll on the Embedded.comHome Page .

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embeddeddevelopment issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helpscompanies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .

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