Linus Torvalds waded into the Software Freedom Conservancy and Bradley Kuhn over the question of enforcing compliance of the GPL General Public Licence.
Software Freedom Conservancy head Karen Sandler made a mistake when she suggested that Linuxcon in Toronto should include a session on GPL enforcement.
A number of developers think that while discussing enforcement issues was topical and necessary, doing it at a conference of this kind could well lead to people who took part being deposed later on by lawyers for their own cases.
Matthew Garrett, a former kernel developer and someone who was not attending LinuxCon, joined the discussion, pushing his view that a militant approach was better and this appears to have set Torvald’s off.
He backed the proposal to have a discussion on GPL enforcement but said no lawyers should be present, only developers. “I personally think this arguing for lawyering has become a nasty festering disease, and the SFC and Bradley Kuhn has been the Typhoid Mary spreading the disease,” Torvalds said.
Torvalds added: “I think the whole GPL enforcement issue is absolutely something that should be discussed, but it should be discussed with the working title ‘Lawyers: poisonous to openness, poisonous to community, poisonous to projects.’
“…quite apart from the risk of loss in a court, the real risk is something that happens whether you win or lose, and in fact whether you go to court or just threaten: the loss of community, and in particular exactly the kind of community that can (and does) help. You lose your friends.
“Because lawsuits — and even threats of lawsuits — make companies way less likely to see you as a good guy. Even when you’re threatening somebody else, everybody else around the target starts getting really, really antsy.”