after one gpl body blow, skype yells uncle

As most of you probably know, there has been a case that just went to court earlier today in Germany on the GPL. It had been described by Harald Welte as one of the more time consuming cases he has worked on. For those of you not familiar with him, Mr. Welte founded, an organization that helps to enforce the provisions of the GPL.

Skype had apparently used certain elements of the Linux kernel in its WiFi phones without complying with the GPL, and was set to challenge the validity of the GPL based on its alleged contraventions of German legislation – in particular anti-trust legislation. It would be interesting to see the analysis in that regard, particularly on the anti-trust front, but so far I’ve not been able to get my hands on a translated copy of the pleadings – if anyone knows where to locate, do let me know.

Anyway, apparently, they didn’t get too far. According to the entry in Harald Welte’s blog, apart from the validity of such claims, the somewhat ironic result to which the court alluded at the hearing is that if Skype were able to successfully assert the invalidity of the license, then it would also be difficult for them to claim any right to use the impugned code. Makes sense. Invalid license = no use rights.

After the court suggested that Skype’s likelihood of success would be low, Skype apparently threw in the towel in such a manner that they would not be able to revisit it further, effectively giving the victory to Welte.

I find the case and Skype’s litigation strategy somewhat puzzling, both given the decision in the 2006 D-Link case, also in Germany and the relative costs of litigation in comparison to compliance. That being said, I haven’t been able to obtain much in the way of original documentation regarding the particular GPL violations that Skype allegedly committed. Presumably, Skype went down a path in its use of GPL code that would result in it incurring significant expenses (or facing significant risk, of some sort – perhaps exposure of their own proprietary IP?) if they were required to comply after the fact. Presumably, they would not have found themselves in this situation if they had turned their mind toward structuring their use of GPL code appropriately, by either ensuring they could comply in a cost-effective manner, or not using the GPL code.

ebay and buyer’s remorse

Ouch. The Times Online ran a story on how eBay isn’t all too happy with their multi-billion purchase.

Aaron Kessler, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, the US investment bank, said: “The problem for them has always been trying to get their 200 million users to pay for services. They haven’t really figured out a way to monetise their clients – they haven’t introduced new services such as search engines.”

To be honest I am a bit surprised. When the deal was first announced I had some difficulty understanding the reasons for the purchase, since it didn’t make much sense to me. But then again, if I could figure out such things I’d be a dot-com billionaire jetting around the world in my private jet, rather than a little tech lawyer with a little blog. So, naturally, I assumed the powers that be at eBay did have in mind a grand plan, either to monetize Skype in some really cool way that, perhaps, would also tie into their existing biz and result in some really very cool new business or killer feature, even if the Skype service itself didn’t generate the bucks. Sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case – or at least the case at present.

Perhaps what surprises me most, however, is that they’ve come out publicly to express their regret. I don’t recall many companies (particularly in the tech industry) that have done so. To be honest its also unclear to me why they would say so publicly – at least in the way they’ve done so. Can’t imagine it would really be a heck of a morale booster for the remaining folks at Skype. And surely there’s a way to make such popular technology spin off a little more cash. I remember thinking of a few things that I thought they would probably do (and how much I would expect to pay for them) but which never seemed to happen. For good reason, I imagine.

Anyway, I’m sure they’ll figure out something to do with it, being the resourceful Canadians they are…