Harald Welte is someone enterprise IT folks should get to know and maybe worry about. The softspoken programmer has successfully encouraged–and sometimes forced–more than 100 companies to either remove or release source code that he believed infringed on the General Public License (GPL). In 2005, his work even resulted in an injunction against security vendor Fortinet, forcing them to stop shipment of some products until they later agreed to a settlement.
In the past, much of his work has been accomplished as an individual through the German court system. (He owns a copyright on some commonly used–and oft-misappropriated–code in the Linux kernel, which gives him certain legal rights.) But Welte is also pursuing cases in Taiwan, Korea and elsewhere. And he hopes later this year to launch a not-for-profit organization dedicated to pursuing GPL violations. His goal: A world where GPL violations simply don’t occur.
“I would be very happy if I could spend all of my time doing kernel development rather than doing this messy work of legally enforcing the GPL…In our view, it is necessary to raise public awareness and to make cases public. If you do GPL enforcement in a very quiet way…the general IT industry doesn’t take notice and we’ll actually see more infringements rather than less… This is not a witch hunt or some kind of religious battle, it’s just making corporate users play by the rules who have for whatever reason overlooked them.”
I’ve posted a podcast of my recent interview with Welte. In it, he discusses his accomplishments, his goals and his reasons for getting involved in this “messy work.” If you’ve ever considered “borrowing” open source code without properly following the license, this is something you should hear. You can also learn more about Welte’s activities in his blog.