Is it possible to sue infringers under the GPL?

Justin Wells jread at
Wed Mar 8 19:55:13 UTC 2000

A big problem with the GPL, and other OSS licenses, is that very few people
have standing to press a complaint. If someone violate's a GPL license, 
only the author of the software has the right to press the complaint (or
so I think, and I am not a lawyer). 

Worse, if there are multiple authors, you probably need a majority 
of them present to press the complaint. How do you find out who the 
authors of an OSS project are, and how on earth would you track down
a majority of them?

This doesn't bode well for OSS projects that are developed by someone who
has since vanished, and are now maintained by someone else. 

In my SPL, which I am *still* working on, I have this clause:

  For the sole purpose of taking action against an infringer of our
  copyrights, including actions seeking remedies, compensation, or the
  recovery of damages, anyone engaged in the lawful distribution of our 
  software shall be considered a beneficial owner of the rights to copy and 
  distribute it, and therefore has the authority to pursue such actions.

The goal here is to give someone like Red Hat the standing to press a 
claim against a violator, even if the original author has vanished from
the face of the earth. The copyright act (in the US) has some similar
language granting television broadcasters "beneficial owner" status
so they can go after pirates in their broadcast area, without having
to track down the copyright owners.

Any comments? Is this viable? Does it give the distributor enough power
to subvert the license? Does it give them enough standing to go after
an infringer in court?

The full text of the current SPL is here, and I would appreciate other
comments on it:

But at the moment I am particularly interested in this beneficial 
owner idea.


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