The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is the movie industry’s trade group. If you’ve been following the “internet piracy” stories of the past few years, you’ll know that the MPAA has done lots of things to protect its “intellectual property”, from lobbying members of Congress for tougher copyright laws, to hiring lawyers to shut down file trading websites, to hiring third-parties (like MediaSentry) to collect data about people trading movies online, to creating “snitch programs” that monetarily reward theatre employees for turning in customers that illicitly tape movies with video cameras.
So how delicious is it that the MPAA was served a takedown notice earlier this week… for violating someone else’s copyright! The MPAA has been distributing something called a “University Toolkit”. Said toolkit contains the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution along with some popular open-source tools for monitoring networks. The MPAA made the toolkit available free of charge to universities to help them track down illegal content on their networks.
However, as this article at Ars Technica explains, the MPAA did not make the source code of the material available, as is required by the General Public License (GPL) that Linux (and most of the tools included in the download) are published under. In a nutshell, the GPL allows anyone to assemble an operating system and\or software applications as they see fit… as long as they document all of their changes and make the source code available to anyone that asks. In other words, I could take a version of Ubuntu Linux and change every instance of the name “Ubuntu Linux” in the software to “jimcofer.com Linux”… as long as I provide the source code and documentation of what I’ve done to anyone that asks. Or I could take a copy of Ubuntu Linux and make a bootable CD that turns any computer into an “internet kiosk” (like you see in airports)… again, just as long as I provide the source code and document the changes.
The MPAA is (of course) calling the incident a “simple oversight”, but once again it just shows that Big Content is ready and willing to steamroll anyone else’s copyrights in the name of protecting their own.