Community-developed free software is often distributed under the General Public Licence (GPL). This is certainly not a fancy acronym for ‘public domain,’ but rather a very permissive licence allowing the source code to be freely modified and distributed. The major obligation on the part of the person/organization making modifications is that they publish the details of their changes and make their source code available. I gather the idea is that everyone will be able to examine and incorporate changes others have made and thereby accelerate innovation.

Enter the Motion Picture Association of America. In their zeal to prevent their products from being traded by university students, they released the MPA University Toolkit. Setting aside what a ridiculously large security hole this kit might create, the MPAA was distributing their toolkit in violation of the GPL, and therefore in violation of copyright law.

Isn’t the hypocrisy delicious?

The tool kit is based on Ubuntu, a Linux distribution licensed under the GPL. Since the MPAA customized Ubuntu as part of their tool kit, the GPL requires that they publish the changes and make the modified source code available to anyone who asks for it. They didn’t do so.

Matthew Garret, a member of the Ubuntu technical board, attempted to contact the MPAA by e‑mail to inform them of their violation. He didn’t receive a response. He called and and spoke to receptionists who promised the people responsible would call him back. Again, he didn’t receive a response. He finally resorted to using the legal blunt instrument the entertainment industry lobbied for. Contacting the MPAA’s ISP, he delivered a DMCA takedown notice. The toolkit is no longer available. As Garret wrote in his blog, “MPAA don’t fuck with my shit.”


I have no doubt the MPAA will minimally comply with the GPL and make the software available again, but in the meantime, they’ve got a henhouse-worth of egg on their face. The MPAA, eager to point out copyright violators, has itself willingly violated copyright.

Another case of “do as I say, not as I do” on the part of the entertainment industry?