January 18, 2005

GaDuGi and free software share one fire

Author: Joe Barr

Recently Linux Business Week ran a story entitled "Cherokee Indians To Encircle Open Source?
Or How the GPL Might Wind Up with Arrows Sticking in It
." Luckily, author Maureen O'Gara seems to have the story all wrong. UPDATED

According to O'Gara, former Novell chief scientist Jeff Merkey has "rewritten NetWare and merged it with Linux to create a distribution called GaDuGi, a Cherokee word for the work crews that used to engage in what we might call community service for the good of the whole tribe."

Merkey then turned over the hybrid OS, including copyrights, to the Cherokee Nation, hoping to see it released under the Cherokee Nation's own version of an open source license, one which would recognize trade secret rights.

Hmmmm. Open source but secret. That's a strange brew.

O'Gara writes that Merkey "is also pretty convinced that the Cherokees would ride roughshod over open source's precious GPL and declare the Free Software Foundation's interpretation of the license wrongheaded and anti-commerce. The Cherokee Nation is regarded as a sovereign state under US law so that could be a bit of a problem for the GPL huggers."

While Linux may be a magnet, people are running away from the GaDuGi story faster than the speed of email. A Web site touting the GaDuGi "project" has disappeared. The domain name was registered last June to the Cherokee Nation. Trying to make sense out of the cached remains on Google is frustrating, but the site seems to have been live as late as December.

Mike Miller, a spokesman for the Cherokee Nation, told NewsForge this morning that there is no item related to open source slated to be considered at next month's Tribal Council meeting. He did say that certain "business opportunities" are being examined, but that absolutely no commitments had been made. Principal Chief Chad Smith was not available for comment by press time.

Neither was Merkey, who in addition to his work for Novell has also been linked to Microsoft, as Groklaw revealed in a story last October. Judge Anthony W. Schofield noted in his Findings of Fact in a suit brought by Novell against Timpanogos Research Group -- founded by Merkey after leaving Novell -- when he wrote "The depth of Merkey's shift in feelings -- an antipathy for Novell and a commitment to Microsoft -- is reflected in a variety of e-mail messages to Microsoft sent shortly after he left Novell in which he signs off as 'Your Loyal Servant.'"

Merkey also tried to buy a version of the Linux kernel free of the GPL last year, offering $50,000 to anyone who could provide it. That offer was later modified, with Merkey writing on the Linux kernel mailing list in October that "On a side note, the GPL buyout previously offered has been modified. We will be contacting individual contributors and negotiating with each copyright holder for the code we wish to
convert on a case by case basis. The remaining portions of code will
remain GPL. The 50K per copy offer still stands for the whole thing if you guys can
ever figure out how to set something like this up. :-)"

NewsForge asked Tim Witham, Chief Technology Officer at OSDL, for his thoughts on the saga. He said:

It is amusing. And given the conditions I can't imagine why anybody would
contribute to his code base.

My personal feelings are that the GPL remains in effect for the code written
under it and once Mr. Merkey's software including GPL'ed code leaves
the reservation no matter what is going on there the GPL will be in effect.

It appears -- for the moment, at least -- that the threat of open warfare between the Cherokee Nation and free software has disappeared. The irony of the whole sorry tale is that free software and the spirit of GaDuGi have much in common, and by all rights should always be sitting at the same fire, not in opposing camps.

Update:

NewsForge has just received a reply from Jeff Merkey to a question we asked yesterday. Here are both the question and Merkey's response:

NF: I'm researching a story on the topics raised in the recent
LinuxBusinessWeek.com story about your efforts to circumvent U.S.
copyright law by having your own versions of law enacted by the Cherokee
Nation.

Can we meet by telephone or email to discuss this?

Merkey: We are not trying to "circumvent" copyright law. I'm sorry you folks
are getting FUD'd by the FSF and whinny Linux Community. We are enacting legislatio that allows
trade secrets to be protected in open source code. Please do not misrepresent what we are
doing or saying.

Click Here!