Is Cittio ripping off the OpenNMS community?

Can one steal from an open-source project? Of course.

There are a lot of allegations flying around relative to Cittio's (allegedly improper) use of the OpenNMS code without contributing code back, in apparent violation of the GPL. The best post on the subject is this one, in my opinion.

It reminds us of a few things:

  1. We don't actually know how Cittio is using OpenNMS, in part because Cittio is keeping the whole thing under wraps and has been very sneaky about it.
  2. Regardless of #1, Cittio would have to be clever indeed to have found a way to bury GPL code in their proprietary product without giving a single line of code back to the OpenNMS project.
  3. No matter #2, Cittio's stripmining of the OpenNMS community is in poor form.
  4. Irrespective of #3, Cittio apparently doesn't let its customers know that it is shipping them GPL code. I bet those customers would like to know this and, as a lawyer, I'd strongly suggest that Cittio has a duty to inform its customers of this fact.

Ultimately, as Tarus Balog (founder of OpenNMS) notes, open source is a matter of trust. Cittio has demonstrated that it knows little about open source and deserves precious little trust.

Cittio is a parasite. Tarus wrote to me:

When you work your [butt] off to build something special such as OpenNMS, it's hard to watch someone come and steal it and no one really give a damn. Even though when we add latency measurement support, a release later Cittio adds latency measurement support (Watchtower 2.4). We add SNMPv3 support, Cittio adds SNMPv3 support (version 3.1). Heck, we can only collect on one community string per IP, and so can Cittio. The list goes on.

I'm aware of other companies - open source and otherwise - who scab off open source in this way. They claim to be open-source citizens but they are more like open-source traitors.

I have no problem with commercial entities using open source without paying for it, but they should participate in the relevant communities from which they gather code. This means giving back code.

Do I think Cittio is stealing from the OpenNMS community? It's still hard to determine if they are actually in non-compliance with the GPL. They may well have found a way to abide by the GPL's letter. As for the spirit of the GPL, they have clearly trashed it.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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