Florida man’s social network accused of breaking AGPLv3

A Florida man has been accused of breaking the copyleft license of Mastodon by running an online instance of the software without providing its source code as required.

And not only that, the real-estate baron and wannabe tech tycoon has been told he has a month to fall in line with the fine print or put himself potentially at risk further action.

Mastodon is a Twitter-like microblogging service that you host yourself. Servers running this software can form a larger, decentralized social network.

The code is made available under version three of the Affero GPL. That means if someone modifies the software and runs it as a network-accessible service, such as a website, their users need to be offered a way to get hold of that customized source.

The aforementioned Palm Beach businessman, known for his failed casino, discontinued line of steaks, and a recent stint in public office, chairs an online media group that this week promised to launch a social network for selected users next month. A wider rollout is expected in the new year following a period of beta testing, apparently.

The web service, which alleges it wants to foster “honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology,” has curiously banned in its terms-of-use one of its supremo’s most favorite things in the world: “excessive use of capital letters.”

After an announcement went out about the social network, netizens found they were able to sign up early at will to what looked like a test deployment of the platform, and posted prank announcements and other material on it. Someone was even able to create a profile in the name of the cancelled reality TV star, using it to share a photo of a pig defecating on itself.

The service, which was soon taken down, appeared to be powered by a version of Mastodon modified to mostly remove any mention of its origins, though its HTML source and design signaled where the code came from.

Now the Software Freedom Conservancy – a non-profit that defends free software and just now sued TV manufacturer Vizio for allegedly breaking the GPL – has called out the half-baked social network project, accusing it of violating the Affero GPL by not distributing its modified source code as necessary. The platform has 30 days to remedy the situation, and if it doesn’t, it opens itself to legal action.

Bradley Kuhn, a policy fellow at the conservancy, said in a statement on Thursday that “early evidence strongly supports” claims that the social network was “based on the AGPLv3’d Mastodon software platform.”

“Many users were able to create accounts and use it — briefly,” he continued.

“However, when you put any site on the internet licensed under AGPLv3, the AGPLv3 requires that you provide to every user an opportunity to receive the entire corresponding source for the website based on that code. These early users did not receive that source code.”

Kuhn also said “very public requests” for the code were being ignored, adding that the source code must be made available by the online media group:

Also, addressing concerns that the social network was compromised by pranksters, Kuhn concluded:

Spokespeople for the botched social network did not reply to a request for further comment. ®

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