Michael K Steals BellaBook, Breaks GPL License

 |  Geek, Interwebs

I received a curious email on November 19th. A German CEO was asking me to state that I am, unequivocally, the developer of BellaBook and that BellaBook was free to use under the terms of the GNU General Public License. I almost took offence that such a thing should be questioned, as BellaBook was my ‘flagship’ script. It saw the very beginnings of my dabbling with PHP and bore the brunt of my very first security slip-up. It has been almost a badge of honour for me because, aside from the first cock-ups, it has survived 5+ years on the web with no ‘live’ exploits.

Turns out Mr CEO had actually downloaded BellaBook from a German website, except the script was uploaded under the name “MT-Gästebuch”. He’d been contacted by another developer, one Michael K., purporting to be the developer of the script and asking for 200 euros licensing fees because Mr CEO was using “MT-Gästebuch” on a commercial website.

Michael K. has taken BellaBook in its entirety, deleted the GNU GPL license file and stripped out all references to me, including my copyright notices and all credit to contributors from over the years. Preliminary checks show that he has not even made any significant modifications to the code (apart from translating the text into German).

I sent Mr K. my basic cease & desist on Friday detailing his infringement and my request: that he remove BellaBook within 3 days. I even used the power of twitter and called out for someone fluent in German (thank you adastra) so that I could send the cease and desist in both English and German: no room for misunderstandings then.

It has now been 3 days. 3 days and over 3 hours, to be more precise. Mr K. has made no attempt to remove my script from his website. In fact, the only action is to block my IP from his website. Let’s not beat about the bush here: that isn’t the action of an innocent party. (He’s also blocked several other IPs belonging to people who clicked the link to his website, which I pasted into a private forum.)

I’ve made no profit from BellaBook over the past 5+ years. If anything, it costs me money to host: both in bandwidth and time spent fixing bugs and improving the script. It has been on a “development hiatus” for a while because of the birth of my daughter, but is no less loved. It is my script. My first script. Procedural, yes. Untidy and needing redeveloping, yes. But my script nonetheless. It is therefore beyond laughable (and bloody offensive) that someone else should dare use it as a base to be asking 200 euros licensing fees from an unsuspecting user.

You can read the GPL license for yourself; if you find the part that gives other people permission to remove copyright notices and demand fees, please let me know.

I released BellaBook under the GPL because I wanted people to “make it their own”. I guess Mr K. doesn’t understand metaphors.

Update 19:15: the script has been removed and the offending page redirected to mine. Thank you for commenting, tweeting and sharing this post on facebook my friends :) As the material has been removed, I have taken out the links.

Jem Turner jem@jemjabella.co.uk +44(0)7521056376

16 comments so far

  1. Audrey said:

    Claws out. Get ‘im! Seriously. This man is a thief and it’s pretty pathetic he’s ripping off your script like this. It’s likely he’s done it before and will continue to do it unless someone (like you) stops him. Good luck!

  2. Vera said:

    *takes out pitchfork* DIE DIE DIE!

    Like you said before, it really not the action of someone who has done nothing wrong if he keeps blocking our IPs.

    Also, you said that his host won’t do anything, did they not believe that it’s your script? Or do they treat this as some "petty feud"? :(

  3. Melissa said:

    Interesting that when I click on the MT Gästebuch link, it redirects to your page for BellaBook. Victory? I hope so!

    The script also doesn’t show up under his PHP scripts page either.

    I can’t believe somebody would do something like this.

  4. echo said:

    What a dolt! I hope he’s dealt with appropriately. Something is going down behind the scenes — I’m getting the "server not found" error. Ha ha on him!

  5. Andy Parkes said:

    Glad you got it sorted

    Just a question (and excuse my ignorance of the GPL)

    What would have done if he refused to take it down? What are the legal implications of violating the GPL in this way?

    Just curious

  6. Jem said:

    I’ve never had anyone _not_ take down material after they were blogged about (especially now social media dominates people’s lives and it’s easier for "the community" to take a message and run with it).

    That said, there have been some big cases involving the GPL although IIRC most are settled out of court; wikipedia has some interesting titbits here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU_General_Public_License#The_GPL_in_court

    My next step would have been to contact a legal expert to draft a proper C&D on letterheaded paper, perhaps contact the FSF (Free Software Foundation) etc.

  7. Liz said:

    That’s really scary. I mean, I knew/know people do it, but I didn’t know it could happen like that … First you, now Stephanie. That’s scary, because I’ve posted my essays online before. D: