Trump’s Truth Social Platform Accused of Violating AGPL

Recently, accusations appeared in the press that the “Truth Social” platform are violating the terms of the Affero GPL (AGPL), which applies to the Mastodon software used to run the platform. Truth Social is run by the The Trump Media and Technology Group, which recently announced a SPAC.

AGPL is a network copyleft license that requires sharing of source code, where the licensed software allows users to interact with it via a network, and the code has been modified from its upstream source.

On October 21, 2021, Mastadon’s head developer, Eugen Rochko, stated that the software used to run Truth Social is “absolutely is based on Mastodon.” The Verge later reported that “Mastodon has sent former President Donald Trump’s company a formal notification” of breach. Tech Crunch also reported that Mastodon had issued a “30-day ultimatum.” These reports were apparently based on a Mastodon Blog post that said:

On Oct 26, we sent a formal letter to Truth Social’s chief legal officer, requesting the source code to be made publicly available in compliance with the license. According to AGPLv3, after being notified by the copyright holder, Truth Social has 30 days to comply or the license may be permanently revoked.

The terms of use for Truth Social state that its source code is proprietary “unless otherwise indicated,” and apparently the site does not provide proper AGPL license notices.

No formal legal action has yet been filed, but that is not surprising. Unlike GPL2, AGPL3 has a cure provision, so after receiving a notice of violation, a licensee has 30 days to comply, or risk losing its license permanently, after which a formal enforcement action could be filed.

The controversial nature of the Truth Social platform has generated a lot of press already. This points up the risk of violating open source licenses in a manner that conflicts with the political beliefs of the software’s author, who may be more likely to formally enforce the license against those with which the author does not agree.

Mastodon is a German non-profit. Germany has long been known as a plaintiff-favorable jurisdiction for software copyright claims, and a jurisdiction of choice for enforcing open source licenses.

An update: See PC Mag’s follow up from December 2, 2021. The Trump platform published the Mastodon code, but it’s not clear that is the code they are actually using. (In fact, there is no obligation to provide unmodified server-side code under AGPL.) The article says:

Trump’s “Truth Social” site now features a dedicated section labeled “open source,” which contains a Zip archive to Mastodon’s source code. “Our goal is to support the open source community no matter what your political beliefs are. That’s why the first place we go to find amazing software is the community and not ‘Big Tech,’” the site adds. …However, it appears the uploaded Zip archive is simply a barebones version of the existing Mastodon source code you can already find on GitHub.

So, it looks like the platform got some of the open source rhetoric right, but not the actual compliance.

Author: heatherjmeeker

Technology licensing lawyer, drummer, dancer

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