Valve has been forced to issue an update for the DOS-based id titles that it added to its catalogue this weekend because of an infringement of the GNU General Public Licence.
The games use a piece of open-source software called DOSBox to help run on modern operating systems, which is distributed along with the relevant products. While the GPL permits the software to be distributed by other parties in commercial products, it must contain all original documentation, including readmes, credits and licence information.
As an eagle-eyed DOSBox contributor noticed, however, Valve’s distribution contained none of this documentation.
Soon after the story broke on several news sites, Valve quietly released a patch to add the missing files – alongside files allowing users to modify the DOSBox configuration settings themselves that had also previously been missing – to users’ installations.
However, the furore might still not be over. Although the source code for the DOSBox program has been included with the update, as required by the GPL, the DOSBox application included in the Valve distribution has been modified to check for a valid Steam account before running.
Under the GPL, any modifications to the software must have their source code released back to the community – something that Valve will be unlikely to do given how easily the code could be misappropriated to circumvent Steam security measures in other titles.
The caretaker of the DOSBox project, known as Qbix, has mentioned on the official DOSBox forum that he feels Valve’s efforts have been sufficient and that “As far as we are concerned it is cleared up.
“I have no problems with [the modification] – after all, they have to protect their stuff as well,” he said.
However, copyright for open-source projects isn’t owned by a single person but by every contributor, and some are still unhappy with Valve’s current solution – with one going as far as to say that, as Valve have linked the GPL-protected DOSBox and Steam, they have essentially forced Steam to also be GPL-protected and therefore open-source.
While such a drastic eventuality is unlikely to come to fruition, this incident could be far from over, and has ramifications for how closely developers pay attention to their usage of open-source software.