Former President Donald Trump’s new social network, according to the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), breached a free and open-source software licensing agreement by ripping off decentralized social network Mastodon. The Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG) has 30 days to comply with the conditions of the license before it loses access to the platform, forcing it to rebuild or risk legal action.
TMTG announced a fundraising attempt for a special purpose acquisition firm yesterday, promising to develop a massive media empire. Its only product to date is Truth Social, a social network that appears to be a fork of Mastodon. While anybody can freely adopt Mastodon’s programming (and groups like the right-wing social network Gab have already done so), they must still adhere to the Affero General Public License (or AGPLv3), which requires them to provide their own source code to all users.
Truth Social does not abide by the terms of that license, and refers to its service as “proprietary.” Its creators reportedly tried to remove references that would make the Mastodon connection evident — at one time, a “sighting” of the Mastodon logo was listed as a defect — but included direct references to Mastodon in the site’s underlying HTML with obvious aesthetic similarities.
TRUTH SOCIAL MUST OFFER ITS SOURCE CODE TO THE PRANKSTERS WHO DEFACED IT
The SFC, which enforces free and open-source software licenses, has taken issue with TMTG’s strategy. In a blog post, SFC policy fellow Bradley Kuhn said, “The license purposely treats everyone equally (even those we don’t like or agree with), but they must operate under the same copyleft license restrictions that apply to everyone else.” “Today, we saw the Trump Media and Technology Group disobey those important norms, which were put in place for the greater good.”
Truth Social is still in the works. However, users had access to a beta version of the program, where they were able to create spoof identities that filled the service with fraudulent company announcements and even fake Donald Trump posts. (Since then, the platform has been replaced by a waitlist.) The SFC asks that TMTG make the Truth Social source code available to all of these users. “Their rights and permissions in the program are automatically and permanently canceled if they do not accomplish this within 30 days,” Kuhn explains.
The SFC might sue Truth Social for breaking the provisions of the license it uses if it fails to make the source code available. The group sued Vizio earlier this year for “repeated failures to fulfill even the most fundamental standards” of free software licensing. “We will be closely watching this problem and requesting that Trump’s Group provide the relevant source to all site users,” Kuhn writes.
Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko also stated yesterday that he intends to seek legal advice on the incident, though he did not specify what line of action he intends to take. He told Talking Points Memo, “Compliance with our AGPLv3 license is very essential to me because it is the only basis on which I and other developers are willing to give away years of effort for free.”