Trump's TRUTH Social platform could face revocation of software license, legal issues

  • 01/11/2021
Trump's TRUTH Social platform could face revocation of software license, legal issues

As you might expect from a new social media platform created by former US President Donald Trump, there's already been a degree of controversy around TRUTH Social.

It started just hours after its launch when users were able to sign up for accounts under Trump's name, as well as those of people associated with the former US President and reality TV star.

The pinned 'TRUTH' on the Trump account - the equivalent of a pinned tweet on Twitter - was just a popular meme image called 'Pig Poop Balls', which is a picture of a pig defecating.

Those accounts were eventually banned and the link allowing sign-ups removed, but not before giving users a chance to notice the resemblance between the software and that of another platform.

It's that resemblance that has led to a legal letter being sent to the Trump platform's chief legal officer.

Mastodon is an open-source decentralised social network that allows people to set up their own platform. According to founder Eugen Rochko, TRUTH Social is using Mastodon's source code with just a few various visual adjustments.

That is allowed, but comes with certain requirements, as specified in the AGPLv3 license the organisation mandates those who wish to use the code must abide by.

One of those is making the source code and any modifications made to it publicly accessible - something TRUTH social hasn't done.

Its terms of service even includes a passage claiming the site is proprietary property and all source code and software are owned or controlled by them or licensed to them.

"We pride ourselves on providing software that allows anyone to run their own social media platform independent of big tech," Rochko wrote on Mastodon's blog.

"The condition upon which we release our work for free in the first place is the idea that, as we give to the platform operators, so do the platform operators give back to us by providing their improvements for us and everyone to see."

Rochko also took a thinly-veiled dig at Trump's politics in the blog post.

"As far as personal feelings are concerned, of course we would prefer if people so antithetical to our values did not use and benefit from our labour. In a practical sense the only issue we can take is if they don't even comply with the free software license we release our work under."

And it's that license that has resulted in a formal letter being sent to TRUTH Social's chief legal officer requesting the source code to be made publicly available in compliance with the license.

"Truth Social has 30 days to comply or the license may be permanently revoked."

Continual use after revocation would result in a violation of copyright, according to the license's website. That would give the copyright holders, in this case Mastodon, the opportunity to take legal action against the violators.