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Re: GPL and other licences


From: Stefaan A Eeckels
Subject: Re: GPL and other licences
Date: Wed, 15 Feb 2006 08:52:43 +0100

On Tue, 14 Feb 2006 22:51:23 +0000
Graham Murray <address@hidden> wrote:

> "Alfred M\. Szmidt" <address@hidden> writes:
> 
> > Once again, I do NOT have to be the owner of the CD to accept the
> > license.
> 
> I agree. Section 2, in the part about the notice to be displayed on
> interactive programs, further reinforces this.
> 
> "c) If the modified program normally reads commands interactively
>     when run, you must cause it, when started running for such
>     interactive use in the most ordinary way, to print or display an
>     announcement including an appropriate copyright notice and a
>     notice that there is no warranty (or else, saying that you provide
>     a warranty) and that users may redistribute the program under
>     these conditions, and telling the user how to view a copy of this
>     License.
> 
> This explicitly states, what the preamble hinted at, that *ALL USERS*
> (that is anyone running the program not just the owner of the physical
> media on which the program resides) of the GPL'd program have the
> right to accept the licence and become a licensee. This clause is
> basically telling owners of a copy who have modified it that they must
> inform users of the modified program (not just people to whom they
> distribute copies) the rights that the GPL provides them.

Only in the very specific case of programs that normally read commands
interactively, and if they have been modified ("If the _modified_
program _normally reads commands interactively_"). The beginning of the
clause is very specific, so you're straining it by claiming that it
applies to all GPLed works. It's not even all interactive programs, it's
programs that read commands interactively. 

On the other hand, the GPL also says that the act of "running the
program" is outside its scope...

I think you're not going to be followed in this interpretation, because
the GPL is pretty clear about the fact that it is concerned with making
copies and preparing derivative works, not about giving all who come in
contact with the program the right to obtain or request copies for
themselves. 

> Taking this in conjunction with clause 3b, even if the user is not
> allowed to copy the binary from the system on which it is being run
> then they are, under the terms of the GPL allowed to obtain the source
> code of the program (being as it has to be made available to *all*
> third parties who request it).

This clause only applies when you distribute the binary program with an
offer to supply the source code. The preferred method for distribution
is with the source code included. Letting someone use a program does
not constitute distribution (as a matter of fact, a while ago the FSF
expressed concern at the fact that providing a Web front-end to a GPLed
program allowed a circumvention of the spirit of the GPL). 

Of course, one of the most important arguments against your reading is
that the FSF is not interpreting the GPL in this fashion. The only
person who can sue for copyright violation is the copyright owner. You,
as someone desiring to obtain a copy, cannot sue the party that refuses
to hand you a copy. The best you can do is signal a violation to the
copyright owner.

Taking the law in your own hands and copying software because you
happen to have access to it (like my example of a technician copying
presumed GPLed software off a disk that's being recovered, or you
copying from your employer's system without permission) is illegal. 

First, no third party (even the author of a GPLed work) can give you
permission to copy anything from a computer or medium that is not your
property. The essence of property is that the owner decides how it
should be used, not anyone else. This is why copyright law is
structured as it is - the copyright owner owns the work, and controls
the making of copies. The owners of a copy can do with that copy what
can be done with property: determine how it's used, destroy it, sell
it, run it (or not) on their machines, etc. The work only exists as a
number of copies, there is no such thing as an ethereal essence that
you can grab and that is no-one's property. And when these copies are
the property of someone else, you cannot take them and make a copy
because you feel/know/hope the copyright holder is prepared to license
them to you under the GPL.

Second, the GPL indicates quite clearly that making copies or preparing
derivative works is the proof that you accept the GPL. Accepting
it "in pectore" or shouting "I accept the GPL" does not suffice. There
needs to be reasonable proof of the acceptance of the license, and in
the absence of a signed agreement, doing what is normally forbidden by
copyright but allowed by the license is reasonable proof of the
acceptance (it certainly is a better indication of the state of mind of
the prospective licensee than tearing a shrink-wrap). 

To illustrate this point, remember that the same work can be licensed
under different licenses to different people. Take MySQL for example -
if you want to incorporate it into a closed source program they will
gladly license it (for a fee) under a closed source license. If your
employer lets you "use" a copy of MySQL she obtained under a closed
source license, your accepting the GPL or not is moot, because under no
circumstances can even the wildest interpretation affect a program that
is not licensed under the GPL. In addition, this case shows quite
clearly that a license is not an intrinsic property of a work, but an
agreement between two parties. You, as a third party, have no reliable
way to determine the license status, and hence any unilateral decision
on your part can never be warranted. No democratic jurisprudence
supports taking the law in your own hands, and software licenses are no
exception.

Take care,

-- 
Stefaan
-- 
As complexity rises, precise statements lose meaning,
and meaningful statements lose precision. -- Lotfi Zadeh 


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