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Re: GPL traitor !


From: Alan Mackenzie
Subject: Re: GPL traitor !
Date: Fri, 8 May 2009 09:58:11 +0000 (UTC)
User-agent: tin/1.6.2-20030910 ("Pabbay") (UNIX) (FreeBSD/4.11-RELEASE (i386))

Hi, Erik!

It's good to talk to somebody with a name.  :-)

In gnu.misc.discuss Erik Funkenbusch <address@hidden> wrote:
> The GPL is misunderstood on a daily basis by many people.  In fact,
> even GPL advocates can't seem to come to a consensus over what it
> means, so how is any "normal" person supposed to know?

> Here's an example.  Some GPL advocates believe that dynamic linking is
> not covered by the GPL, while others (including the FSF) believe it is.  

Dynamic linking, along with static linking, compilation, interpretation,
profiling, and other specific techniques used by hackers are not covered
by the GPL - they're outside its scope, and would be more of matter of
patents than a copyright license, were they patentable.

> Another example is XMLRPC (or SOAP or other similar technoloties) in
> which a function is called via network request on a distributed system.
> Some believe that this is covered by the GPL, others believe it isn't.

I'll assume that by "this" you mean the invocation of a GPL licensed
function over a network, or a GPL licensed program invoking something
over a network.

The GPL doesn't differentiate between calling technoloties.  It's _what_
gets called that matters, not the technoloty by which it gets called;
whether the thing getting called is a program independent of what's
calling it, or is really part of it.  The same applies to functionality
in a separately compiled library.

It is not always quite clear whether a library function or network
function is "an independent program".  That's just life; software isn't
simple and the GPL can't make it so.

The GPL doesn't distinguish between calling methods for a good reason,
namely it would allow anybody to incorporate GPL code into his
proprietary program.  All he would have to do is make his proprietary
extension callable via a network call (say, a BSD socket, much like
X-Windows does (I think)), and then publish the source code only for
the GPL bit, to which he's added a network call.

> Many people think the GPL prevents you from charging money for GPL
> software, yet the FSF says they encourage you to do so.

A less intelligent, less literate class of people, perhaps.  SuSE, Redhat,
and friends have been charging money "for" GPL software for years.  You
may charge money for distributing GPL software, or for offering support.
You may not charge money for a GPL license.  A slightly subtle difference,
but really not all that hard to grasp for people who've actually read the
GPL.

> Many people think the GPL requires you to "give back" your changes to
> the author, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Even if you
> consider the GPL's software requirements to provide source to anyone
> you provide binaries that doesnt' require you to give that source to
> the upstream authors, only the downstream customers.

That might be true, but is of piffling importance.  Generally, the author
can get the binary just like anybody else, hence is entitled to get the
source corresponding to that binary.

> So no, the GPL is *NOT* perfectly plain and straight forward.  And yes,
> you do need a lawyer to explain it to you, particulary when the issues
> of "derived work" are brought up, since the GPL does not define the
> term and relies on the accepted legal definition of the term, which is
> not as simple as it would seem.

Of course the GPL relies on the legal definition of "derived work", since
the notion of creating derived works is central to it.  That this can be
complicated, particularly at boundary cases, is simply a reflection of
the real world.  But that complexity lies outside of the GPL - the world
of copyright law is complex, and it's clearly unreasonable to expect the
GPL somehow to eliminate that complexity.

That said, it's usually fairly easy for somebody acting in good faith to
see whether some piece of software is derived from GPL software.  The
difficulties arise when somebody not acting in good faith attempts to
find some loophole through which she can legally violate the intention
and spirit of the GPL.

> The only people who do *NOT* find the GPL difficult to understand are
> those thoat think they understand it when they really do not.

That's a wild thing to say.  I think you're failing to distinguish the
GPL, which is easy to understand, with the wider chaos of copyright and
licensing law, which is anything but.

-- 
Alan Mackenzie (Nuremberg, Germany).



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