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Re: May I publish a Windows Installer for GNU Emacs?

From: David Kastrup
Subject: Re: May I publish a Windows Installer for GNU Emacs?
Date: 19 Sep 2003 11:49:22 +0200
User-agent: Gnus/5.09 (Gnus v5.9.0) Emacs/21.3.50

Oliver Scholz <address@hidden> writes:

> FWIW this point is mentioned in the GPL FAQ. They distinguish the
> case of stealing an unpublished CD from stealing a CD that has been
> released elsewhere.
> http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#StolenCopy
>         If someone steals a CD containing a version of a GPL-covered
>         program, does the GPL give him the right to redistribute that
>         version?
>         If the version has been released elsewhere, then the thief
>         probably does have the right to make copies and redistribute
>         them under the GPL, but if he is imprisoned for stealing the
>         CD he may have to wait until his release before doing so.
>         If the version in question is unpublished and considered by
>         a company to be its trade secret, then publishing it may be
>         a violation of trade secret law, depending on other
>         circumstances. The GPL does not change that. If the company
>         tried to release its version and still treat it as a trade
>         secret, that would violate the GPL, but if the company
>         hasn't released this version, no such violation has
>         occurred.

I find this interpretation more than dubious.  If the version has
been released "elsewhere", that does not give the thief the right to
make copies and redistribute them.  It only gives the people I have
released the software to those rights, and those that they have
chosen themselves to pass the software onto.

In all cases, copyright law does not apply to the media, but rather
property law concerning the copies that may not be used for any
purpose legally, including using as coasters.  When the thief chooses
to redistribute the software by copying from them, this is

a) a criminal offense, since he makes use of stolen goods
b) not covered by a legal licence.

The media owner can sue for a), the copyright holder might then choose
to sue for damages because of b).  Of course, the amount of damages
that can be claimed before court depend on the kind of circulation
that exists legally.  It would be pretty much useless for the FSF to
sue for redistributed gcc copies from stolen CDs, for example.  But
that does not magically make the act legal or give the thiefs any
rights, it just makes it unlikely that he will get sued.  Things are
different with specialized software under the GPL that is handed out
at high price to only selected parties: there it would be reasonably
easy to show damage.

Or when I am developing GPLed packages under contract, I plan to
release to the public eventually.  If somebody steals my work and
sends it on before the time, I can lose my payments.  Also, I can get
into a lot of additional work dealing with unnecessary bug reports if
unreleased versions are floating around.

David Kastrup, Kriemhildstr. 15, 44793 Bochum

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