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Re: software licensing

Derek Noonburg <derekn@aimnet.com> writes:
> Here's what I was trying to accomplish.  For example, say a company
> took xpdf, made some changes and then distributed it to all of their
> branches to be used in their commercial workflow.  As long as no one
> distributes the binary outside the company (and their employees will
> be under contractual obligation not to),

Hmm.  Is this even possible?  Can the employees be obligated to not
distribute GPL software?  It seems to me that this is exactly the sort
of thing the "infectiousness" of the GPL was designed to prevent!

The GPL is very clear that when you redistribute the software,
everyone who gets it must be given the same, complete set of rights.
If you prohibit the recipients from further distribution, you are not
granting them the rights the GPL requires you to grant, and thus you
are violating the GPL on the original code.  (Furthermore, you cannot
use your own added code as a justification, because the GPL on the
original version clearly requires that the total work be GPLed.)

The only way to achieve "private distribution" of GPLed code is by a
sort of "gentlemen's agreement" -- an agreement which, by the very
nature of the GPL, *cannot* involve the developer at all.  It is thus
possible to have a sort of temporary private distribution -- during
testing and development, for instance -- but impossible to enforce it
should anyone decide to pass the code out on their own.

> But I can make a similar argument against the GPL.  If I want to
> distribute this free software in binary form, I'm required to provide
> source code on request (forever?),

Three years.

> even if I'm using a plain vanilla version, whose source code is
> available on a zillion well-known ftp sites.

I will note that the GPL says "on a medium customarily used for
software interchange", not "on the same medium as the binary".  If you
are providing only vanilla binaries, it appears to me that you could
satisfy point 3b by pointing the user to an existing source archive.

> This is important to me because a number of people want to
> distribute xpdf (in plain vanilla form) on CD-ROMs, and this is
> something I would like to allow, without any annoying "must
> distribure, or at least offer to distribute, source code"
> requirement.

It would appear to me that you can satisfy the requirement as long as
*someone* is distributing source.  For instance, if you offer an FTP
download of a vanilla gcc binary, you can point your users at the FSF
FTP site and mirrors -- they aren't going away any time soon.

> My goal is to encourage reasonable people (or companies) who want to
> make changes to xpdf to either (1) make the changes public (in some
> way) or (2) pay for a proprietary license.  I know this goes against
> the GPL, at least to some extent.

It doesn't seem like it to me.  The GPL already gives people this
choice: they can agree to its terms (and thus give up their ability to
enforce private distribution), or they can negotiate a different


Rob Tillotson  N9MTB  <robt@debian.org>

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