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Re: software licensing

Rob Tillotson <robt@debian.org> writes:

> john@dhh.gt.org writes:
> > The employer has made copies of the program, but has not distributed
> > them.
> Copyright law prohibits all copying except where explicit permission
> is given.  The GPL only gives that permission when all of its terms
> are applied to every copy of the program.  Therefore, if the GPL is
> not followed, the employer cannot make even a single copy of the
> program (except what is allowed in copyright law for backups, etc.)
> The same argument could be used to justify commercial piracy.  Is it
> okay for my employer to hand out copies of Microsoft Office in
> violation of its license, because he is only copying but not
> distributing them?  I dare say Microsoft would have a problem with
> this, and the courts would agree.

Actually, no, the same argument can't be used in this way.  This is
part of the reason Microsoft puts the "use only on one computer"
clause in their licenses.  As john@dhh.gt.org pointed out,
distribution under copyright law implies an effective transfer of
ownership, not merely copying.  Let's take several other hypothetical
cases to flesh this out:

I write a customized version of Z-Doc (a GPLed Doc. Reader) for my
palmpilot.  I then let my friend read "Homesteading the Noosphere" (an 
article by Eric Raymond available on his web site in pilotdoc
format) using my special z-doc.  Do I now need to give her the source
to my version of z-doc?  (assuming she asks to see it)  No.

Suppose now that, since it's a really long article, I loan her my
pilot overnight to do the reading.  Still, I do not need to give her
the source to z-doc.

However, let's assume that she has her own palmpilot but doesn't want
the non-free Aportis DocReader on it.  (She's got bad vibes about
Aportis) So, I give her a copy of my customized z-doc and Eric
Raymond's article in pilotdoc format.  Now, if she asks to see the
source, I am legally obligated to give her a copy.

The difference is that in the last case I gave her her own copy.
Before, the only copies of z-doc were mine.

Employees very rarely own the machines they work on; consequently, if
an employer makes a specialized version of some software and copies it 
only onto company-owned machines, they (the employer) are under no
obligation to give employees the source.

The problem here is that you view the employer as having given the
employees copies of the program; however, this is not what has
happened.  The employer has simply created a new version to be used on
the employer's own machines.  The employees can no more claim a right
to have a copy of the program (with the associated rights under the
GPL) than they can claim the right to take the company computers down
to the local pawn shop and sell them.

Now, there are some gray areas related to this scenario, but this
isn't one of them.

> > He owns the copies, which his employees are using under his
> > direction as part of their jobs.

Exactly.  The employees have not received a copy of the program in any 
legal sense.

Incidentally, I recall a similar situation being discussed some time
ago on gnu.misc.discuss - the situation was that some company had some
wonderful program containing proprietary code from a third party
(which couldn't be released without royalty payments) and some GPLed
code.  The conclusion was that this program could be used only
in-house, since the company couldn't satisfy both the GPL and the
royalty-hungry third party if it distributed it.  However, since the
product was owned by the company in question, it could be used
in-house, since the GPL allows one to use modified copies without any
special arrangements, so long as those copies are never given/sold to
anyone else.

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