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Re: software licensing

Rob Tillotson writes:
> Last time I checked, that action would make me a software pirate and
> copyright scofflaw, if I didn't also destroy the original copy.  How can
> that be, considering that I haven't distributed anything?

You made a copy, which is what copyright law gives the copyright owner the
right to forbid.  Typical proprietary software licenses grant you the right
to make a backup copy on the condition that you not use it for anything but
restoring your system.

> Convinced of the obvious superiority of the Pilot, she buys one of her
> own.  Before returning yours the next morning, she copies ZDoc from it so
> she can continue reading the article at her leisure.

> Obviously, this copy of ZDoc is illegitimate.

But easily perfected.  When she tells Daniel that she made a copy he need
only scribble a quick note telling her she can get source from him and hand
it to her.

> (It has to be, since it didn't come with source, and she didn't derive
> it.)  If I am the original author of ZDoc (i'm not, by the way :), who do
> I sue?  I don't seem to have a cause of action against her, since my code
> was GPLed and she is thus allowed to have a copy of it.

She made the copy and distributed it (to herself) in violation of the

> Quite seriously, suggestions for an additional clause which can be added
> to the GPL to remove this potential loophole are welcome.

I see no loophole of any importance.  If there is a loophole here at all it
is not one that can be exploited commercially.

> Yes, I do.  The last time I talked to a lawyer about something close to
> this, my view was confirmed.  Admittedly, I wasn't asking specifically in
> reference to the GPL, but the situation wasn't entirely different, and
> the claim of "it's not distribution, it's only being used in-house" was a
> major issue.

Copyright law is fundamentally about making copies.  The commercial vendor
wants you to pay him for every copy whether you distribute it or not.  The
law allows him to require this.  The GPL, on the other hand, concerns
itself with distribution, while permitting unlimited copying.  In this way
situations involving the GPL are entirely different from those involving
commercial software.

> Perhaps I am wrong, but when I use the GPL it is quite precisely to avoid
> my code being used in situations like this.

Which situation?  The employer telling employees that they can't take
copies of GPL software home?  The only way I can see that this would
actually come about is if the company has a blanket "nobody takes any
software home" policy.  I find it difficult to see this as a threat to the
future of free software.  The other situation, individuals giving out
binaries to friends without giving them source, is something you are not
going to stop.

> ...this is no longer of any importance to Debian.

Copyright is of great importance to Debian.
John Hasler
john@dhh.gt.org (John Hasler)
Dancing Horse Hill
Elmwood, WI

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