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Re: Combining proprietary code and GPL for in-house use

Anthony Towns <aj@azure.humbug.org.au> writes:

> FooCorp doesn't do any linking with GPLed code in these
> scenarios. Further, the linking is only done on the users machine, in
> a manner explicitly allowed by the copyright holders of both pieces
> of code (the GPL allows you to do pretty much whatever if you don't
> distribute; and we can presume FooCorp doesn't mind you linking with A
> in the hypothetical).

The set {FooCorp,WhiteNight} however, *is* doing an illegal copy.

Suppose I get a whole bunch of people.  Each of them will copy one
sentence of a novel and put it in a review; each copies a different
sentence.  That's allowed.  They grant all readers of their reviews
the rights to copy the reviews freely.

Each reviewer embeds a number in the first sentence of his review.
("This is the second book I read this month!"  "All 5345 people in my
neighborhood loved it"--that sort of thing.)  They arrange that the
review with the Nth sentence of the novel has the number N in its
first sentence.

They are also very careful to attribute the quotations exactly, with a
single formal way to specify the footnote.

Now for a single reviewer to do these things is legal.

But suppose they do this in cahoots, and they arrange to publish their
reviews online, and they also distribute a product that collects a set
of essays, looks for cited sentences, and prints out the quoted
sentences of the novel in order.  

That program, in isolation, is also a legal program.  

But: if they are all working together, and if their intention was to
attempt to subvert the copyright on the original novel, then most
certainly, their combined act *is* a copyright violation, even though
no single one of the acts is infringing.

To sum up the general case:

If it is illegal (or violates civil law) for a person to do act X,
then it is also illegal (or violates civil law) for a group of people
acting in cahoots to do act X, no matter how they divide up the parts
of the action among themselves.

You gave several alternate scenarios.  The way to analyze those
scenarios in each case is to consider the *entire* action, and see
whether that action would violate the copyright or the permissory
licenses.  Then, to decide whether a particular actor in the scenario
is liable, you have to ask whether their intention was to be part of
such a combined action, or if it's entirely accidental or incidental
to their purpose.


PS: I think discussions *among* Debian developers about this kind of
issue *are* on topic; on the presumption that we are all working
together on the project and not just idly sniping.  It's certainly a
valuable part of debian-legal to provide a place for Debian developers
to sort this kind of thing out among ourselves.

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