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

On Wed, Jun 27, 2001 at 09:30:14PM -0700, Thomas Bushnell, BSG wrote:
> Anthony Towns <aj@azure.humbug.org.au> writes:
> > > The set {FooCorp,WhiteNight} however, *is* doing an illegal copy.
> > Proof by assertion, I love it.
> I wasn't trying to do that; I'll explain.
> If a single person distributed the parts together, then that would
> clearly be a violation.  My use of set-theory syntax was intended to
> say only that.

Actually, I'm not even sure I'd go so far as to say that that's a clear
violation either.

If it's done to get around the provision in the GPL, then it probably is,
but that's not the only reason to do it, merely the most likely.

> > Further, fair use (or, in .au the explicit allowance to use quotes for
> > purposes of criticism) only applies if you're really doing criticism.
> > Having a whole bunch of reviews that were automatically parse-able
> > would almost certainly not satisfy the requirements for that exception,
> > so even if they were never put together there'd still be a copyright
> > infringement here.
> In the case I gave, they could certainly be real criticism.  It's easy
> to make them automatically parsable (I gave a fair amount of detail of
> the process to make explicit how that would work).

If you're doing it for criticism purposes, sincerely, then you're not
going to go to any effort to make them automatically parsable. If you
do go to effort to make them automatically parsable, then you're likely
demonstrating an intention to help people violate copyright for non-fair
use purposes.

I'll concede that it's possible you could end up with the entirety of a
book quoted in a series of reviews, that happen to be parsable because
the quotes are indented (and thus easily identifiable), include page numbers,
and have enough overlap that they can be put together.

But in any event, the end user who puts it all together is explicitly
violating copyright by doing so.

> > The scenario we're (I'm) considering explicitly has Debian and FooCorp
> > *not* acting in cahoots. Debian's distributing libA because it's useful
> > on its own, or because other GPLed software (C, D, E) needs it. Debian
> > has no intention or interest in particularly helping out FooCorp.
> Right.  In such a case, {FooCorp,Debian} would be infringing.  

You keep saying this. What, exactly, are they infringing? I've given some
specific details where you can assume intentions in a previous message if
that's helpful.

> > If I point out specific clauses from a public license that grants each
> > actor explicit permission to do what they do, how can the entire play
> > possibly be in violation of the license?
> Well, because of the rule I gave.  It's a general legal rule; it
> applies in both civil and criminal contexts all over the map.

Another general rule is that if something has signficant non-infringing
uses, then it's okay, even if there are infringing uses.

> If the law didn't work this way, then it would be possible to subvert
> almost *any* law, by breaking your act up into little pieces,
> individually permissable, and splitting the acts among many people.  

As a helpful aid to assigning guilt amongst a bunch of people who you
can't prove are conspirators but that all share some blame for a definite
crime (you have an safe with no money in it; or a dead guy), sure, I can
definitely grant you this.

But in this case, there's no clear cut illegal "event" here. Someone's
copied some stuff. Someone's run some programs they have. The former
could be illegal, copyright says you can't copy stuff without the author's
permission. But everyone who did any copying had the permission of the
authors of whatever they copied, in the cases we're considering.

The latter could be illegal; I'm not really sure. I'm not clear on
what law you could be violating by running a program you already have a
copy of.  I'm not clear on whether accepting a copy of something given
to you by someone who's allowed to give you a copy can obligate you to a
third party for any reason whatsoever, even the author. Even if it does,
though, I think in this case all the relevant parties have given the
user rights to do whatever they want with the software as long as it
doesn't leave their computer.

All of which is to say, I'm not seeing the illegal act here, for which
blame is to be apportioned. So I don't see the relevance or utility of
your rule here.

OTOH, I am seeing the *undesirable* act: we've just had another piece
of non-free software enter a user's system. But that it's undesirable
doesn't make it illegal in and of itself.

(TBH, I'm not too concerned if this is a flaw in the GPL: at worst,
it means you hook in non-free software to existing GPL software using
documented interfaces as long as you have your own completely compatible
implementation of the GPLed stuff that you use exclusively, and as long
as you make sure never to distribute the GPLed software. Forgetting
either would probably put you at risk of your program being considered
a derivative work, and you'd end up screwed. And, personally, I'd be
pretty concerned if the FSF or the GPL found some way to declare using
compatible reimplementations illegal.)


Anthony Towns <aj@humbug.org.au> <http://azure.humbug.org.au/~aj/>
I don't speak for anyone save myself. GPG signed mail preferred.

``_Any_ increase in interface difficulty, in exchange for a benefit you
  do not understand, cannot perceive, or don't care about, is too much.''
                      -- John S. Novak, III (The Humblest Man on the Net)

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