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Re: Distributing GPL Software as binary ISO

On Jul 18, Martin Schulze wrote:
> The current status quo:
>    a) Company A collects .deb files from Debian and builds an ISO file
>       that runs the system (life system).  This ISO only contains
>       binary packages, no source.  This CD is sold and distributed
>       freely through the internet.
>       When asked about the source of the binary CD, company A points
>       to ftp.debian.org.
>    b) An entity B (could be a company, or a single person, or a
>       project) lects .deb files from Debian and builds an ISO file
>       that runs the system (life system).  This ISO only contains
>       binary packages, no source.  This ISO image is distributed
>       freely through the internet and is sold on CD at an exhibition.
>       When asked about the source of the binary CD, B points to
>       ftp.debian.org.
> Questions:
>  1. Is either a) or b) in complience with the GPL (assuming all
>     software is licensed using the GNU GPL.
>  2. Is a) or b) in complience with the DFSG aka OSD?
>  3. Is it a problem if ftp.debian.org removes the source of the same
>     version of a package that is used on the cd and installs a newer
>     version?  (i.e. source of a package is available, but not exactly
>     the proper source).
>  4. What would be the proper way to solve this problem if a) or b) are
>     not in complience with the license terms?

In case (4), it would be up to the individual copyright holders of the
packages contained on the CDs.

My general thought on 1-3 is that they could be construed as
violations of the license if someone were to push the issue.  If that
were the case, the following policies would probably have to be
adopted by anyone offering CDs of Debian (including myself):

1. Refuse to sell binaries without source.  This makes Debian 100%
more expensive to produce, and possibly means that distributors will
only distribute a subset of Debian to reduce the logistical nightmare
of producing 12 CD-Rs, but the buyer is the one that bears the brunt
of that problem.  (i.e. if Bob wants Debian, he has to have the source
for everything, and I won't sell him anything without that source
included.  Bob Newbie is now paying for 6 to-him coasters in addition
to 6 binary CDs.)

2. Refuse to offer any ISO images on the Internet.  (That means ssh
relativity.phy.olemiss.edu rm -rf /var/www/debian-cd, in English)

This insulates the distributor from liability under the "I got binary
from you 2 years and 364 days ago, so I demand the source" clause of
the GPL, because there's no way the purchaser could get binaries
without source.  It also makes Debian a royal pain in the ass to
distribute at low cost, but that's the legalities of it.  (However,
this is only actionable if a buyer attempts to exercise his rights
under the GPL - unless and until that happens, the distributor is not
violating the license.  He only violates the license if and only if he
fails to meet the buyer's demand for the equivalent source at a
"reasonable" price.  Furthermore, this has never been tested in court
so it is unclear whether providing a later version of the source would
be sufficient, or what a "reasonable" price might be.  For example, if
A distributes Debian without source, and nobody complains that they
didn't get source, A is not violating the GPL per se.)

In other words: you have opened a massive can of worms. :-)

Chris Lawrence <chris@lordsutch.com> - http://www.lordsutch.com/chris/

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