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A GNU GPL question (might be slightly OT)


This may be slightly OT, but I have really looked around for a better place
to ask this question, and failed. 

I'm in a situation where I am trying to get the source code for a program
from the company that distributed that program, and this has turned out
to be really difficult. Currently, I'm preparing a reply to their lawyer (I
have no legal training myself, so this is really difficult) where he talks to
me about a three year rule within the GPL.

Here's how I understand this issue: (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

Jim gives Joe a program licensed under the GPL. Jim does not provide 
Joe with the source code, but with a written offer to provide that source
code upon request. He can do this, according to section 3b in the GPL.

However, that only requires Jim to comply with that offer for a period of 
three years, which is also stated in section 3b. 

Two years later, Joe re-distributes the program to Jill, and he includes the 
written offer from Jim. Joe is required to do so, according to section 3c.

Two more years pass and Jill decides that she wants that source code.

Here's where my question comes: Since FOUR years has passed since
Jim originally distributed the program, he feels that he is no longer obliged
to comply with his written offer.

However, Jill feels that since she got the program only TWO years ago, 
the offer is still something that Jim is required to comply with. In her 
timeline, the three-year limit is not passed yet.

That is my question. Who is right, Jim or Jill? I think it's a really 
important question, too. I shall explain why.

Consider this:

Jim downloads the source code for the gcc compiler. He then modifies that 
source and creates jimsgcc. But Jim doesn't really want to share
the source with anyone. He is evil and he is also smart. So he finds
section 3b in the GPL and he contacs Joe, who is also evil and
ready to help Jim out when it comes to completing the scheme.

Jim distributes the program (jimsgcc) to Joe, with that 
valid-for-three years offer that section 3b speaks about. Joe then
sits on his ass for three years, so that the offer is no longer

Joe now starts distributing the jimsgcc (here, working on orders from Jim
of course) and if anyone ("any third party") requests the source code
from Jim according to that written offer, he denies and says that more 
than three years has passed since the offer was issued and voilá, Jim has 
managed to short-circuit the GPL. (Yes, three years is a long time for
a computer program and jimsgcc not likely to be very attractive by
the time it actually is available, but the principle still holds.)

Is this a loophole in the GPL? If my question above is answered with
"Jim", I think it is. If the answer is "Jill", it most likely is not.


What do you all say about this?

/Fredrik Persson

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