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Re: A GNU GPL question (might be slightly OT)

On Fri, 6 Sep 2002, Fredrik Persson wrote:

> 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.

I'm not a lawyer either, but I'll try to answer.  <stddisclaimer.h>.  3b
doesn't seem to have a loophole to me, but 3c might be susceptible in a
very limited way.

> 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. 

So far so good.  

> 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.

At this point, as long as the Joe->Jill distribution was noncommercial, 
there has been no violation of GPL that I can see.

At this point, Jill has a copy that she cannot distribute (She can't
fulfill 3a or 3b, and 3c only applies to software she got under 3b.  Her
best bet is to immediately excercise the offer to get source, so she can
distribute under 3a or 3b.

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

Jill now has a copy of a program for which nobody has a legal obligation
to provide source.  So does Joe.  Heck, so might Jim if he didn't save the
source.  This cannot be distributed under the GPL.

It's possible to argue that Joe can still noncommercially distribute the
sourceless binary under 3c, accompanied by the expired written offer from
Jim.  Nobody who recieved the binary this way could redistribute it 
(like always, as I read it, for programs distributed under 3c).

Fortunately, it's limited to noncommercial transactions and it creates
undistributable copies, so there is very little incentive to excercise
this loophole.  It does mean that Debian shouldn't accept software under 
3b or 3c of the GPL.  Which we probably wouldn't anyway for logistics 
Mark Rafn    dagon@dagon.net    <http://www.dagon.net/>  

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