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Re: GPL clients for non-free services

On Wed, Mar 12, 2003 at 12:08:12PM -0800, Mark Rafn wrote:

> > On Wed, Mar 12, 2003 at 10:02:23AM -0800, Terry Hancock wrote:
> > > and you're starting to say that the GPL denies you the right to look 
> > > at http://www.microsoft.com with a free web browser, or http://www.fsf.org 
> > > with IE.

> On Wed, 12 Mar 2003, Steve Langasek wrote:
> > The main point to consider here is the intent of the person providing
> > the GPL client.  Remember that the GPL says it is ALWAYS ok to create
> > non-free derivatives of GPL works, if you don't distribute them at all.
> > This means that, even if you regard a remote website as an RPC call,
> > when the *user* combines the browser and server by typing in a URL or
> > following a link, no GPL violation can have occurred.

> I'm confused - are you talking about GPLv2 or the theoretical GPLv3 with 
> some way to close "non-recipient user loophole".  The current GPL is 
> pretty clear IMO.  The possible changes are very murky.


> Let's look at the right to distribute a GPL client for a non-free RPC
> service.  For instance, can I give out a copy of Lynx with a default
> homepage of http://microsoft.com?

> My reading of GPLv2 is that this is perfectly fine UNLESS it's distributed 
> "as part of a whole" with the non-free code.  Since the code behind 
> microsoft.com isn't shipped as part of the modified Lynx, the GPL allows 
> me to distribute.

Ah, but if you're shipping binaries of someone *else's* GPL code, the
requirement is that you must provide "the complete corresponding
machine-readable source code", which includes "all the source code for
all modules it contains, plus any associated interface definition files,
plus the scripts used to control compilation and installation of the
executable."  So the requirement here is that if the RPC service is part
of the source code, you MUST ship the server, or not ship anything at
all.  Since you have no right to distribute microsoft.com, you are not
allowed to distribute MS lynx.

Now, IANAL, but I think that for something as silly as the microsoft.com
homepage, you're probably going to be able to argue your way out of it in
court on the grounds that the ability to set a homepage is built into
the software as you received it: there is an implied license exemption
that setting homepages is ok.  Or the courts may generously find that,
given the way it's used, the homepage is nothing more than input data --
not source.  However, there's nothing in the language of the GPL that
automatically precludes this interpretation, particularly in the case of
an RPC call where the calling application does a lot more with the input
than just rendering it to the user's screen.

Steve Langasek
postmodern programmer

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