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Re: GR proposal: the AGPL does not meet the DFSG (take 2)

On Sun, Nov 15, 2009 at 02:37:51PM +0100, Bill Allombert wrote:
> Hello,
> I would like to move the discussion to debian-vote where it belongs.
> I'd like to apologize to have started this cross-post in the first place.
> (please CC me).

Actually, I'm thinking it's probably more on-topic on -legal in this
stage. But whatever.

> On Sun, Nov 15, 2009 at 04:04:49AM +0100, Wouter Verhelst wrote:
> > > If you modify a GPL-licensed software and distribute the modified version in
> > > source form only, you do not have any long standing obligation. This is not
> > > the case here.
> > 
> > That's not true. It says 'your modified version must offer', it does not
> > say 'you must offer'. In other words, if you don't run it on the public
> > Internet, there is no problem.
> The idea was that if you distribute it in source form, someone else might
> start to run the software on the public internet and then the 'your modified
> version must offer' clause take effect.


> > > So if you are as service provider, is the AGPL trivially bypassable by
> > > having someone doing the modification for you but never actually
> > > provide any service ?
> > After thinking about this a bit more, I'm actually not entirely sure
> > about my previous statement here anymore.
> > 
> > Indeed, you would probably need to be providing the source of the
> > version you're running, even if you did not make any local modifications
> > yourself.
> I strongly doubt that the AGPL put any kind of limitation/liability on merely
> running the software, for various reasons:
> 1) Philosophy: the FSF stance is that
>     *  The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
> 2) Copyright law: mere copyright law do not allow to limit use of the software
> once you legally have a copy, so you do not have to agree with the AGPL in
> order to merely use the software, and so the AGPL cannot impose any
> condition upon you. 
> 3) the AGPL text: Section 9:
>   9. Acceptance Not Required for Having Copies.
>   You are not required to accept this License in order to receive or
>   run a copy of the Program.  Ancillary propagation of a covered work
>   occurring solely as a consequence of using peer-to-peer transmission
>   to receive a copy likewise does not require acceptance.  However,
>   nothing other than this License grants you permission to propagate or
>   modify any covered work.  These actions infringe copyright if you do
>   not accept this License.  Therefore, by modifying or propagating a
>   covered work, you indicate your acceptance of this License to do so.
> So if you are a service provider, is the AGPL trivially bypassable by
> 1) not accepting it and 2) having someone else doing the modification for you
> but never actually providing any service themself?

I'm not sure, but I'm also not sure how that is relevant to the
discussion of whether the AGPL is or is not free?

If the requirement that such modifications are made available in a
particular way can be bypassed, then it can be assumed to not apply and
thus cannot cause the license to be non-free.

If this requirement cannot be bypassed, then the clause does apply and
any argument on the freeness of the license that is based on such
bypassing cannot be valid.

> > > Assume this is web server. Are you suggesting it modify the page it serve to
> > > add the notice ?
> > 
> > It says "in a prominent place", not "with every network conversation".
> It does not say either of that, it says 'your modified version must
> prominently offer all users interacting with it remotely through a
> computer network'.
> So it is not "with every network conversation", but it is "all users".


I guess the wording could/should be modified. If the license were to say
that the offer must not be removed, and must be put in an appropriate
place that is available to all users interacting with it and should not
be hidden from view, that would probably be better. Then again, that's
quite a convoluted to say something like that.

Having said that, I'm not convinced it makes the license non-free. If
you use a license on a piece of software that it was not meant for in
the first place, then of course it will cause problems. AIUI, the AGPL
was written for web apps, not for general-purpose software, and in that
context this phrasing causes no ill effects.

If someone were to use the AGPL on a web server, that would be a
problem. But I don't think that's the case, is it?

The biometric identification system at the gates of the CIA headquarters
works because there's a guard with a large gun making sure no one is
trying to fool the system.

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