Subject: Re: GPL and internal use
From: Rick Moen <>
Date: Tue, 8 Jun 2004 10:17:27 -0700

Quoting (

> There seemed to be a great debate a few years back regarding whether a company
> could augment GPL software for its own, private use and never release any
> modified sources. The general consensus from googling around seems to be: yes,
> GPL does allow that (doesn't bode well for dual licensing which relies on the
> viral, er, reciprocal qualities of GPL, especially since the majority of
> software development occurs within private company use...)

Never mind "consensus"; the plain language of GPLv2's clauses 2 and 3
states that the copyleft obligation exists only if one distributes the
covered work (or derivatives).

That's exactly the way it's designed to work.  What you do with a
consenting GPLed codebase behind closed doors is a private matter.  ;->

> For example, Trolltech seems to take a severe view of distribution in GPL,
> possibly because their old QPL explicitly disallows internal distribution
> without opening the code.
> See

I suspect that that page's legal interpretation is somewhat incorrect.
It claims that all of the following constitute "distribution" within the
meaning of the GNU GPL:

o  "subsidiaries":  Debatable, as they are probably part of the same legal
o  "other divisions":  Ditto.
o  "employees for their personal computers":  Sounds correct (to me), as
   the employee's home PC or personally-owned machine is in a legal
   sense external to the company.
o  "new owners":  Owners of the firm in their company capacity?  If so, 
   that sounds doubtful, as the firm has a continous interest, or at  
   least a successor entity.
o  "consultants":  Within the scope of their company work, they strike
   me as constructively part of the company.

If you want a definitive answer as to what in the eyes of the law
constitutes "distribution", you'll have to arrange a test case.  Have
fun!  Until then, I think the concept's really not that unclear in

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