Subject: Re: Possibly stupid GPL question
From: "Karsten M. Self" <kmself@ix.netcom.com>
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 1999 15:28:33 -0700

Responses trimmed to FSB.

Again, the cc: list is unmanageable, and in my case, subject to
rejection by my ISP in certain circumstances.

L. Peter Deutsch wrote:
> 
> I think the delay in providing the source is a red herring.  Let's consider:
> 
>   A proprietary company sees a GPLed project, notices a useful feature, and
>   writes it.  They then start shipping their modified version.  One of the
>   modifications makes the modified program useful only unless you happen to
>   have another program available - a program that was independently
>   developed, is not linked into any GPLed software, and which is completely
>   proprietary.  That proprietary program is copyrighted under a proprietary
>   licence.
> 
> In other words, a company releases software that is GPL'ed, but useless
> without obtaining proprietary software.  Nothing in the GPL precludes this
> that I can see.  An example would be a Free or Open Source Mozilla plug-in
> that talks to a proprietary server, from a company that plans to make their
> money by licensing the server.  I suspect there are companies out there
> right now that are planning on doing this.

To take Ben's suggestion one step further -- what if the other program
is not software at all but hardware?

I think section three of the GNU GPL addresses this indirectly
(http://www.fsf.org/copyleft/gpl.html):

> The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for 
> making modifications to it. For an executable work, complete source 
> code means 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. 

Section six also says:

> 6. [....] You may not impose any further restrictions on the 
> recipients' exercise of the rights granted herein. 

However, the rights, as described, only include "copying, distribution,
and modification" of the program:  "The act of running the Program is
not restricted".

It's not clear to me that requiring additional (proprietary) components,
whether software or hardware, violate granted rights (copy, distribute,
modify) or impose an additional restriction (running the Program).  If
the latter, and I think it could be so argued, then Ben's hypo (and my
extension) would be unallowed modifications or distributions of the
program, and trigger the termination clause in section four.

The remedies IMO would be to remove the dependency or to grant free use
(not necessarily under the GPL) of the required components.

-- 
Karsten M. Self (kmself@ix.netcom.com)
    What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?

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