Subject: Re: What's the definition of "distribution"?
From: D Henkel-Wallace <>
Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2002 18:36:22 -0700

On Monday, June 17, 2002, at 03:04 , Keith Bostic wrote:
> Does anybody know if the FSF has tried to define "distribution"
> for the purposes of the GPL?
> I'm trying to get a feel for where the lines should reasonably
> be drawn.  It wouldn't make sense to apply "distribution" to
> copying a program for backup purposes, but pedantically, it *is*
> distribution.
> Is it distribution to send a copy to another part of the company,
> on the same campus?
> Is it distribution if company FOO is using a program, but only
> internally, and shipping copies to its 10 thousand physically
> separate offices?

I don't know if the FSF has made an official statement or not.

At Cygnus we took the position that we were performing a "work for hire" 
and thus code we developed specifically for customer X could be sent back 
and forth to them (and among our developers) without that constituting 
"distribution.  This is really no different from me working for you and 
writing code for you under contract.

We made sure that they understood (and any contract they signed indicated)
  that it wouldn't be "secret" when they distributed it to any customer or 
any other third party.  (I imagine this would be transitive were they 
hired in turn by someone else, and we were just subcontracting for them).

Of course we always made sure that we got to redistribute 1> anything not 
customer-specific and 2> anything else once a certain time expired.  We 
only had to use 2> on one occasion, if I remember correctly.

In fact our customers were hiring us to develop software that _could_ be 
distributed freely, so this was very rarely an issue anyway.

By the way I have always taken the position that the GPL is just an 
ordinary software license like any other.  After all, if I license a 
library from someone who advertises in Dr Dobb's, I have to pay a royalty 
for code that uses it.  The FSF's "royalty" is redistributability of the 
code.  If I don't like it, so what; don't use it.  Just as if you charge 
too much for your library.

Taken this way, the "distribution" rules aren't any different than they 
might be for a site license to Rogue Wave.

I don't know how finely correct this is, but it makes life easy to