Subject: Re: Possibly stupid GPL question
From: DJ Delorie <>
Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999 22:13:37 -0400

> In general, nondisclosure agreements apply to information that is a
> trade secret, and they cease to apply to information that becomes
> public knowledge.  A released free software program is public
> knowledge, so ordinary nondisclosure agreements won't cover it
> anyway.

But the argument is: can an NDA prevent free software from being
released?  If the source has been released already, the NDA has
already been violated.  In the cases I've seen, the NDA applies to
alterations or additions to free software, not the original free
software itself.  Or, the NDA might apply to knowledge of a business
relationship that distribution of modified software may disclose.  Are
these still valid?

Example: A chip company gives the FSF confidential information about a
new chip their developing and asks them to write a version of gcc for
it under NDA.  The FSF writes that gcc, but now cannot distribute it
until the NDA expires.  Has the chip company violated the GPL?  Would
the FSF reject such terms, because their freedom is reduced, even
though when the NDA expires all freedoms are reverted?  Or, would the
FSF accept such terms, because doing so enhances free software, and
makes the chip company's information free eventually?

Would your answers change if the chip company asked you to give those
copies to other individuals who have also signed an NDA?

The problem that needs to be solved is this: Companies want a way that
they can develop free software, in conjunction with other companies or
individuals, without losing their competitive advantage by having
knowledge of their work prematurely disclosed to their competitors.
Assuming that all NDAs will be terminated at the time of completion of
the collaboration, and that the full GPL will be applied to the
result, how do companies protect their investment during development?
Even companies that value freedom over money still need a tool to
control knowledge of their future plans and prevent premature exposure
of their work-in-progress.