Subject: Re: GNU and classified software
From: Frank Hecker <frank@collab.net>
Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2001 23:05:51 -0500

Seth David Schoen wrote:
> Seth David Schoen writes:
> 
> > I again agree with the FSF and with your analysis, but some people
> > disagree, which leaves some possibly interesting marginal cases.  I'm
> > not sure that there's a wide consensus yet on the degree to which a
> > free software license must respect privacy when derived works are made.
> 
> Oops, I already forgot that the original question was only about GNU
> software and not about all imaginable free software.

I too could have been clearer on this point and others. I'll summarize
briefly what I believe to be the case.

Based on my reading of it, the GPL does not mandate public disclosure of
modifications made for internal use, and does not mandate public
disclosure of modifications when privately distributing GPLed software
from one party to another. Ditto for the LGPL. So this IMO answers the
question of whether GNU software under the GPL and LGPL could be used in
classified applications: Classified software licensed under the GPL
could be distributed among people and organizations posessing the proper
clearances while still complying fully with the terms of the GPL (or
LGPL).

Of course the original question was really "Can GNU tools be used in the
creation/use/distribution of classified software?"  Restricting
ourselves to GNU tools under the GPL, that question is addressed by
Section 0 of the GPL: "Activities other than copying, distribution and
modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its
scope. The act of running the Program is not restricted, and the output
from the Program is covered only if its contents constitute a work based
on the Program (independent of having been made by running the
Program)."

So running GNU tools to process (i.e., edit, compile, link, debug, etc.)
classified software appears to be OK in the case where no GPLed software
actually ends up in the classified software. If the GNU tools do insert
GPLed code in the classified software then IMO this is still OK, as
discussed above.

> So I'm wondering about the question in greater generality rather than
> the form in which it was originally asked.

Based on my reading of "What is Free Software", the FSF's definition of
free software disallows having a license that mandates public disclosure
of modifications made for internal use.

However at least from "What is Free Software" it is not totally clear
whether the FSF's definition of free software disallows having a license
that mandates public disclosure of modifications when privately
distributing software from one party to another. I believe I have read
comments elsewhere by RMS that free software licenses should allow
private distribution without mandating public disclosure (this issue
certainly came up in the original discussions of the NPL and MPL), but
unfortunately I can't find any references for this.

But in any case if there were a free software license that mandated
public disclosure of source upon _any_ distribution (public or private)
then it appears to me that it would be incompatible with the GPL.

Frank
-- 
Frank Hecker            work: http://www.collab.net/
frank@collab.net        home: http://www.hecker.org/