Subject: Re: What's the definition of "distribution"?
From: Peter Wayner <>
Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2002 18:17:32 -0400

At 6:04 PM -0400 6/17/02, 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*
>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?

These are great questions and I know that Stallman and Moglen have 
discussed it. They may even have written something. I'm not sure.

One interpretation is that the source code must follow any binary and 
the distribution can't be further restricted. That means you can't 
stop anyone in the corporation from giving a customized copy to 

Another interpretation is that a corporation is just a virtual person 
and people can use GPL for their own use.

Here's an even more complicated one. Let's say I use GPL software to 
build my website. Am I distributing the software by letting others 
come to the website? On one hand, I'm not. No one can copy the 
binaries. On the other hand, the Internet makes it seem as if the 
software is running on someone's desktop. There are few practical 
differences to the user between Hotmail and Outlook.

Now, let's say I run my own software on my desktop that goes out, 
grabs web pages, parses them, and extracts information. Is it linking 
to the web site's software? Is a URL like a procedure call? In one 
sense, it's the same thing. In another sense, there are big political 
and social boundaries between websites.

Oh, it's going to be a long term problem with no easy solution.


New book on database security:
New book on hiding information: