Subject: Re: What's the definition of "distribution"?
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: 18 Jun 2002 11:25:40 +0900

>>>>> "Peter" == Peter Wayner <> writes:

    Peter> 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 think it's pretty clear: transfer of a runnable or buildable program
between two legal persons (individual or corporate).  Cf. APSL, below.

    >> 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.

I don't see how---distribution requires two _persons_.  You could even
transfer physical possession (eg, into a safe deposit box) but that's
not 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?

No and no.  Cf. Richard Stallman's discussion of the Apple Public
Software License.  He says that the APSL v1.2 is _not_ free precisely
because it "looks inside" a corporate person and places conditions on
internal distribution (aka "deployment").

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

Precisely.  I'm not sure whether Richard is forced into this
interpretation because trying to restrict corporate persons would
imply invasion of privacy of real persons under law, or whether he
actually accepts the fiction of "corporate person".  But this
interpretation is implied by his position on the APSL, AFAICT.

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

This is just the well-known "ASP loophole".  It seems that Richard has
on several occasions blasted entities (ASPs, The Kompany) for
"abusing" their right to privacy this way, but as yet he's seen no way
to do anything about it except "moral suasion".

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

I think the legal interpretation of the GPL is pretty clear.  ASPs are
allowed.  Internal deployment is allowed.  The perversity that the GPL
strongly encourages ASPs with 100% closed source as opposed to Aladdin
"Free" Public License (eg) distribution with 100% "open" source[1], but
limits redistribution rights, _is_ a long term problem for the FSF.[2]
But it's moral/philosophical, not legal.

[1]  Quotes used to indicate that "free" and "open" are not being used
in their Free[tm] and Open Source[tm] senses, but in the intuitive ones.

[2]  Not the OSI, which admits the APSL as an open source license.

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