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Re: [vox] What is GPL "Distribution"?
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Re: [vox] What is GPL "Distribution"?

On Tue, Jun 10, 2003 at 07:09:04PM -0400, Mike Simons wrote:
> This is a legalish question about the GPL...
>   I don't expect to find an answer here but the risk that someone here will 
> know the answer is much better me finding useful discussion on google 
> (GPL+distribution hits about 360,000 documents).
>   I'm looking for a good place to ask this, if it's in a FAQ, or
> if some place already did a a discussion about this.
>   The questions centers on the definition of "distribution"... a company is
> free to modify a GPL'd program and not release the source provided that
> they do not "distribute"... So modified versions of the program can 
> be used a company website or servers without releasing the code without 
> a them needing to release their changes, paid subscriptions to the
> service could even be required to use.
> - Now what if the machine that company hosts the website on is wholly
>   owned by the co-location facility that hosts the machine (only being
>   rented by the company which made changes)?

I don't believe you will get a 100%-sure answer for this one, as it
seems legally ambiguous. However, I'd be surprised if a judge ruled
that this was "distribution".

> - What if the company develops all of their software with sub-contractors
>   who do the work on their own personal machines at home?

If the sub-contractors are working under the understanding that all
work is the property of the employer, then I'm fairly certain
this won't count as "distribution", as it was "in-house" the entire
time. In this event, the sources would be passed off to the employer
anyway, so it is not an issue.

However, if this is not the case, then I'm pretty sure it *would*
count as "distribution", and failure to release full sources to the
employer would be a violation.

As long as the employer has the sources though, neither case is really
an issue. Nobody is ever required to make sources publicly available
to anyone, unless they distributed binaries to someone without
including the sources. Since in your example, the employer is not
distributing the binaries to outsiders, the employer need not
distribute sources to them either.

> - Is the transportation of the GPL'd code or binaries to those two places 
>   "distribution" as far as the GPL is concerned?
> ...depending on how you look at it it is boarder line.

In the worst-case scenario, where number one above is considered
"distribution" by some judge, the company would be required to make
the full sources available, under the GPL license, to the hosting
company. They would not be required to produce sources for anyone
else. However, since these sources are under the GPL, the hosting
company can turn around and distribute them to anyone they please
without fear of (legitimate) legal repurcussions.

>   While writing this I got the idea to check for "GPL FAQ"... which 
> came up with something useful.
>   http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl-faq.html

Some people on this list (and in other places) have pointed out
fallacies in the FAQ, which sometimes doesn't accurately distinguish
between "what we want the GPL to mean" and "what we actually wrote in
the GPL."

Of course, I will now point out that IANAL, I have no legal training,
and all opinions are my own, solely. But I'm still pretty confident in
my answers :)  ...after all, reading legal contracts feels pretty much
the same as reading a technical standard to me :)


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