GPL interpretation for contracters?
laforge at gnumonks.org
Tue Jan 31 16:02:32 CET 2006
On Wed, Jan 25, 2006 at 02:38:38PM -0700, Jesse Off wrote:
> I work for a company that builds embedded hardware and a customer of
> ours wanted to sell us a patch to a GPL'ed piece of code. This
> modification was designed and sold to our customer by another Linux
> service contracter for what I guess was a lot of money. The issue is
> now moot since we engineered our own solution to the problem, but I
> have found myself somewhat curious as to the details of when GPL'ed
> code must be released to the public.
First of all, as you may know, the GPL is not about money. I can write
up some linux kernel patch, and sell it to you for an arbitrary amount
of money. There's nothing [legally] wrong with that.
However, since the resulting work is clearly a derived work of the
kernel, it has to be GPL licensed. Therefore, there's nothing I could
do to prevent you (after buying that patch) from further distributing it
in compliance with the GPL. you (my customer) would even be able to
charge your customers whatever fee you think is apropriate. However,
your customers could just distribute the patch for free to anyone else,
and neither I nor you can do anything about it.
> For instance, our customer says they don't have to release the source
> code until if/when they would ever release a product based on it-- but
> what actually classifys a "product"?
The GPL doesn't care about products. It cares about distribution. So
if the object code resulting from GPL licensed source code has been
distributed, then you also have to follow the rest of the GPL (i.e.
written offer, source code, disclaimer, license text copy, ..)
> I could almost believe the contracter liable to release the code since
> they sold it as a deliverable to a service contract or perhaps our
> actual customer since they're trying to sell us the patch? (The
> "product" being the actual patch against GPL code) Is anybody in
If it was a contractor, the primary question (independent of any GPL
issues) is: Who owns the copyright. This depends on the contract and
on local laws. AFAIK, in a lot of jurisdictions the party who pays gets
[almost] all the rights, unless specified otherwise.
> It is no secret that a lot of our customers do not like the GPL and
> want to find ways around the license by abusing the "product" and
> "internal use" clauses. As a hypothetical situation, whats to prevent
> our company from reclassifying itself as a service company (e.g.
> you're not buying a hardware "product" from us, you're contracting our
> services to build you a circuit board that you can use in your own
> product so you have to buy the GPL code from us through another
> service contract), and/or reclassifying our customers as "partners"
> and using the "internal use" clause to never release GPL sources?
Where does the GPL talk about products or internal use? I don't know
which clauses you're talking about. It's all about distribution.
If somebody has ever distributed object code (without including the full
corresponding source code, the license text, and a disclaimer), then the
'any 3rd party' clause comes into action, and anyone can request them to
receive a copy of the source code.
However, if the source code is distributed, there is n o '3rd party'
clause, so nobody apart from the two parties involved in the
distribution are affected.
- Harald Welte <laforge at gnumonks.org> http://gnumonks.org/
"Privacy in residential applications is a desirable marketing option."
(ETSI EN 300 175-7 Ch. A6)
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