GNU GPL and Open Source Definition

Jeff Alami jalami at
Wed Apr 28 03:03:11 UTC 1999

I hope this isn't off-track for this mailing list, but I've stumbled across a
part of the GPL (and the explanations thereof) that might in fact prevent it
from being conformant with the Open Source Definition. Now, before you drop your
coffee and send me flames telling me I'm crazy, the first thing you need to know
is the GPL is completely and unequivocally compatible with the Open Source

AT, in Article 3, the GPL states that
you may sell binaries and executable code at any price you see fit, without
corresponding source code. If you do so, you're required to provide source code
at a subsequent request. However, unlike what's said in the Open Source
Definition, you may also charge for the source code (to a reasonable extent, of
course). The Open Source Definition Article 2 states that "there must be a
well-publicized means of downloading the source code, without charge, via the

Theoretically, a commercial software product licenced exclusively under the GPL
could violate Article 2 of the OSD. I don't think this is a major problem,
because as soon as one person buys the source code for the product, they could
redistribute it without charge via the Internet. But technically the two parts
are contradicting each other.

Has anyone else noticed that inconsistency? I'm sure it's not a huge problem
with the GPL (I can see the headline now: "GPL Does Not Conform to OSD"). But is
it something to consider when the next versions of the GPL and/or the OSD are


Jeff Alami
Director, Guardian Consulting Services
jalami at

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