How To Break The GPL

Rod Dixon, J.D., LL.M. rod at
Tue Mar 7 06:00:15 UTC 2000

It looks as if Alie did not infringe Trent's copyright. I think most of us
agree on this. What is left is whether she breached the terms of the GPL.

Since Alice's software is not free (in the FSF meaning), the distribution of
the program breaches the GPL, if her program only runs as a derivative of
Trent's program and has been distributed closed or not free. (Some people
have argued that Bob is really the author of the program that actually uses
Trent's program by downloading the illicit file).

In my view, Alice is really the author of whatever progam that is running on
Bob's PC and, therefore, Alice has breached the copyleft provision of
Trent's GPL.  Admittedly, however, if Bob is really the *offending* author,
then the analysis changes entirely. I think we have to apply some real-world
commonsense analysis to the facts to determine who is really the author of
the program that runs on Bob's PC.

Rod Dixon, J.D., LL.M.
rod at

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Justin Wells [mailto:jread at]
> Sent: Monday, March 06, 2000 3:45 PM
> To: license-discuss at
> Subject: Re: How To Break The GPL
> On Mon, Mar 06, 2000 at 02:26:00PM -0500, John Cowan wrote:
> > What breach?  Bob is, from Trent's viewpoint, modifying Trent's
> > work for his own use, which the GPL permits, using Alice's
> > proprietary additions.
> I wonder if the "Digital Millenium Copyright Act", with all its attendent
> evil, would actually be of some use here.
> It forbids the creation of a computer program whose sole purpose is to
> infringe on copyrights. I'm not clear on the details. Maybe Alice's
> instructions would form such a program (say it was a patch or Make script)
> and therefore be illegal.
> Or maybe not, I don't know. If there would otherwise have been no
> infringement it may not matter.
> Viral opensource licenses should require publication upon the creation
> of a derivitive work, rather than upon the distribution. Or is that
> also impossible?
> Justin

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