Wired Article on the GPL

John Cowan jcowan at reutershealth.com
Fri Mar 31 16:28:57 UTC 2000

Richard Watts wrote:

>  Suppose A gives me a piece of software, X, and agrees to licence it
> to me under the GPL. The GPL allows me to do a number of things, but,
> critically, section 3 requires me to distribute source code with my
> binaries - that's a consideration. It's clearly valuable.

Shaky.  It requires you to distribute source code only if you distribute
> In which case I must distribute my modified source code
> back to him. This is consideration - it goes beyond a plain licence
> to do something: not only _can_ I distribute the source, I _must_ -
> and it's valuable, and the fact that it's contingent is entirely
> irrelevant - people make contingent contracts all the time.

But here the contingency is that the contractor do something else which
he is free to do or not do.  IANAL, as I have often said before, but
that smells funny to me.

>  As to contractability, a contract exists wherever both parties
> intend to bind themselves. The author clearly intends to bind himself,
> or he wouldn't've offered the GPL.

If the GPL really is an offer.  But if it is a bare license, then he is not
binding himself, but simply stating his permission.  You can rely on that
permission unless you know or should have known that it has been

> The recipient can avoid binding
> himself by rejecting the GPL, but if he accepts, must accept the
> conditions of section (3), and we therefore have a contract.

As I posted before, I think this talk of "accepting" or "rejecting"
the GPL has no foundation.
>  I guess this depends on whether you've decided if there's
> consideration or not. Either way, if you exercise the permission to
> make object files,

To make *and distribute* object files.

> then don't distribute the source code with them
> under section 3, you're arguably in breach of something, and if it
> isn't contract, it must be copyright.

Indeed, it is infringement of copyright.  You are doing something that
a) is a right reserved to the copyright owner by law, and b) is not
covered by the permissions the owner has granted you.


Schlingt dreifach einen Kreis um dies! || John Cowan <jcowan at reutershealth.com>
Schliesst euer Aug vor heiliger Schau,  || http://www.reutershealth.com
Denn er genoss vom Honig-Tau,           || http://www.ccil.org/~cowan
Und trank die Milch vom Paradies.            -- Coleridge (tr. Politzer)

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