GPLv2 'web-app loophole'

Lawrence E. Rosen lrosen at
Mon Aug 6 23:14:09 UTC 2001

It is very important that you get a specific opinion on this from an
attorney who will represent you.  General legal advice on this
license-discuss list should not be relied upon, especially when you are
considering preparing a cease-and-desist letter and/or filing a lawsuit
to enforce your copyrights.  Your specific question, "What exactly
consitutes a derivative work of
software under US copyright law?", is very complicated and the answer in
your case depends on the details of your software.

/Larry Rosen
Attorney and executive director, OSI
lrosen at

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Abraham Ingersoll [mailto:abe at] 
> Sent: Monday, August 06, 2001 4:01 PM
> To: license-discuss at
> Subject: GPLv2 'web-app loophole'
> We (Dajoba, LLC) publish web-based software under the GPL. We recently
> came across a company who has taken our GPL'd code, modified it and
> actively resells access to (use of) the renamed application. They say
> absolutely nothing of the GPL-origins of the software on their website
> nor have they contributed anything back to the original GPL'd project.
> They do not distribute the modified software in the 
> conventional sense of
> software distribution, but if one can reasonably conclude that the web
> pages generated by our software constitue derivative works, 
> we may have a
> case.
> We have spoken to Bradley Kuhn at the FSF regarding this 
> situation and are
> eagerly awaiting a reply now that they're privy to the details of our
> situation. We have yet to speak to the company who has taken 
> our code and
> not followed the spirit of the GPL, besides calling them to 
> sign up for
> the service they offer via our software. (We aim to ascertain as much
> information about their use and redistribution of our copyrighted
> work as possible before proceeding with formal accusations, if any.)
> In leiu of the FSF's expert advice, does anyone here have a qualified
> opinion about this 'web-app loophole' and possible remedies we should
> entertain? Specifically -- what exactly consitutes a 
> derivative work of
> software under US copyright law? Are there any existing legal 
> precedents
> regarding the copyright status of HTML display code generated by
> copyrighted software?
> All of this obviously falls within the domain of intelectual property
> lawyers and the FSF, so my apologies in advance for being a 
> bit off topic.
> In raising the issue here, we simply want to feel out 
> people's attitudes
> regarding this 'web-app loophole' and perhaps see what alternative
> licensing solutions exist should the GPLv2 prove to be ineffective for
> open sourcing web-based applications. (We know GPLv3 is supposed to
> address these issues, but the timeline for it's release 
> doesn't fit our
> immediate need very well at all.)
> If anyone wants to take a look at the project/code in question, see
> Thanks!
> - Abraham Ingersoll <abe at>

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