GPLv2 'web-app loophole'

Karsten M. Self kmself at
Tue Aug 7 00:09:19 UTC 2001

on Mon, Aug 06, 2001 at 04:01:26PM -0700, Abraham Ingersoll (abe at wrote:
> 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.

This is a shadow use case, probably not triggering GPL redistribution
requirements.  I know the matter is under consideration in developing
GPL v3.

Regarding specifically not mentioning anything of the GPLd software on
their website, there may be cause for issue here, depending on the use.

    GPL v2 2(c):

    If the modified program normally reads commands interactively when
    run, you must cause it, when started running for such interactive
    use in the most ordinary way, to print or display an announcement
    including an appropriate copyright notice and a notice that there is
    no warranty (or else, saying that you provide a warranty) and that
    users may redistribute the program under these conditions, and
    telling the user how to view a copy of this License.  (Exception: if
    the Program itself is interactive but does not normally print such
    an announcement, your work based on the Program is not required to
    print an announcement.)

Note that this refers only to modified versions of a work.

Whether or not use on a website means the software "reads commands
interactively" or not I'm not sure, but this is possible.

> 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? 

This is defined in 17 USC 101:

    A "derivative work" is a work based upon one or more preexisting
    works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization,
    fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art
    reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a
    work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of
    editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other
    modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of
    authorship, is a "derivative work".

> Are there any existing legal precedents regarding the copyright status
> of HTML display code generated by copyrighted software?

Under copyright, display and public performance rights may be reserved,
but these rights are not claimed (or rather, are disclaimed) by the GPL.
Or at least that's the conventional wisdom understanding of:

    GPL v2 0:

    Activities other than copying, distribution and modification are not
    covered by this License; they are outside its scope.


Karsten M. Self <kmself at>
 What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?             There is no K5 cabal     
   Free Dmitry! Boycott Adobe! Repeal the DMCA!
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