GPLv2 'web-app loophole'

Rod Dixon, J.D., LL.M. rod at
Tue Aug 7 03:42:35 UTC 2001

This sounds like "much ado about nothing." As is well-known, software is not
an easy fit within copyright doctrine. I am unsure whether there is a
relevant distinction between "use" and copy as far as software is concerned.
Copyright interests are invoked when one "uses" software as long as the
prevailing view is that a RAM copy is a *copy* as that terms is defined and
understood by reference to the Copyright Act. Hence, I doubt whether an ASP
or a "web-app" presents a case for a loophole in the GPL.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: David Johnson [mailto:david at]
> Sent: Monday, August 06, 2001 10:09 PM
> To: Abraham Ingersoll; license-discuss at
> Subject: Re: GPLv2 'web-app loophole'
> On Monday 06 August 2001 04:01 pm, Abraham Ingersoll wrote:
> > We (Dajoba, LLC) publish web-based software under the GPL. We recently
> > ...we simply want to feel out people's attitudes
> > regarding this 'web-app loophole'
> Cool! I have some attitudes and opinions on this, and since you
> asked, I'll
> dump them on you. Remember, you asked!
> When one makes a modification to GPLd code and distributes it,
> who has the
> right to demand the sources? The recipient. When Alice gives a
> copy to Bob,
> it is Bob that demands the source from Alice, and not the other
> way around.
> It would be nonsensical if Alice gave a copy to Bob and then demanded the
> sources from Bob. Ridiculous.
> Yet that is what demanding the modifications for the web-app
> implies. You are
> asking your competitor for the modifications, yet it was you that
> distributed
> the program to them. You have things backwards. What of those
> that make use
> of your competitor's web-app? If they have received a copy from your
> competitor, then they can indeed demand the sources. But they have NOT
> received any copies of the program from your competitor.
> If a friend comes to my home and I give him a copy of a modified
> emacs, then
> I have to give him the sources if he asks. But what if he merely
> came over to
> use my computer? What if he said "now that I've used your copy of
> modified
> emacs, you must now give me your modifications"? I would tell him
> to shove
> off! The web-app "loophole" is the exact same situation, but in a larger
> setting.
> I have heard the argument that the user has less freedom when they use a
> closed web-app. But I have never understood how. With normal
> software, the
> user would have less freedom with a closed application because
> they are not
> in control of their own property (their copy of the software). But in the
> case of the web-app, the software is not in the possession of the
> user. To
> make an analogy (apologies to Bob Young), I do not want to own a
> car with the
> hood welded shut. But I could care less if Avis or Hertz welds
> their cars'
> hoods shut. Those aren't my cars.
> Regulating the public performance of software is a very dangerous
> thing for
> any Open/Free license to do, because it would be for the first time
> regulating how an application can be *used*.
> --
> David Johnson
> ___________________

More information about the License-discuss mailing list