GPLv2 'web-app loophole'

Karsten M. Self kmself at
Tue Aug 7 05:15:48 UTC 2001

on Mon, Aug 06, 2001 at 11:56:14PM -0400, Eric Jacobs (eaj at wrote:
> "Karsten M. Self" <kmself at> writes
> > 
> > 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.
> Which brings up an interesting point: if these other activities are
> truly outside the scope of the GPL, and thus the GPL says nothing
> about them, then they are still exclusive rights of the author, and a
> user must obtain an additional license from the author in order to do
> them.

Which was why I phrased this as "conventional wisdom".  The strict legal
reading is along the lines of what you describe.  However, Richard
Stallman, author of the GPL, has made clear the meaning is similar to
what I describe.  I've heard discussion of letter v. intent elsewhere,
and am given to understand that intent lends weight.

> Another troublesome area in the same way is the last paragraph of
> Section 2. Mere aggregation of another work with the Program may well
> be a derivative work. 

Not an unheard-of situation in copyright.  17 USC 107 says that fair use
is copying, but not an infringement.  17 USC 1008 says that home
audiotaping is not actionable, but doesn't make clear that this means
there is no infringement, or even that there is no crime, merely that it
cannot be prosecuted.

> What the GPL means is that there should be no restriction on such
> works. What it ends up saying is that no one is allowed to create them
> at all.

A technical reading, but not the intent.

> A technicality, for sure, but it is important to get these kinds of
> things right in a serious document like a software license.
> I do hope this is fixed in GPL v3.

Mitchell Baker, among others, have mentioned concerns over loose
language in the GPL.  I'd hope that the specifics have been communicated
to the FSF.

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!
Geek for Hire              
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