GPLv2 'web-app loophole'

John Cowan cowan at
Thu Aug 9 23:34:15 UTC 2001

Abraham Ingersoll scripsit:
> 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. 

Does your original work display a copyright notice to the user in its
ordinary operation?  (e.g. on a generated web page or the like?)
If so, and if OtherCo has removed it, then that breaches
the GPL.

It is conceivable that you could claim that OtherCo is
"publicly performing" your software, a right not granted under the
GPL and thus implicitly reserved to you as copyright holder, but
there is no tittle of precedent for the notion of a public
performance right as applied to software, and it would be
awfully squishly legal ground to step on.

Otherwise, I would say (IANAL) that OtherCo has made a derivative
work, which the GPL allows, and is not distributing it, which means
that clause 2b of the GPL does not apply.

There is, I think, a continuum here:  someone can distribute your
program (modified or unmodified) on CD-ROM for a fee; someone can
take the CD-ROM and rent it out at a fee, providing the use of the
programs on it; someone can provide the use of the programs
remotely over the Internet.  Somewhere between the first and
third case, this ceases to be distribution.

Again, IANAL.

John Cowan                                   cowan at
One art/there is/no less/no more/All things/to do/with sparks/galore
	--Douglas Hofstadter

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