GPL v. NDA (was Re: YAPL is bad)

Matthew C. Weigel weigel+ at
Tue Sep 25 00:43:58 UTC 2001

On Mon, 24 Sep 2001, Greg London wrote:

> the GPL and NDA's are orthogonal.
> or, at the very least, they are
> non-conflicting restrictions.

Wrong.  The particular problem is "You may not impose any further
restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted herein."

I still think it's OK depending upon the definition of "distribute," as
Karsten elaborated.

> The GPL says
> 'whoever gets a binary must get the source."
> it does not restrict *who* can recieve
> a distribution.  It does restrict
> any redistribution of modified code
> must be GPL as well, but that is orthogonal
> to a NDA restriction.

I'm reasonably sure that an NDA would qualify as further restrictions
on the rights granted by the GPL.  This would suggest that, according
to at least some interpretations, if a company were working on
extensions to a GPL'd product that was (currently, before release)
under an NDA, its employees couldn't work on that (extended version of
the) software on their own time - because it would constitute
distribution, which would kick in the application of the GPL, which
would require that no additional restrictions be placed upon the rights
given by the GPL.

> A NDA says who can recieve a company's
> source code. i.e. who can recieve a
> distrubution or corporate owned software.

No, it doesn't actually.  It restricts to whom you can distribute a
copy, not who can have a copy.  This is an important distinction in
terms of who can get sued.

> The OSD prohibits discrimination against
> people and groups.
> A NDA is exactly discrimination against
> anyone who is not an employee.

But NDAs are not software licenses, they are contracts.  You certainly
can't distribute open source software that is under an NDA, but that's
a no-brainer.
 Matthew Weigel
 Research Systems Programmer
 mcweigel at ne weigel at

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