Licenses and subterfuge

Arnoud Engelfriet galactus at
Thu Feb 26 22:07:00 UTC 2004

Alex Rousskov wrote:
> On Thu, 26 Feb 2004, Arnoud Engelfriet wrote:
> > Absolutely right. Still, it could be problematic if there is only a
> > GPL-licensed library available to perform the functions you need. In
> > such a case you may be forced to have a similar library developed to
> > avoid having to link to such GPL-licensed software.
> I do not see a problem from copyright/licensing point of view, as long
> as the resulting binary mix does not need to be distributed (by the
> company or its clients). The software in question simply implements
> one "side" of a published interface, which has nothing to do with GPL.

The issue I see is that your software requires that particular
GPL-licensed library to run. Normally, you would supply your
software together with that library (dynamically linked). Now,
for the sole reason to avoid having to comply with the GPL,
you omit that library. That sounds like a subterfuge.

>   "Our software can be linked with any library supporting Foo
>   API. Users report success with FooLib on Linux. Other Foo API
>   libraries may be available in your environment. Known compatibility
>   problems with Foo libraries are available by searching our bug
>   database at ..."

Can you really say that seriously if the _only_ implementation
available is GPL-licensed FooLib? And more importantly, will a
judge believe you? 

My position is, if there's only one library that does that function
available as open source, either you use that and you comply with
that license, or you go and buy some commercial alternative. It's
the only safe way.

> The only potentially gray area is availability of a published API. If
> the only API documentation are viral headers, the company can publish
> the interface on their own. 

No such thing as a "viral header" because header files are usually
purely functional and so not copyrighted. And even then, does any
code from the header file end up in the compiled binary of your


Arnoud Engelfriet, Dutch patent attorney - Speaking only for myself
Patents, copyright and IPR explained for techies:
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