selling GPL sources

Rick Moen rick at
Tue Sep 20 02:39:48 UTC 2005

Quoting Michael Bernstein (webmaven at

> Hmm. Interesting.
> I suppose the FSF would have to register and enforce a trademark on
> 'GPL' in order to combat this kind of deception (assuming it is
> deliberate) long term.
> Probably not worth the trouble.

No, it really isn't worth spending time over.  A guy who puts out a sign
saying "Come by for free stuff", who never turns out to have stuff handy
when you visit, is really at worst a self-limiting problem:  People get
annoyed, but nobody has failed a legal duty towards anyone else.  Ergo
no tort.  Ergo (in particular) no copyright infringement.

The proper remedy, anyway, is for people to learn "Oh, _that_ numbskull."

One key point is that the developer, in this particular hypothetical,
never was in a situation where he/she had agreed to GPL redistribution
terms to gain rights to anything:  His/her rights to his/her _own
codebase_ are inherent (well, statutory, anyway), as opposed to being
bestowed by licence.  

A lot of people seem to imagine that the developer, once he/she hands
out an instance of his/her codebase under some particular open-source
licence, that licence somehow crawls up his/her arm and attaches itself
to the code's Platonic essence.  It doesn't.  He/she is the person who
_creates_ codebase instances, and stamps them with the licence of
his/her choosing at the time of distribution.  _Other_ people need that
licence to have meaningful (non-default) rights:  The developer does

The other key point is that the phrase "violating the GPL" is
misleading, conjuring up as it does the erroneous implication that GNU
GPL is a law.  What gets violated, if anything, would have to be
_copyright law_.  If you bear that fact in mind, it's pretty easy to see
that the notion of a copyright _owner_ infringing his/her own copyright
(and having to seek relief by suing himself/herself) is a non-starter.

Cheers,                 "Due to circumstances beyond our control, we regret to
Rick Moen               inform you that circumstances are beyond our control."
rick at                                              --Paul Benoit

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