GPL for JS libraries (Was: Re: Redefining GPL?)

Michael Bernstein webmaven at
Thu Nov 30 08:01:02 UTC 2006

On Wed, 2006-11-29 at 22:53 -0800, Ben Tilly wrote:
> I've never thought about this, but this raises an interesting
> question.
> Suppose I write a JavaScript library.  And I GPL it.  You use that in
> an application.  A user comes and browses your site, the JavaScript
> file is referenced and sent to that user.
> What are your obligations now?  I am not a lawyer, but it looks to me
> like my copyrighted content was distributed to that user.  Does that
> user now need to have a copyright notice, a copy of the license, etc
> all distributed in addition?  Reading the GPL like someone with
> Asperger's syndrome would, you need to do that.  In the real world,
> I'd consider it crazy to require you to do that.  (For a start,
> sending you the license slows the site.  Plus there is no way to send
> it without either modifying it in some way - like putting it in an
> HTML comment - or else breaking the web page.)  What ARE your
> obligations?
> Anyways looking at this situation, it looks like, depending on the
> application, hosting a modified version of the application *could*
> count as distribution.  If not, why not? 

It seems to me that the right-and-simple thing to do is to:

        1. Put the copying permission statement inside the library file.
        2. Then, you put the text of the GPL as-is inside a license.js
        file (it is just 17k), and refer to it from the web-page just
        like any other .js file. Even though the license is not valid
        JavaScript, the browser should download it, and the file will be
        cached thereafter.

Ideally, it would be possible to only include the copying permission
notice in the JS library, and in it just refer to the full license via a
URL instead of compelling the license download by the page, but I am
unsure if this is permissible, as IANAL.


- Michael

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