Restriction on distribution by Novell?

Philippe Verdy verdy_p at
Tue Sep 26 20:47:21 UTC 2006

From: "Juergen Weigert" <jw at>
> The GPL does not grant any support. 
> Novell can restrict support, without violating the GPL. No?

Novell can restrict its support to only its subscribers, but it cannot restrict the redistribution of GPL'ed programs that were updated, even if Novell was the only one to contribute for these updates.

So ALL Novell updates for GPL'ed softwares are redistributable, and may or may not be integrated in the common trunk by anyone having write access to this development trunk, and that coudl get a redistribution from any Novell updates subscribed by someone else.

The only think that may be restricted by Novell is the access medium through which it directly distributes the updates, i.e. Novell is allowed to restrict access to its servers using authentication. But Novell cannot restrict redistributions. And because updates are concerning GPL'ed softwares, Novell must grant to its subscribers an access to the suources of these updates.

But Novell has no obligation for those to which it did not sublicence directly the GPL'ed software. It's up to Novell subscribers to use their rights, and further distribute these updates and their sources; Novell has no obligation to serve the world without condition. It must just respect the GPL for itself, and for any copy of a work or derived work made on GPL'ed software to its direct sublicencees, as long as its business is alive (and the licence obligation is transfered to any other company that would acquire the Novell division later, or even if Novell changes its business name or splits its structure: it must be clear who keeps the obligations for a reasonable time after any sublicence has been granted to GPL'ed software).

What is however a problem in the GPL is the duration of the legal obligations regarding the access right to sources. under French law for example, there must exist a legal way to exit from a contract. Of course Novell could revoke its own licence of GPL'ed softwares and stop using it (destructing all copies it has), but what about its existing sublicencees?

The access rights to the source for sublicencees remain apparently indefinitely, and this is a severe problem. I think there should exist a fair limitation of time after each delivery of any GPL-licenced product in binary form (including updates): one year? two years? Where can licencees know where to exercice their rights? apparently, the accesses to the sources may be offered by another service (for example on a public web repository) but Novell must still support its direct licencees by providing them information about where to get the sources, and Novell must make sure that these sources remain accessible for all its licencees for a reasonnable time.

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