GPL issue at my work place

James McGovern james at
Thu Jan 17 10:08:42 UTC 2008

Lawyers within large enterprises are starting to pay attention to licensing
and universally are starting to avoid certain flavors of licenses. Generally
speaking, the legal folks tend to not have any issues with any of the
academic flavor of licenses such as MIT. Likewise, you will find that many
don't like either GPL, Mozilla or others. You may find upon further digging
that LGPL is fine but GPL isn't. Likewise, Apache is universally accepted.

-----Original Message-----
From: Dirk Dierickx [mailto:dirk.dierickx at]
Sent: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 5:22 PM
To: license-discuss at
Subject: GPL issue at my work place

Hi All,

I don't really know who to turn to for help on this topic, I do hope
this is the correct mailing list for my question.

About 5 years ago, we installed our first Linux server, RH 2.1
Enterprise, payed for support and so on.

We were in need for some simple applications and as so many we found a
LAMP (here: mysql & php) setup to provide us with a quick way to write a
web-based application.

Time has come to replace this machine (newer hardware with RH 4), but we
are running into issues with this from our legal department. They will
_not_ allow any use of GPL'ed software anymore in the company (except

First i though it was because of some patent issues and pointed them to
the website of RH that says to protect its customers against these kind
of attacks.

However the real issue seems to be with the 'viral' (as they call it)
nature of the GPL. Here is a part of the mail;

It is an open question what constitutes/does not constitute
distribution. Some consider on-site access/use by contractors to be
distribution; and, if memory serves me correctly, the FSF has previously
stated that remote access/use by contractors is distribution. The
unfortunate part with the GPL is that it defines modifications broadly
and, at least under v.2.1 of the GPL, linking to/with other programs
whether dynamically or statically, is considered a modification.
... and in another mail ...
The GPL, especially v. 3.0, contains provisions which are adverse to
CompanyX's intellectual property right interests. What constitutes
distribution is not clear -which is why internal use does not fully
negate some of the more onerous provisions of the GPL (e.g., access/use
by non-CompanyX employees is considered by some to be distribution;
remote access by non-CompanyX employees is considered by almost all to
be distribution).

Now my understanding is this:

- You don't need to 'share' the code of your program if it is a web
based application, as long as you use it internally and not depending if
it is used by employees or contractors (eg. not sell or give the actual
program to somebody else).

- Applications written in the LAMP stack, are _not_ a modification, and
such you also don't need to provide any code for it.

- GPL 3 does not affect RH 4 (I'm not sure about this one, though).

Am I correct, or is the legal-department? What arguments can i bring to
the table to convince them otherwise?

Thanks for your advice,

Dirk Dierickx <dirk.dierickx at>

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