distributing GPL libreries

Scott Shattuck scott.shattuck at gmail.com
Tue Jul 15 20:40:01 UTC 2008

The question of what constitutes "other parties" is likely to vary not  
only from state to state but from country to country etc.  
Nevertheless, at least up through GPL 2 the FSF's stance, from their  
own FAQ, was:

Does the GPL require that source code of modified versions be posted  
to the public?
The GPL does not require you to release your modified version. You are  
free to make modifications and use them privately, without ever  
releasing them. This applies to organizations (including companies),  
too; an organization can make a modified version and use it internally  
without ever releasing it outside the organization.
But if you release the modified version to the public in some way, the  
GPL requires you to make the modified source code available to the  
program's users, under the GPL.
Thus, the GPL gives permission to release the modified program in  
certain ways, and not in other ways; but the decision of whether to  
release it is up to you.
What's an "organization"? Well, that's also open for interpretation.  
And the fact they specifically call out companies as being included in  
that definition implies that the FSF recognizes other types of  
organizations (which aren't specifically delineated). Further comments  
speak specifically to contractual work:

Does the GPL allow me to develop a modified version under a  
nondisclosure agreement?
Yes. For instance, you can accept a contract to develop changes and  
agree not to release your changes until the client says ok. This is  
permitted because in this case no GPL-covered code is being  
distributed under an NDA.
You can also release your changes to the client under the GPL, but  
agree not to release them to anyone else unless the client says ok. In  
this case, too, no GPL-covered code is being distributed under an NDA,  
or under any additional restrictions.
The GPL would give the client the right to redistribute your version.  
In this scenario, the client will probably choose not to exercise that  
right, but does have the right.
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