distributing GPL libreries

Scott Shattuck scott.shattuck at gmail.com
Tue Jul 15 22:07:47 UTC 2008

I'm not a lawyer either, and this mailing list isn't dispensing legal  
advice. I can only relate my personal opinions and the rationale which  
led me to author the RPL rather than use the GPL for my software.

I authored the RPL, an OSI approved license, specifically to close  
what others have referred to as "the privacy loophole" in the GPL2. I  
did this by defining release requirements in terms of deployment in  
any form rather than deployment relative to an "other party" -- a  
nebulous term with no clear definition. In attempting to discern the  
intent of the GPL release clause I found myself turning to the FSF's  
web site, and FAQ pages. I did this as a way of trying to further  
determine intent of the license author -- namely the FSF. Whether a  
court would do that wasn't as relevant to me as the fact that the  
party on the other end of any contractual relationship I might enter  
into might well do that and act accordingly by not releasing their bug  
fixes. That was an unacceptable result from my perspective. As a  
previous poster characterized, I guess I'm a "generous sharer", not a  
"generous giver" ;).

I certainly can't say that the three categories I mentioned in my  
first post would hold up under the scrutiny of a legal proceeding, but  
I can say that others before me have included those groups when  
discussing who might be exempt from releasing their code. The FSF's  
GPL2 FAQ would seem to provide evidence (admittedly weak from a legal  
perspective) that the FSF would agree with the interpretation that  
those parties may be able to keep their code fixes and extensions  

There's clearly an open question in my mind as to what constitutes an  
organizational/"other party" boundary with respect to a hierarchy of  
Government entities. Is the Department Of Defense a separate "party"  
from the U.S. Government? Who knows? I certainly don't. Is the City of  
Denver a single entity? How about Los Angeles County? Or the State of  
California? I think the reality is that the courts in those  
jurisdictions are likely to rule in whatever way they deem necessary  
to safeguard their overall sovereignty goals. And those arent' likely  
to fit my model of release to an other party.

Of course, my original point has by now been lost in the details. My  
point was that the GPL's intent (again as I see it) isn't to enforce  
sharing, it's to ensure user freedoms are preserved (a worthy goal to  
be sure). But those freedoms include the freedom to derive financial  
and other benefits from GPL code without reciprocating in at least  
those cases where a relevant jurisdiction would rule that no "other  
party" was involved -- whatever that means.


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