[License-discuss] Companies that encourage license violations

John Cowan cowan at mercury.ccil.org
Sun Sep 6 17:03:48 UTC 2015

Lawrence Rosen scripsit:

> What non-GPL things are you talking about? 

Insofar as I can reconstruct my thinking of last night (post in
haste, repent at leisure), I was thinking of the ordinary proprietary
opt-out clause letting you incorporate Yoyodyne's library into your
binary-only program.  I suppose that Yoyodyne could require you to keep
the proprietary-licensed copy to yourself, even though it's bit-for-bit
identical with the GPLed version and has a common origin.

> But a more general GPL work available publicly (e.g., Linux) is and
> remains under the GPL forever. 

In my non-lawyer opinion, the irrevocability clause of GPL3 hasn't got a
leg to stand on.  If I put up a sign on my land saying PUBLIC ACCESS
PERMITTED and then take it down before prescription kicks in, the
fact that the sign also said THIS SIGN WILL NOT BE TAKEN DOWN doesn't
seem to help someone I sue for trespass, except through the exceedingly
dodgy mechanism of equitable estoppel (or quasi-contract in Roman lands).
Doubtless if they were actually in transit when I revoked the permission....

> It becomes confusing when a company adds *incompatible* proprietary
> terms to the GPL for a publicly available work. Is this a contract that
> any company can negotiate with its customers? Is that ever effective
> at restricting GPL freedoms?

I admit that such a thing is economically improbable, but I don't see what
grounds a court would have for treating it as voidable, never mind void.
(I'm assuming that any contract under the GPL only kicks in when you
exploit a GPL right; otherwise the pre-announced GPL would be superseded
by the proprietary contract anyway.)

> But I'd also try to avoid *contractual* litigation by never agreeing
> to *restrictive* proprietary contracts for GPL software. Don't contract
> away your free software. I've never seen anyone actually try to do that,
> which is why I'm confused by John Cowan's comment.

I haven't heard of it either, but that may only be only because people
don't usually announce that they've been snookered.

John Cowan          http://www.ccil.org/~cowan        cowan at ccil.org
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes.
        --Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

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