GPL Issue

Arnoud Engelfriet arnoud at
Tue Sep 21 20:23:42 UTC 2010

David Woolley wrote:
> In the UK, it is the case that using software is protected by copyright, 
> but my understanding is that in the USA this is not the case, and the 
> GPL is drafted with that situation in view.

True, under European copyright laws (following directive 91/250/EC)
executing software is covered under copyright. However that same directive
also provides for a basic usage right granted by law:

Article 5 Exceptions to the restricted acts

1. In the absence of specific contractual provisions, the acts referred to
in Article 4 (a) and (b) shall not require authorization by the rightholder
where they are necessary for the use of the computer program by the lawful
acquirer in accordance with its intended purpose, including for error

Someone who downloads GPL-ed software is a 'lawful acquirer' even when he
does not accept the GPL. He therefore has the right to use the software "for
its intended purpose".

In that case the user has not accepted the contractual limitation of liability
(yes, the GPL is a contract under European law). You would have to argue
under basic tort law whether damages caused by the bug have to be
compensated. It seems unlikely - someone downloads free stuff from the big
bad Internet and then asks money if the software has a bug? 

Regards, Arnoud

IT lawyer, blogger and patent attorney ~ Partner at legal services ~

More information about the License-discuss mailing list