[License-discuss] Intimacy in open source

Lukas Atkinson opensource at lukasatkinson.de
Sun Jan 13 12:04:18 UTC 2019

The only part of the (A)GPLv3 that mentions “intimate” communication is the
definition of Corresponding Source, which clearly must include anything
needed to run the software. This is a discussion of *upstream*
dependencies! “Intimate data communication” is only used to explain when
the GPL-covered software is “designed to require” some subprogram or
library. In the simplest interpretation of this paragraph, two components
might be involved in intimate communication when the software cannot run
without the other component.

This GPL paragraph makes no statement about *downstream* uses. A software
is subject to the GPL if it is a derived work in the sense of copyright.
But this is for copyright law to determine, not for the GPL!
(Although it seems to be the FSF’s opinion that linking or intimate data
communication e.g. by sharing complex data structures means that two
components form a combined work, which does affect downstream works.
Consider also the existence of the LGPL.)

The GPL is technology agnostic. The only mention of linking is as an
example. The license itself provides no reason to believe that a process
boundary is sufficient or necessary as a license boundary. In my
understanding of the GPL, the Corresponding Source of some software may
very well include services that run as separate processes, iff these
services are necessary to actually run the software and do not fall under
some exception like System Libraries.

Applied to the example of database drivers, this means that a driver is not
part of the Corresponding Source of a database – the DB can run just fine
without a driver. There might be a stronger argument that the corresponding
source of a GPLv3 driver would include a DB, since the driver is useless
without a DB. However, an Apache2-licensed driver does not require
GPL-style Corresponding Source. Unless a driver is a derived work of the
database for some *other* reason, there is no issue with a permissive
driver – copyleft server combination.
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