hypothetical(?) GPL problem

Lutz Horn lh at lutz-horn.de
Tue Jun 19 19:28:30 UTC 2001

Hi all,

please consider the following hypothetical scenario.

1. Software vendor V produces a proprietary program P. This program has
some function which can be implemented by using an existing and
excellent library L. Since this library is covered by the GNU GPL, V can
not use L with his proprietary program P and distribute the whole unless
he places the whole under the GPL as well.

2. Since the function which could be implemented using L is really
needed, V programs a replacement R for L which he is free to distribute
under any license he wishes.

3. Customer C gets P from V. He is unsatisfied by the quality of the
replacement R and asks V if he can change P so that it uses the superior
free library L. V walks over to C's place and changes P to use L instead
of R. He does not change the proprietary license under which he provided
P to C in the first place.

Now please consider this question:

Is V violating the terms of the GPL in step 3? Is it possible to say
that he is _not redistributing_ a work including both code form L
covered by the GPL and his own proprietary code and that he is _not
violating_ the GPL since 2.b) of the GPL only aplies to distributing or
publishing? Can V claim that he is only providing a service in altering
P after he distributed it and that altering can not be called

It is my strong believe that answering the above questions with 'yes' is
at least against the spirit of the GPL. But is it against it's words,

Lutz Horn <lh at lutz-horn.de>
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