hypothetical(?) GPL problem

Marc Eberhard m.a.eberhard at aston.ac.uk
Thu Jun 21 07:54:12 UTC 2001

Hi Alessandro!

On Wed, Jun 20, 2001 at 04:04:04PM +0200, Alessandro Rubini wrote:
> The idea has always been more in the lines of "do ut des": I give my
> software if you give me back yours (that uses mine, otherwise I have
> no say in your licensing policies). And it seems a fair game to me.

I think, that's also the idea behind BSD. The difference is, if you want to
enforce this or not. Does anybody have any statistics or experiences which
approach was more effective in the long run? I could imagine, that it is
more tempting for a company to use a library, if it is BSD-free. And that
they might consider sending their modifications to the original developers,
for whatever reason. While on the other hand, they might be scared off by
the (L)GPL and thus not touch the library at all. Which results in no return
at all. What will be of more benefit on a large time scale? Even if only one
company in one thousand sends patches, this is still more then none at all.

> Company P can use my free library inside their web server to deliver
> .png barcode images to the end user. The end user will never know that
> it's produced by a modified free package. Still worse, a company can

I wonder, why a company would want to hide the origin of a lib, if it would
have been perfectly legal to do so. In case of the GPL it is clear. If they
would reveal, that they use your lib, you could sue them. Thus they can only
use your lib, if they hide, who has written it. On the other hand, if
linking your lib into their program would be legal, why would they want to
hide this fact from the end user? It could be even a plus for them to tell
their users, that they use a known good lib for their program. So maybe one
should only enforce to _acknowledge_ the usage of a free lib by closed
source software companies, instead of restricting the usage itself. Just
putting some text on the box like: "This software uses the excellent free
lib xyz". 

The issue, that someone can use your source code to make money has been
discussed here widely and I think, we agreed, that we are aware of this and
that we accept this. So if you write a web server and someone uses it to
earn a living through web hosting, that's considered as being OK. Same for
compilers or bar codes from web pages.

> I think *this* is an issue. Hope the GPLv3 will address it, but I
> really can't think how it can (very-restrictive licenses are not
> unilateral: the user must agree to the license. Do you remember
> about http://www.freeworldlicence.org/ , (passed here in December).

No, but it doesn't make to much sense to me either. You don't want separate
worlds. You want free software to penetrate the closed source software field
too and replace some of these existing solutions with free software. But you
can only achieve this, if you allow both worlds to mix.

> And yes, the more I think about the original question, the more I'm
> convinced it can be done. Well, companies are already distributing
> binary stuff that the user must link with the Linux kernel (like the
> disk-on-chip driver: I used it, no thanks).

And it brings me back to my original comment: Why should we want to do
anything against it? There are quite a few examples of companies, that
started with closed source "contributions" to free programs, but later
decided to release the source code, often under the GPL. Give them the
chance to get step by step closer to free software. That's definitely making
it easier for them.


email: marc at greenie.net
email: m.a.eberhard at aston.ac.uk, web: http://www.aston.ac.uk/~eberhama/

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