Unpublished GPL Software

Luca Andreucci andrew at andrew.org
Thu Jul 11 16:23:50 UTC 2002

Marc SCHAEFER wrote:

>>  Now let's say another user gets his hands on the source code without 
>> the original author's knowledge and/or permit, and starts distributing it.
> I would say it depends how it happens. If the file was deposited on a
> public access WWW server, then, yes, the license to apply would be GPL.
> If the user broke into a computer, then he has no right to distribute the
> software he stole in any case, since he got hands on it by breaking the
> law.
 > I am no lawyer, though, but the above seems common sense.

You bet it seems.  That is also because I was admittedly trying to push 
a concept to its extremity.  But even in your terms, a lot of things 
that come to mind playing devil's advocate stand to be proved.  For a 
start, what is to be defined as a 'public access WWW server' precisely? 
  Who's tracking the alleged first step of the distribution process? 
And if this very first step is finally tracked down, what if no one is 
caught red handed breaking the law to accomplish this step?

On the other hand, what if someone comes up with: "Hi all, my name is 
Random J. Hacker.  I wrote a couple of programs years ago.  Then one day 
my evil friend Richard M. Stallman bashed me over the head and secluded 
me in his basement to come up with this devious plan called FSF.  I was 
forced to code all day for all of these years, just to eventually get 
something to eat in the evening.  I just managed to break free and I've 
got news for you, this all isn't how it was intended to be, give me back 
my emacs and gcc right now, so that I can license them under one of 
those nice Microsoft EULAs.  And GNU this while you're at it."

Apart from trying to amuse the audience, the fact I was trying to bring 
attention to is that giving a proper and extensive definition of 
'copying and distribution', which, IMHO and as I was stating, is the 
whole point the current thread can be reduced to, may not be an easy 
task, if possible at all.  And since most of what GPL dictates applies 
to software distribution, having a clear picture of this topic is highly 


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