GPL - possible violation - what should I do?

Georg Jakob jack at
Fri Mar 22 13:51:54 UTC 2002


On 22 Mar 2002, Claus Färber kindly wrote:

> Georg Jakob <jack at> schrieb/wrote:
> > Why the hell would anybody want to reverse-engineere a programm when you
> > can have the source under GPL?
> You completly missed the point: The statement only shows that it
> is the intention of the legislator to allow creation of
> interoperable software regardless of copyright restrictions.

I thougt it was clear that nobody would want to reverse engineer apache. I 
got your point - you wanted to make clear the intention of the legislator 
using an example that can't be directly applied to apache. On the other 
hand, I just wanted to point out that maybe your example was to far away to 
be applied to apache (or other Free Software, especially GPLed) at all.

> So, depending on national law (in Germany ?307 II 1. BGB) this
> might render a clause that only allows interoperable software
> under certain conditions (such as being GPL) void.

In general I agree with you. Apart from "such as being GPL". But please 
read on. 

> Otherwise, this would lead to strange situations: You would always
> be allowed to decompile the programme to find out the information
> neccessary to write interoperable programmes (as it can't excluded
> by contract) but you could not write interoperable programmes
> because of other licensing restrictions.

Good point. Please see my other response for details on that.

> > So, your analogy is incorrect: What you are reffering to is a legal
> > measure designed for cases in which you buy software and can not use it
> > the way you need, because the Licensor refuses to give you the source.
> No, that's plain wrong. The Directive 91/250/EEC clearly says:
> | Whereas an objective of this exception is to make it possible to
> | connect all components of a computer system, including those of
> | different manufacturers, so that they can work together;

| [...] provided that the following conditions are met: 

| (a) these acts are performed by the licensee or by another person having 
                                      ^^^^^^^^                      ^^^^^^
| a right to use a copy of a program, or on their behalf by a person 
| authorized to do so;

OK, this means that you have to have a license for the binary to be 
privileged by the directive, i.e. you have to have a valid contract with 
the licensor. Notice that nothing is said about licensing conditions - those 
are left to negotiation between licensor and licensee.  

| (b) the information necessary to achieve interoperability has not 
| previously been readily available to the persons referred to in 
| subparagraph (a)

For GPLed Software, the source is available per definitionem.

The problem is *readily*. Do the sources have to be available without any 
limiting conditions? No, that would be ridicoulus. They have to be 
available under the same conditions as the binary. And the GPL is one of 
the few licenses that does exactly that. 

> (where it is clear from later paragraphs that components refers to
> both hard and software.)

Yes. License compatibility is *not* an issue of the directive. Neither is 
the fairness of a license.

So we are back to the purpose of the law, this is not only about what the 
law itself says, but what can be derived from it's content and context as 
the true intention of the legislator.  

And the cases I mentioned - where the manufacturer=vendor refuses to give 
you the source - are what the legilator had in mind. The directive simply 
wasn't designed for Free Software.

kindest regards,         jack at
Georg Jakob    
"After explaining the situation to the machine clearly with appropriate
 use of a screwdriver and cleaning up I got the update to behave." (A. Cox)

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