Questions / Concepts GPL. Was: Re: GPL License with clause for Web use?

simo simo.sorce at
Thu Nov 22 17:05:21 UTC 2007

On Thu, 2007-11-22 at 15:36 +0000, Sam Liddicott wrote:
> Because the FSF would lead the way in a future license subverting the
> supposedly fixed terms of past licenses. 

Until you keep thinking of licenses as *sacred text* you won't go far.

Licenses are *means* for a goal.
Licenses are not and cannot be immutable.
Licenses *change* to adapt to new threats and changed legal frameworks.

> > > I don't like the idea that one license can restrict the terms of
> > > another license.
> > >     
> > 
> > In fact this does not happen. The *requirement* is only for AGPL or
> > combined works with the AGPL. But the work under GPLv3 even when
> > combined remains under the GPLv3.
> >   
> The fact that you use the word requirement doesn't change my internal
> concern, it just makes me repeat it using different words:
> I don't like the idea that one license can add place extra
> requirements on use of software governed by another license.

The GPLv3 *explicitly* allows these new requirements by the wording it
used, it's not like an unrelated license can add new requirements.

> if it works as I understand, then as a USER of GPL3 software (not
> distributor) I have to provide it's source if I use it with AGPL
> software to provide a web service.

Under AGPL this kind of use is considered distribution or conveyance.
I totally understand your point, and I, personally, do not like much
AGPL and will probably not use it, but this provision make sense if you
look at the goals of a copyleft license which are to let users be able
to get the source code of what they *use*.

And you can't claim they are not *using* your software.

> I used to have to provide the source only if I distributed it.

You have to recognize that SaaS is different from traditional software.
you, as a distributor may not like AGPL, well then, don't use it. It's
perfectly understandable. But you distribute your software already so
it's not a big deal for you and your users, they can always get it.

> If so, then the AGPL is putting extra restrictions on my USE of GPL3
> software by requiring that I meet the requirements of another license.

As I said you are free to see a requirement as a restriction, it is all
about point of view. Many BSD believers see all GPL requirements as
restrictions, they are not right nor wrong, they simply have a different
point of view.

> Thanks what I meant.

That was very clear to me :)

> Previous licenses have been based on copyright, by granting
> conditional distribution rights, but section 13 of the seems not to be
> AGPL such a term, it restricts use regardless of distribution.

It really depends on what you consider distribution.

> Is this based on copyright permissions required to "install" the
> software? Or does 13 affect non-distributing service providers?

Copyright law is not clear enough and is too old to clearly define
distribution in the digital age.

If you stream music from an internet radio station, are they just
*using* the music? Or are they distributing it to you? In traditional
terms that would be broadcasting, except that on the internet it can
very well ber unicast.

When your application sends down javascript or flash or even just
html/css code snippets, are you *using* that software or *distributing*

The answer is not simple at all, AGPL has one answer, GPL has the other
one, that's why it make sense they both exist.

Once this is accepted, whether you like AGPL or not, then the matter is:
is it so bad that GPLv3 can be used by such projects?

Again the answer is not simple at all, and probably really depends on
what is your main field of interest. Yours is obviously the more
controversial (web apps), and that's why the matter is so important to

I think a very important consideration is how much probable it is for an
AGPL project to be successful. So far I know (I am ignorant tho) of no
really successful AGPL based projects. And given that most people really
do not like AGPL too much, I think the possibility of AGPL becoming a
problem for most people is almost irrelevant. It is a theoretical
possibility yes, does it warrant all the fuss? I think no, I think it
should just be one of the things you know and keep in the back of your

Now a good question (imo of course) is this: what would FSF think of a
GPLv3 license where the author indicates that the AGPL clause is
evicted? Would that license be still compatible with normal GPLv3
software? Would that make it more acceptable to you?


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