GPL compliance

Gary W. Swearingen garys at
Fri Jun 30 01:16:20 UTC 2006

Mario Vukelic <mario.vukelic at> writes:

> On Thu, 2006-06-29 at 09:48 -0700, Gary W. Swearingen wrote:
>> You're supposed
>> to have licenses from of _ALL_ owners of IP on the CD, not just the
>> owner of the most recent derivative, and there are thousands of them.
> Are you saying that we don't have those?

No, I'm not saying that.  (Except maybe for a few cases such as Unix
and BSD derivatives, which will probably never be a killer issue.  The
fact that the SCO case seems to be going nowhere doesn't mean that it
won't or that they didn't have a small case somewhere within their
huge outer case; just be glad that it is IBM fighting them, and not
just the FSF or such.)

As I said:

   The hope is that all of these other owners have previously licensed
   the software to everyone with some kind of general public license,
   be it FSF GPL, BSD, MIT, X11, etc.

That's a hope that all open-source publishers must have, unless
they're foolish enough to have not thought about the issues much.

> Right, therefore GNU/Linux
> distributions don't exist.
> Please take a look at /usr/share/doc/<package>/copyright for any piece
> of software that is installed.

That's silly.  Take me seriously, please.

>> Canonical shares ownership of the IP on the CD with many and one owner
>> can't speak for the many.  The hope is that all of these other owners
>> have previously licensed the software to everyone with some kind of
>> general public license, be it FSF GPL, BSD, MIT, X11, etc.  But if
>> they're nasty licenses with magic statement clauses, then you should
>> (?) worry about your magic statements for all.
> What are you talking about? Ubuntu main and AFAIK universe repositories
> consist entirely of Free and Open Source software:

I did not say they didn't (with possible minor exceptions as noted
above).  I _was_ implying that the GPL's magic statement clauses make
the GPL nasty.  I was talking about the OP's statement that he was
worrying only about the Canonical license for the whole CD and I was
saying that he needed to also worry about the magic statement terms
of licenses on other GPL'd software (but not that of BSD, MTI, etc,
because they are not nasty enough to have any such clause).

> The restricted and multiverse repositories are different, but are also
> redistributable. Read up here:

Redistributable software is redistributable only under the terms of
their licenses.  The issue at hand is whether the OP can ignore,
say, Red Hat's requirements, and simply satisfy Canonical's.  (Whether
satisfying Canonical's simultaneously satisfies Red Hat's is one of
the things that he should worry about, IMO.  It's not obvious.)

>> To repeat for clarity: That license that covers the CD is only between
>> you and Canonical and only applies to the IP owned by Canonical. 
> This is complete nonsense. Well, maybe the license that covers "the CD"
> does.

So it's complete nonsense unless it's not?  That's hard to argue with.
Yes, that's the license that the OP was worrying about and the one I
was referring to.  From 17 USC 103:

    The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only to
    the material contributed by the author of such work, as
    distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work,

That copyright is licensed by the owner to each party who agrees to
it's terms.  The proprietor (eg, the FSF) doesn't threaten the world
with lawsuits; it threatens individual parties who are deemed to be
violators.  And by the quote just above, the owner has no basis to sue
over pre-existing IP; just it's own, such as that covered by the
license.  The other software must be considered (worried about)

> The _software_ on the CD however is mostly licensed under GPL,
> BSD, and several other licenses that all grant these fundamental
> freedoms (in the definition of the Free Software Foundation): 

Yes, as I stated before and quoted above.

>       * The freedom to improve the program, and release your
>         improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits
>         (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for
>         this.

Sorry, that depends upon a peculiar definition of "freedom" which
is not held by many open-sourcers.  Copyleft requires that you
pay for the privilege of publishing derivatives by cross-licensing
the deriver's IP back to the copyleftist (and to others).  Cross
license are a form of fee-licensing by barter.  It's a restriction
that means that you have no more freedom (in kind) to derive from
it than any other fee-licensed software like many software libraries.

BTW, 17 USC 101 has this interesting definition:

   The term "financial gain" includes receipt, or expectation of
   receipt, of anything of value, including the receipt of other
   copyrighted works.

> I can't follow you here

If I believed that, I'd expain further.

>> But we both seem to have missed 3(a),
>> which some publishers seem to interpret to be satisfied by keeping the
>> source on line, without a statement (a "written offer", whatever that
>> might mean). 
> This interpretation might just come from the fact that 3(a) does not
> require a "written offer", no?

Yes, but only along with some other facts which are more debatable.
If a OS publisher mails out a code-only CD, can he satisfy "Accompany it 
with [...] source" by making the source available on line (without the
promise to keep it there ala 3b).

> The GPL here clearly says that you have to do _either (a) _or (b) (or
> (c)): either accompany the program with the source code in a usable
> format, or accompany it with a written offer for such. Or, as in
> Daniel's (non-commercial) case, refer the receiving party to the Ubuntu
> sources (which it seems is done by a printed statement on the CD
> cover) .

But when he's considering his satisfaction of the terms of his license
with, say, Red Hat, it's not quite so obvious that it can be satisfied
by Ubuntu's promise which is not mentioned (even by implication)
AFAIK.  Maybe that's what the licensor (not necessarily the FSF)
means, but maybe not.  It wouldn't if I had any GPL'd IP in Ubuntu.
If I was selfish enough to use GPL, I'd want all publishers to provide
the source, not just the last up-stream ones or non-commercial ones.
(And how is that not discriminatory and thus not OSD-compliant?)

>>  I wouldn't be a bit suprised if you can't find such a
>> statement by any owner of IP on the CD.  I can't say I remember ever
>> seeing one, and I often pay attention to these sorts of things.  And
>> I've probably not seen an unwritten offer, either.  :)
> Again, as per GPL 3(a), (b) and (c), there is no need for such a
> statement because the source code as released by the developer (this is
> what you refer to as "owner of IP" in your newspeak) usually is readily

I must comment on that not-so-wisecrack.  It's sad, but not suprising,
to see accurate language referred to as "newspeak".  Ransom Love is a
kernel developer, but "his" software is owned by Red Hat.  It is the
owner and licensor.  Sorry if you can't deal with the truth.

> available in a useable form from the same servers as the binaries. 

It's never so available to those poor folks without Internet who buy CDs.

>> These legal niceties are worse than a can of worms and you can never
>> be sure how licensors and/or courts would deal with them until you put
>> them to the test, and it seems impossible to avoid taking risks by
>> ignoring stuff.  Of course, you're advised to get legal advice (i.e.,
>> advice from a hired lawyer) before doing anything.
> Don't spread FUD, please. In reality, the distribution mechanics and
> legalities are well established. E.g., many distributions started by

With many legal niceties well ignored.  The BSDs do the same thing; I'm
not Linux bashing.  The OP wanted to worry about one silly thing that
few have worried about until very recently.  I was just trying to get
him to understand that there is another very-closely-related issue. He
should worry about both or neither, IMO.

As for calling my replies "FUD", it seems that you're telling me to
ignore licensing issues raised by others.  I already do and will
continue to do that normally, but it's because of laziness and not
caring enough, but I've come to like the OP (but sadly not enough to
remember the spelling of his name :), so I thought I'd edumacate him.
I don't much appreciate your attempt to sensor me before I've made
much of a pest of myself.

> It is generally agreed upon that the absence of license related lawsuits
> in the FOSS world are indication of the GPL (and others) are quite solid
> legally.

If you mean that the legal risks (mostly meaning lawsuits or threats),
I'd agree.  But I don't call that "quite solid legally".  That sounds
too much like a slimy-lawyer-speak meaning.  But there's plenty to
discuss among people who care, like the OP seems to be.

> To be safe you basically just need a list of the license of the software
> in a distribution, and you know what you can do. And you can always
> consult with the FSF:

Now you're suppling cause for FUD: How much might each of these
parties' understanding of the FSF's GPL count and what might they
think it means:  A court, FSF/RMS, "the GNU community", the licensors,
and even the poor licensee.

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