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Re: The worst that can happen to GPLed code

From: Erik de Castro Lopo
Subject: Re: The worst that can happen to GPLed code
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 2004 07:14:22 +1000

Chris Jefferson wrote:
> First of all, let me say Hello!
> Also, let me point out that (I hope) I'm not a troll. I've just been
> working on a project with some friends and we are now considering what
> licence to release it under. I'd quite like the GPL, but a number of my
> friends would perfer a "you can read the code, but you can't distribute
> altered versions" style licence.
> The reason for this is that they believe that really bad things can
> happen to GPLed code. 

If thats the case then don't use the GPL, but don't tell me not to.

> Therefore I was hoping someone could tell me, what
> is the worst someone can do?
> Some example thoughts we had..
> 1) Someone could just take our source, remove all copyright notices from
> both the source and displayed when the app is run and put their own on

There have already been a couple of cases of companies distributing
binaries derived from GPL sources which the company claimed was their
own code. A quick disassembly of the code showed otherwise and the
company was publicly humiliated.

Stealing and releasing source code like this is far, far, FAR more

> 2) Someone could take our source, make minor alterations to it, and then
> redistribute it without admiting they'd changed it and leaving our
> copyright notices intact (both in source and in the help/about box),
> making it look like we wrote the evil version.

If it was a binary only version, then yes its possible, but again,
a comparison with the real binary would quickly reveal the truth.

You should also note that if you release a binary only product,
a semi skilled cracker/virus writer could still modify that 
binary to do evil things even without the source code.

> Now, we realise that evil people could always just ignore the GPL, that
> isn't a fault of the GPL. But are these two things possible?

Possible yes, but in both cases, the truth is relatively easy
to come by.

> Also, I notice that we must distribute the source in a version such that
> it can be compiled by the user. Does this mean:
> 1) We have to distribute (if asked of course) a copy of the source of
> all libraries, even if they are publicly available (but not installed by
> default)


> 2) We can't write code that depends on as it's compiler (say, not
> that we have any yet), as people wouldn't then be able to compile it
> themselves without buying

Nope, all you have to do is release the source. If it doesn't compile
for people thats their problem.

  Erik de Castro Lopo (Yes it's valid)
"No Silicon Heaven?  Preposterous!  Where would
all the calculators go?" -- Kryten, Red Dwarf

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