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Re: The worst that can happen to GPLed code

From: Byron A Jeff
Subject: Re: The worst that can happen to GPLed code
Date: 15 Jun 2004 00:33:00 -0400

In article <cakf1o$452$>,
Chris Jefferson  <> wrote:
-First of all, let me say Hello!
-Also, let me point out that (I hope) I'm not a troll. 

You know that's the typical first line of 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. 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

Not legally. And if you can show that it's your code you can enforce your
copyright and prevent them from distributing that code.

-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.

Not in the GPL. It requires prominent notices of changes that are made to the
sources. It's a nitpick requirement for exactly the situation outlined above.

-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?

All things are possible. However as the copyright owner you have recourse
to correct them. In fact if you can show damage because of 2) above (i.e.
support time etc.) You could in theory collect damages from the infringer
if you can catch them.

-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 

Nope. The GPL never states that you have to make it easy for the user to
recompile. What that phrase really means that you don't send them a printout
of the source so they'd have to type it back in. So it really means in
a user readable electronic format.

I get source code all the time that uses libraries that not distributed with
that source. It's not a requirement.

-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

Not sure about that one. Anyone?

-Thank you for your help, sorry if I'm asking FAQs, and please try not to 
-start a flame war ;)

No problem. Hope you consider releasing under the GPL. A good project will
snowball as more folks start developing for it.


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