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Re: More GPL questions

From: Stefaan A Eeckels
Subject: Re: More GPL questions
Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2006 12:10:45 +0200

On Tue, 17 Oct 2006 11:20:54 +0200
David Kastrup <> wrote:

> Stefaan A Eeckels <> writes:
> > But source code as such is never a derivative work of the stuff that
> > might or might not be called when the compiled program is executing.
> Sure.  But the question is whether the compiling and linking is done
> at the choice of the end user, or whether it is done on behalf of the
> distributor:
> >> For example, if one distributed an "install kit" that would
> >> mechanically compile and link proprietary software with GPLed
> >> libraries, it is perfectly conceivable that a court would rule that
> >> going against the "licensed as a whole" demand of the GPL.
> >
> > This is a weird example - distributing source code of a proprietary
> > product in order to compile and link it with GPLed libraries smacks
> > of putting the cart in front of the horse.
> It smacks of license circumvention.  If the whole kit comes with its
> own (unchanged) GPLed tarball for this purpose, the distributor could
> try this to claim that _he_ did not distribute a linked copy, and that
> the user was free to compile, link and run the software as long as he
> did not redistribute it.

I can well imagine a commercial product ("Schmoo":) under a non-Free
license that comes in source format (so that it can be optimised/tuned
for the platform of the client) that needs a GPLed library to function
(or acquire optional functionality). 

The source code of Schmoo is not a derivative work of the GPLed
library. The compiled version of Schmoo (which is never distributed) is
a derivative work (or compilation, or anything that is affected by the
copyright of the GPLed library). The GPLed library is not included with
Schmoo. The Schmoo Makefile doesn't download the library and doesn't
compile it - that's left to the buyer. The manual simply specifies that
Schmoo uses/needs this library.

> > Does the fact that there are instructions, or even another package
> > ("Build tools for Schmoo") turn Schmoo into a derivative work of the
> > GPLed library it needs to be useful?  Most certainly not
> Straw man.  The question is not whether the instructions turn Schmoo
> without the library into a derivative of the library: of course this
> is not the case.  The question is whether the actual product sold is
> Schmoo _with_ the library. 

The actual product sold is the Schmoo source code. The copyright status
of the source code is not affected by what the user does, or doesn't
do with the source code of Schmoo. 

> If the distributor can prove that one typical use case for a
> customer would be to let the code rot away without ever compiling or
> linking it (indeed a typical use case for example code), then the
> product does not implicitly include the library for its completion.

 has _nothing_ to do with "completeness" or "usefulness".

> > - the copyright status of the source code of Schmoo doesn't depend
> > on how useful its compiled version is with or without something, but
> > if the Schmoo source code is _itself_ a derivative work - in other
> > words, did the author use only his own work or did he include source
> > code from other authors.
> The source code is not a derived work as far as I can see, but the
> question is whether a mechanism created and provided for the sole
> purpose of acquiring a copy to be used in order to circumvent the
> requirements of the GPL does not, in itself, count as redistribution
> of the person providing this mechanism.

If the result of such a mechanism is the same as providing a compiled
"Schmoo" program that is under the copyright of the GPLed library, then
you have a point. If a single-user license to the source code of Schmoo
is sold, it doesn't matter whether the buyer compiles Schmoo, or feeds
it to his pet canary. 

> > What we write, as programmers, is source code. All the rest is
> > merely mechanical transformation, and has no effect whatsoever on
> > the copyright status _of the source code_.
> Sure, but the question is how the responsibilities and liabilities get
> distributed.  If I hand someone a device and say "press this button",
> the responsible person for an ensuing explosion is not the person
> pressing the button.

Talking about strawmen. 

> Again, the question is whether the source code alone can be considered
> the actual product sold.  If it is example code, this would probably
> be the case.  If a convenient way of creating and using a copy of the
> GPLed software for the purpose of circumventing the GPL is included,
> the status of this copy and its use appears more than doubtful to me.

I write an original program that happens to use your GPLed library. I
license my source code under a non-Free license to Alex. He compiles
my code, and links it with your GPLed library that happened to be on
his system (or that he downloaded for the purpose, for all I care). 
Go ahead, sue me for copyright violation.

Stefaan A Eeckels
"Object-oriented programming is an exceptionally bad idea which
 could only have originated in California." --Edsger Dijkstra

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