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gpl as applied to ideas

From: Joseph S.
Subject: gpl as applied to ideas
Date: 6 Dec 2006 11:20:43 -0800
User-agent: G2/1.0

Hi all,

I have a slightly non-obvious issue:

I am about to make my own proprietary desktop program on MS Windows XP
using MS .Net 1.1.
I have done my bit for open source every now and then. Except for my
Win XP license, everything else I use on my PC is FOSS: OpenOffice,
SharpDevelop, Keynote, Moz Firefox, Eclipse, WinHTTrack, FileZilla,
etc. I regularly give good ideas to open source projects. I have a nice
set of links ("2stepsback") which are public domain. (if
the stars align themselves particularly well, you may find a free
program fitting just your requirement by going through my links :-) )

I have a habit of reading Licenses *before* pressing the "I agree"
radio button.

However, I have one problem with GPL: it talks of source code, linking,
calling, mixing/combining free/non-free code and finally free/non-free
documents. But nobody seems to be talking of concepts, ideas and

My opinions are as follows:
1. Ideas are often *more important* monetarily than parts of source
code. They give USPs to your program.
2. In the shareware / proprietary software world, the de facto standard
is to simply copy (or "rob" ?) ideas. M$ is the biggest thief:
Sybase->MS SQL Server, Java->.Net, *nix shell-> M$ Powershell,
Writely->Windows Live, Unix->WinNT, X Server ->Vista/Longhorn
Transformation etc.

And all is well !

Every shareware author knows that on the first day of public
availability of his shareware product, someone somewhere has already
started copying his program's idea, screen UI Layout, parameters and
features, etc etc

But nothing can be done about it - otherwise, we will all have a really
horrible system - almost like software patents - say someone patents
the *concept* of chat / email / downloading / etc. and you have to pay
royalty to chat online. It seems some idiots (in the 90's) staked claim
for TCP/IP. It actually happens.

Now, coming to my specific issues,

1. If I copy UI ideas and program features from a well-made GPL program
into my program, without even looking once at the source code, let
alone copying it, and acknowledge the idea contribution explicitly in
my License agreement, am I said to be abiding by the GPL as far as
"ideas" or "concepts" go?

2. If I look at ("inspect") source code of a hugely successful and
popular open source GPLed program that everyone uses and write
similarly structured corresponding code in *another* totally different
programming language, and then give correct attribution to the GPL
program in my license, am I abiding by the GPL ?

You see, in both cases, the idea is what I have copied (used from the
GPL package). But, I am specifically, explicitly stating that I took
this idea from so-and-so GPL program, thereby immediately
*transferring* the idea to anyone who reads the license. Thus, the idea
remains "free software".

Anything wrong with that?

No, I am not going to copy source code unless I'm permitted by the
author in writing.


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