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What counts as "distribution"
What counts as "distribution"
23 Jun 2007 14:52:58 +0100
Gnus/5.09 (Gnus v5.9.0) Emacs/21.3
This feels like it should be a frequently asked question, but having
looked at various guidelines and FAQs, I'm still uncertain.
My root question is: what constitutes "distributing" software?
Is there a definition somewhere?
Here's a specific situation.
My company has been approached to write some software for a company
that carries out inspections on client's sites. That software will
*not* be GPL -- they want it for their own use, to give themselves
competitive advantage. However, we intend to use some GPL software
(e.g. MySQL) as part of the overall system.
We will (on their behalf) be installing, on their servers, both GPL
software and the non-GPL software we're writing that relies on it.
Since there are no restrictions on the ways in which GPL and non-GPL
software can be *used* together, I do not think there are any
licensing issues involved in this.
However, they will also be running a cut-down system on laptops that
inspectors will take with them on inspection visits. How does it get
The obvious thing to do would for us to create a ZIP file or similar
containing all the necessary software --- both the GPL tools
and the non-GPL software that depends on it.
The GPL restricts the distribution of GPL software with non-GPL to
"mere aggregation", and I'd rather not get into worrying about whether
that applies to us.
But, having read the FSF's FAQ, I believe that putting software onto
lots of computers isn't "distributing" it, at least as long as the
laptops belong to the company.
I worry that this sounds like hair splitting, but... Is that right?
The physical location of the laptops -- the fact that the inspectors
will carry them about --- does not mean that this is not "internal
use", does it?
I am also worried by the last sentence of the FAQ, which says...
However, when the organization transfers copies to other
organizations or individuals, that is distribution. In particular,
providing copies to contractors for use off-site is distribution.
How does this (and especially the words "use off-site") bear on the
possibility that our client might in future want to use a freelance
inspector? Or indeed sub-contract inspection services?
Our client may want to say to some individual or company "Go and
inspect the equipment on that site. Use this laptop (of ours) to
record your observations".
Am I right to think this does not constitute "distributing" the
software? If it did, would it not also count as "distributing"
What if our client wanted to say: "Go and inspect the equipment on
that site: install this software on your laptop and use it to record your
observations. But you must then delete it".
Here, they do not want to grant the third party inspector any rights
over the software we are developing for them. So they will be
intending to transfer posession of the software without giving any
(enduring) rights to it. Is *that* distribution?
I don't think it is what the GPL means by distributing, and should
thus be free of all its obligations. But I can't see a name for this
other activity. Nor can I see anything to clarify my understanding of
"distribution", though I do notice that the GPL FAQ mentions
"publishing" at some point.
So although there must be some lines that might get crossed somewhere
in this area, I don't know what/where they are, and so I'm not a happy
Can anyone shed any light?
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- What counts as "distribution",
Robert Inder <=