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Re: What counts as "distribution"

From: David Kastrup
Subject: Re: What counts as "distribution"
Date: Sat, 23 Jun 2007 17:20:25 +0200
User-agent: Gnus/5.11 (Gnus v5.11) Emacs/22.1.50 (gnu/linux)

Robert Inder <> writes:

> 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
> there? 
> 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.

No, it does not.  It spells out the rights of _recipients_ of
distributed software.  If there is no recipient, there is nobody whose
rights need to be heeded.

> 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 software is distributed (of _course_ you can't just duplicate
software without a license to do that) but not disseminated.

> 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?

It is internal use for the company in question.  It is not internal
use for you.  Whether or not this software is on laptops or elsewhere
does not matter.

What _does_ matter is whether or not we are talking about mere
aggregation.  If it is just aggregation, also providing the source for
the GPLed software will put you off-hook.  When you put the software
on the laptops _on_ _behalf_ of the company, the individual laptops
don't have a right to the source (laptops in general don't have
rights).  The company, however, has a right to receive the sources for
the GPLed software.

> 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"
> Windows XP?

It is likely not distribution, but for person-bound licenses (some
"license" contracts are like that) you might still need extra
permission.  You don't need for software copies that are _just_
covered by the default provisions of copyright.

David Kastrup, Kriemhildstr. 15, 44793 Bochum

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