The GPL and secrecy

Derek Martin
Mon, 17 Jan 2000 19:54:17 -0500


>>>     In a recent slashdot discussion, someone reasserted the often-expressed
>>>     opinion according to which a company may choose to keep modified GNU
>>>     GPL'ed software secret, as long as it didn't distribute either source
>>>     or binaries of it, just like anyone is free to make private
>>>     modifications of such code and not redistribute.
>> I agree with that position, as a question of legal interpretation of
>> the GPL.  The reason is that the company is not distributing the program
>> in that case.
>Do you understand the implications of that collective licensing?
>It means you the negate personal freedoms you ought to promote,
>you submit individuals to whichever "group" they may belong to,
>company, government, association, family, church, community or whatever.

I think you have a lack of understanding of agent law, at least how it
works here in the United States. If I hire and pay a programmer to work
at my company to modify some GPL'd code, then he/she does so on my
behalf, and the work done becomes mine.  The programmer doesn't
necessarily have the right to do anyhing with the code, because the
programmers time, and the output of that time, have been bought and paid

I think your earlier statement, regarding the company not being an
individual, and therefore not having rights as such, is also indicative
of a lack of understanding of law, again, at least here in the U.S. 
Companies, or "corporate entites" are generally considered to have the
same rights as individuals in our legal system.  So your arguments are

One caveat: I am not a lawyer. I did, however, study business law, and
this is my understanding of the situation you describe.

>What if I license my modified GNU GPL'ed code to an "association" of
>which I'm the life-long manager, and require people to sign-in the
>association so as to access the code, at which time they'll have no
>choice but withdraw their individual liberties?
>If I accept your interpretation of the GNU GPL, then I can take GPL'ed code,
>and transform it into SCSL'ed code, by requiring people to enter my rackety
>"community" so as to access the code. "All hope abandon, ye who enter here!"

The GPL is written in such a way as to prevent that from happening.  The
company can prevent the redistribution of their own proprietary code,
but they can not redistribute it under a different license.  They can
also not prevent the distribution of the original code under the GPL.

The same is true for any organization that has the same legal rights as
an individual, such as: an individual, a non-profit organization, or a
religious organization.

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"    "Who watches the watchmen?"    -
Juvenal, Satires, VI, 347 

Derek D. Martin      |  Senior UNIX Systems/Network Administrator
Arris Interactive    |  A Nortel Company  |