[NZOSS-Openchat] GPL source code distribution restrictions?

Francois Marier francois at catalyst.net.nz
Wed Nov 16 12:16:14 NZDT 2011


On Wed, 2011-11-16 at 08:06 +1300, Simon Green wrote:
> As a matter of interest, I have received a contract from a vendor today
> which attempts to put restrictions on the circumstances under which they
> will supply source code for GPLed binaries they deliver to us. They will
> only supply it if the binary was distributed on 'physical media' and only
> within 3 years of supply of product.

The three year timeframe comes from Section 3(b):

  http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/gpl-2.0.html#section3

However, there's nothing that your right to get source code to binaries
you received on physical media. The vendor can't get out of their
obligation to send source code to any third-party by sending the
binaries over the network. So that seems bogus to me.

> As far as I am aware, the GPL does not allow for any such restrictions.
> Does anyone know for sure one way or the other? I know that you're allowed
> to charge a reasonable fee to provide the physical media on which the
> source code is delivered, but I don't think you're allowed to make up any
> other rules.

Unfortunately, there are companies who seem to have an interest in
taking advantage of the fact that v2 was written before the Internet was
common and insist on making it as difficult or inconvenient as possible
to get the source code.

Under GPLv2, a company could force you to pay a nominal fee to send you
a source code CD shipped from their HQ in Ireland for a binary you
downloaded over the Internet.

Under GPLv3, that's no longer an option since electronic distribution is
covered by 6(d) and 6(e) and that the "offer for source" in 6(b) is only
for physical distribution:

  http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html#section6

Cheers,
Francois
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