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Re: [gNewSense-users] Questions about the GPL

From: Kevin M. Dean
Subject: Re: [gNewSense-users] Questions about the GPL
Date: Fri, 04 May 2007 04:55:49 -0400
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> In my opinion, a common misconception is that relying on upstream source
> code is good enough. I don't think that it is since that allows people
> to say "Giving you the source is not my problem if the upstream source
> went dead.". 

This is a fact. The GPL v2 was written 15 years ago, and transfering the
source code for an entire Operating System would have been so infeasible
that it would prohibit people from sharing source. Downloading is not an
acceptable form of source transmission. Ubuntu is no more required to
provide sources for someone who was passed Ubuntu than I am; neither I
nor Ubuntu passed source to said individual.

A confirmed example where this has been considered a GPL violation
occured when Warren Woodford of SimplyMepis was pointing people to the
Ubuntu repositories saying "source is there". It caused stink, and it's
the reason why rather than freely giving source code, Warren charges for
the sources (which is allowed, but he's noted he's specifically trying
to comply in the least "giving" way.)

> I think that the community relies on the fact that
> sourceforge/Savannah/apt work so well that you are almost never in
> danger of being left without the source.
> I would recommend either entering an agreement with the upstream
> provider (the gNewSense people, who might agree to be the upstream) or
> offering the source on request as per section 3.b of the GPL.

This is a possibility. Again, using SimplyMepis, the GPL stipulates to
the creation of Agents. Given permission, a person may distribute
software as a representitive of an upstream source; in essence you still
get it from upstream.

> We all know about apt-get, but it is incidental that it exists in the
> GPLed software you are distributing, and there is no GPL clause which
> says: if the software includes a functioning apt-get, you can forget
> about your obligations to provide source code.

There's a technical distinction here. If I give you an Ubuntu CD and you
install it, and then apt-get apache or some other application, that is
two DISTINCT distributions of software. The apache you're apt-getting
would be distributed by Ubuntu, or gNewSense (or whatever distro you're
using). The fact that it's added AFTER you distributed your CD means
you're not required at all to provide sources for additional things
beyond the CD.

 > So my (non legal) advise would be to simply have a copy of the source
> code for gNewSense lying around *as you received it* and including a
> written offer to transfer source code from that. If you neither add or
> subtract from the source as you received it, and offer that to your
> downstream users, I don't see how you could induce a violation where one
> does not already exist.

In some cases this may be infeasible, but really, when trying to spread
Free Software, I try as hard as possible to GET they to take the source
code. I've passed out different distros over my time, but I always like
to remind people that what I'm giving them is good ONLY because it's
Libre - and this disk HERE (sources) is what gives you that freedom. :)

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