Don't put your software in the public domain

Steven D'Aprano steve at
Fri Jun 3 22:02:13 EDT 2016

On Fri, 3 Jun 2016 11:14 pm, Michael Torrie wrote:

> I'm not sure this is completely right. The GPL explicitly says one doesn't
> have to agree to the GPL to use the software. The GPL only comes into
> affect when distribution is involved. 

Yes, you're right, I was unclear. 


in particular clause 5. The GNU Library General Public License will be

I was thinking about the difference between a user of the software (as in
programmers and developers) versus *end-users* of the software who merely
use the finished product, but neglected to make that explicit. Sorry about

Mere use of the code as an end-user does not require that you make the
source code available: the GPL states "The act of running the Program is
not restricted", which is blanket permission (a licence?) to run the GPLed

(I am surprised that it takes so little to grant end-user usage rights, but
IANAL and presumably the FSF's lawyers consider that sufficient. Perhaps
there are common law usage rights involved.)

I intended to refer to users of the GPL software as developers, that is,
those who incorporate The Program (the GPLed code) in their own code. For
those people, you need a licence to copy, distribute and modify the GPLed
code. And *that* comes with restrictions: if you distribute the copied or
modified code, then you must abide by the terms of the GPL, which is to
give *your* users the same licence as the GPL offers.

If you don't, then you have no right to copy, distribute or modify the code,
and are in breach of copyright.

> So challenging the legitimacy of the 
> GPL in court (which certainly has happened in Germany) wouldn't prevent
> one from using the GPL software. Only from distributing it.

Are you referring to Welte vs Sitecom? I wasn't aware of that until now.

If so, this case found that the GPL was valid, and enforced the terms of the
GPL against Sitecom.

There have been many times that the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has
had to force companies to comply with the GPL. There has been at least one
time that they actually had to take legal action to force compliance
(against Monsoon Multimedia, Inc, on behalf of Busybox). Normally
infringers back down when caught, but Monsoon dug their heels in and
refused to budge. So the SFLC took them to court.

Not surprisingly, Monsoon settled out of court rather than risk a bigger
penalty from a judge. As the SFLC Legal Director Daniel B. Ravicher said:

    In all of our years of doing open source license enforcement 
    work, we’ve never come across any party that thought it was 
    in their best interest to test the GPL in court, and Monsoon 
    was no exception.

They preferred to pay a financial settlement (in other words, a fine) and
come into compliance, rather than risk having a judge tell them they were
infringing copyright.


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