On Fri, 14 May 2004 17:14:47 +0100 (IST), Ronan Cunniffe
<rcunniff at stp.dias.ie> wrote:
> BadCompany is selling a piece of hardware, say a wireless router,
> using Linux. They offer the source code on CD for a trillion euro.
>> They are clearly *way* out of line with the spirit of the GPL, but
> they've broken the letter of it depends (AFAICS) on whether they can
> defend in court that a trillion euro is the physical cost of copying.
>> Either there is an upper limit on the price of access to source code, or
> there is a very serious flaw in the GPL.
>> Is there something I'm missing in this example?
No. Not for that specific example.
For the redistribution (access to source code) aspect of this, they
are limited to costs of redistribution. So, your example would be
against licence terms, unlikely to happen, but if it did arise, your
only ultimate way of getting satisfaction would be to take it to the
What Paul and myself are talking about is, as Paul calls it, "first
sale". It wouldn't apply to a wireless router. The company want to
sell wireless routers, a commodity item, and will not find the GPL
helpful in their quest to gouge customers.
Were they however to develop a wireless router operating system, using
GPL code as a base, they would be free to withhold that extended work
for as long as they liked, and free to negotiate with the "world
association of wireless router people" for a fee for the release of
these fantabulous improvements to currently available, state of the
art, GPL s/w.
Some realistic examples. Two cases in point:
This guy has written an LGPL multimedia library that people find useful.
It does quite a lot, but not quite everything. When people complain on
the mailing lists about missing or new functionality that they would like
or require: he basically either says (a) that he will get around to it, or
(b) if they pay him to made the modifications that the work will get done
This is the commission model in practice and afaik he makes a living out
of it: doing commision work for companies who need support for brand x of
As part of doing paid work for these companies, he will often give them
exclusive access to the additional functionality for a period of time, say
three or six months. At that point, he will add it into the main LGPL
A s/w PABX originally written by an employee of Digium, who are a telecoms
equipment provider (T1/E1 cards etc). It is dual-licenced, under the GPL,
and a Digium licence. There are a number of issues relating to this, but
they understand licencing well and afaics are fully compliant with the law,
and have been nice enough to donate a really good s/w pabx to the
You can fork as often as you like, but if you want your code to enter the
Digium codebase, you must disclaim copyright to them. I think at this
point they have rights on it for their commercial licence, but they also
re-inject this code back into the GPL version and usually everyone is
Anyway, commercial enterprises seem to want a s/w PABX, and there are
often requests on the mailing lists for programmers to write commisioned
I think you were primarily talking about redistribution. Although the
word reasonable doesn't appear in the GPL, I think you are right that
it is not possible to gouge customers on redistribution. Getting market
value for work based on GPL or LGPL s/w is however possible.
To sum up:
- if you are copyright owner, you can do charge what you like
and assign whatever licence you like.
- if you extend gpl s/w, you can charge what you like for these
extensions, but as soon as there is a first sale, the s/w is
basically commoditised. If your customer is not interested in
making further extensions or publishing your extensions, then
this may not be the case and your changes could at that point
even command a price for second or third sale. You have no
guarantees after first sale though.
- if you extend lgpl s/w, you can charge what you like for the
extensions and sell them as often as you like, without
commoditising your work.
- if you extend both lgpl s/w and gpl s/w, where both of these
extensions are only useful in conjunction with each other, then
you can charge what you like for either or both, and can keep
your lgpl modifications to yourself, publishing your gpl
modifications, which are basically worthless or of little worth
without also having access to your lgpl modifications.
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