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About a week ago I found some commercial software that is closed source using two GPL v2 licensed packages in the binaries. I emailed the company back and forth and they finally agreed that they would release the source code to me. However, they state that they will ship it to me (perfectly fine under GPL) but that the processing time would be around 15 months due to COVID-19 and their engineers working from home. This seems extremely excessive to put source code on a disk and mail it. I assume they are doing this to stall the release of the source code. Is there anything in the GPL license that requires reasonable processing time for releasing the source code? The software has been out for over 2 years at least and has had the two offending packages in it since the beginning. Do I have any options for requesting a reasonable processing time?

Edit: I am located in the US and their main operations are in Norway, I believe.

  • Your options depend on your jurisdiction. Where are you, and they? – MadHatter Jul 11 at 5:38
  • @MadHatter Great point. Post edited to clarify. – Hunter Beach Jul 11 at 6:37
  • Do you want to take a read of Someone is violating the copyleft license, they are refusing to give me the source code and, if you still have things you want to know, refine your question accordingly? – MadHatter Jul 11 at 7:03
  • @MadHatter That question doesn't answer mine. I'm asking if there is any provision in the GPL that would require timely processing time. They aren't refusing like that question, they are stalling. Further, those answers mostly say to go to court but I'm not the copyright holder of the packages in question, therefore I don't have standing to challenge them in court. – Hunter Beach Jul 11 at 7:43
  • Thanks, that's clear. – MadHatter Jul 11 at 8:02
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The language in GPLv2 s3b says nothing about the permissible time to fulfil a demand for Complete Corresponding Source, but given that the offer only has to be valid for three years, I doubt that a 15-month delay could be seen as reasonable by anyone.

In any case, COVID isn't, generally, a permissible reason to delay on a legal obligation; see all sorts of sources commenting on various retailers' failures to honour refund obligations after COVID-related cancellations, eg this.

The issues of third-party rights (the right of someone other than the licensor to sue the licensee for failure to fulfil the licence conditions) and specific performance (the right to ask a court to order a licensor to fulfil a licence condition, instead of merely awarding damages to compensate for their failure to do so) were covered in a talk at FOSDEM that I wrote up for LWN. The upshot was that in civil law jurisdictions, third-party rights do exist and specific performance is available, so apparently you could in theory ask a Norwegian court to compel the delivery of the source. Whether you think this is worth doing I must leave to you. You should certainly take professional legal advice before doing so.

Practical (rather than legal) remedies are fully covered in our earlier question on the subject.

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