2

The Web site for the Wordpress software indicates that the software is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) v2 (or any later version of the GPL) from what I can tell. A thought that comes up is that when a user views a Wordpress-powered or Wordpress-based Web site, that the user could receive HTML markup and CSS styling data (among other things) that is licensed under GPLv2+. In addition, the user may receive GPL-licensed client-side scripting code.

There is a search engine, Startpage, which has a feature called Anonymous View. When a user has a list of search results after doing a search in Startpage, they can use the “Anonymous View” option by a search result to view that specific page in Anonymous View mode in Startpage. When a page is viewed in Anonymous View, the Startpage service remotely fetches the page and presents it to the user. Users can click hyperlinks in the page being viewed while remaining in Startpage’s Anonymous View. (A thought that comes up is whether the Startpage service alters or rewrites a Web page’s data when that page is viewed in Anonymous Mode and whether copies or modified copies of the retrieved Web page may be stored (hopefully temporarily) on servers that are part of the Startpage service.) More details are here. It is also possible to configure the Startpage service to specifically use US (United States) servers or to specifically use EU servers (EU probably referring to the European Union), or to use whichever servers are the closest or fastest.

Assume that I do the following:

  1. I visit the Startpage site.
  2. I go into the Startpage settings and I configure the Startpage service to only use EU servers. I indicate that the changes should be saved using a cookie. I then exit the Startpage settings page.
  3. I do a Web search in Startpage and I receive a list of results.
  4. Among the search results is a Web site that is not mine and that is Wordpress-based or powered by Wordpress. Perhaps the site also has a custom Wordpress theme and some custom Wordpress plugins that are GPL-licensed.
  5. I select the Anonymous View icon for the Wordpress-powered site and the Startpage service retrieves and loads the site in Anonymous View.
  6. For the Wordpress-powered site that is being shown in Anonymous View, I click on one of the site’s hyperlinks and the site goes to a different page of the same site.

The question is: At this point, am I still in compliance with the licensing of the GPL-licensed Wordpress software (in addition to any custom GPL-licensed theme or GPL-licensed plugins that the Wordpress-powered site has)?

1
  • As a rule of thumb, you cannot violate the GPL without distributing something to someone else. While it might be possible for Startpage to violate the GPL, it certainly isn't possible for you to violate the GPL in the scenario you describe, because you are merely receiving the page, not distributing it. In short: If there is a GPL violation here at all, it's not your problem.
    – Kevin
    Dec 2, 2022 at 19:57

1 Answer 1

2

Usually the website (the HTML code) is not under GPL License, even if the CMS (like WP) is. I believe that the question should be more generic. Something like: "Is a modifying proxy in compliance with GPL when it processes GPL-covered content of a website?"

What the modifying proxy does is taking the original website, copying the content (images, etc), changing the links, and providing this modified content to the user. The content is obviously changed (changed URLs), so the question is: does the proxy provide the respective source code? Yes, the source code is delivered in the HTML, JS etc. which it provides to the user. So no GPL-related problem.

There might be, however, an issue with the license of the website, its terms of use. If, for example, the author of the website had put the content under a CC-BY-ND License, then the proxy would be breaking the license, as the change in URLs can be considered a derivative work.

It is a different consideration if such a modification could be considered to fall under 'fair use'. That would obviously depend on a multitude of conditions and side aspects, which cannot be easily covered by a generic answer here.

3
  • I have likely thought about the issue of US fair use covering a user retrieving a Web page via Startpage Anonymous View. In particular, what happens if the Startpage user is in the US and has set the Startpage service to specifically use EU servers before retrieving the Web page? From what I understand, most countries do not have the same “fair use” doctrine that the US does though they may (hopefully) have copyright exceptions.
    – Richard
    Dec 3, 2022 at 8:10
  • A thought: How does retrieving a Web page with copyrighted content via Startpage Anonymous View compare to viewing the same Web page via the Google Translate service?
    – Richard
    Dec 3, 2022 at 8:14
  • We all are here in a grey zone. If you look at 'Google Translate' you will see that in Google's Terms of Service they treat 3rd party content in a way to shift the responsibility to us (the users). I have not found a page with T&Cs of Startpage. Dec 6, 2022 at 15:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.