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I was looking to purchase a license to software from the author. The software is GPL licensed (I assume because its a Wordpress plugin - and thus compelled to be GPL).

My interest in purchasing the software from the author rather then an aftermarket site was to support the author and get updates for the lifetime of the product.

I was about to complete the purchase when I read the terms of purchase - which appears to be in breach of the GPL. I reached out to the seller/author and his response was

"If the intention of a customer in purchasing our product is to resell it, re-distribute it, or incorporate it into another product then we would prefer that they didn't purchase it. As also mentioned in our terms and conditions, "If you disagree with any part of the terms, then please do not use the Divi-Modules website, products or services."

I interpret this to a threat of the author to not uphold his obligations to provide access to new versions and support (which is what I was purchasing) if I want to take advantage of my right to redistribute a copy of the software or use it in ways the author would rather I didn't.

Ignoring for the moment that the license on the site is contradictory and on the face of it a breach of the GPL Does the GPL allow for a person providing support for GPL licensed software to tie that support to you not using rights given to you under the GPL?

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    Your question might be addressed by opensource.stackexchange.com/q/5426/50 but I'm not entirely sure if the threat here is exactly the same (it might be, but I haven't yet reviewed the terms of purchase you linked to).
    – apsillers
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 20:30
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    I would give this question back to lawSE. @davidgo did receive the software fully and correctly under the terms of the GPL and therefore has all the rights granted by the GPL. The actual question is: Can a support contract (not GPL!) for an arbitrary piece of software require that you do not make use of the rights you already have? This is out of scope for the GPL. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 10:19
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    It's unclear what you're actually asking here. Are you asking a general question, or are you asking about this specific software, terms and conditions, and this specific situation. If you are asking about this specific situation, then this question appears to require anyone wanting to answer to go off-site in order to get the actual terms and conditions which are being asked about. Questions must be self-contained (i.e., must contain all necessary information about the situation/question). Thus, as a question about this specific situation, this should be closed as "needs details".
    – Makyen
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 16:02
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    In particular, the quoted reply from the software author makes this question unclear. The author is perfectly within their rights to express their preference for what they would like people to do. What matters, however, is what terms they try to make legally binding, which is information not contained in the question, only linked to.
    – Makyen
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 16:06
  • @makyen I'm asking a general question. Please assume their T&C's purport to give them the right to stop providing support and updates if they discover you using their software in ways they would prefer you didn't. (Their actual terms are clearly a violation of the GPL - I've construed them so as to explore what I consider a partial loophole in the GPL - and which relplies have pointed out is Rehat's business model!)
    – davidgo
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 17:32

2 Answers 2

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Does the GPL allow for a person providing support for GPL licensed software to tie that support to you not using rights given to you under the GPL?

Maybe. But if you're going to do it, you need to be very careful about it.

What I think is not in dispute is that a third party "C" can do this if offering support to you "A" when receiving software from "B", so long as C is a true third party and not actually an entity controlled by B; that's two separate relationships and you are not in any way prevented from exercising your GPL rights in B's software if you do or do not take up C's support contract.

Where it becomes tricky is if B and C are the same entity. Bradley Kuhn, who is the Policy Fellow at the Software Freedom Conservancy and probably has more knowledge in this area than just about anyone else, recently wrote an analysis of Red Hat's changes to the RHEL's licensing agreements. His summary of Red Hat's business model is

The most concise and pithy way to describe RHEL's business model is: “if you exercise your rights under the GPL, your money is no good here”.

which is very similar to the case you are describing. Kuhn's summary of the position is

[Red Hat] have further argued that such business relationships can be terminated based on any behaviors — including exercising rights guaranteed by the GPL agreements. Whether that analysis is correct is a matter of intense debate, and likely only a court case that disputed this particular issue would yield a definitive answer on whether that disagreeable behavior is permitted (or not) under the GPL agreements. Debates continue, even today, in copyleft expert circles, whether this model itself violates GPL. There is, however, no doubt that this provision is not in the spirit of the GPL agreements. The RHEL business model is unfriendly, captious, capricious, and cringe-worthy.

I don't know if the SFC would be interested in pursuing a case against the plugin author; you could contact them.

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The author can license their work under multiple, incompatible licenses

As the owner, the author is not bound to follow the user-facing terms of any license. They can offer a GPL license and they can offer another license: the terms of those licenses do not have to be compatible.

As a user, you can choose to follow the GPL license or the other license. If they are incompatible, you can’t do both - you have to commit to one or the other. The owner must fulfill their obligations under whichever license you chose.

For the GPL, their only obligation is not to revoke the license as long as you comply with it. They are under no obligation to provide updates or, if they do make updates, that these will be released under the GPL. They also don’t promise that they won’t release the software under another license.

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    Thank you for your answer. I think that you may be missing that the author is bound to provide the software under the GPL because it is used with Wordpress which requires that modules be GPL licensed - practically speaking this means that dual licensing is not viable as the software is useless without Wordpress which requires a GPL compatible license. (wordpress.org/about/license more-or-less says as much)
    – davidgo
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 7:53
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    “There is some legal grey area regarding what is considered a derivative work, but we feel strongly that plugins and themes are derivative work and thus inherit the GPL license.” They’re “feeling” is not legally determinative. In any event, the owner is licensing it under GPL.
    – Dale M
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 9:55
  • @dalem gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.en.html#GPLPlugins is the "official" worf on this.
    – davidgo
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 18:31
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Open Source Meta, or in Open Source Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 8:31

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