2

I am having trouble understanding Section 9 of the GPL v3 license:

9. Acceptance Not Required for Having Copies.

You are not required to accept this License in order to receive or run a copy of the Program. Ancillary propagation of a covered work occurring solely as a consequence of using peer-to-peer transmission to receive a copy likewise does not require acceptance. However, nothing other than this License grants you permission to propagate or modify any covered work. These actions infringe copyright if you do not accept this License. Therefore, by modifying or propagating a covered work, you indicate your acceptance of this License to do so.

As far as I can understand, I'm allowed to give copies of my GPL licensed work if I directly provide it to a peer, or a friend as mine. It seems that the license doesn't apply if they modify it, but it doesn't look like if it applies if they link or something. Can someone tell me what this clause in the license means?

8

My understanding is that GPL only applies to people who distribute copies of the code to other people.

So anybody who receives the GPL'd code is not bound by the terms of the license unless they also give copies of the code to other people. And then at that point they are bound by the terms of the license (but only as it applies to the code that they distributed).

It seems that the license doesn't apply if they modify it, but it doesn't look like if it applies if they link or something.

That's right, modifying the code is not infringing on normal copyright and also doesn't trigger GPL.

Just don't distribute your modified code to anybody without complying with GPL.

That paragraph is just stating (and clarifying) how copyright law works. I don't think it actually does anything. Under copyright law, you cannot distribute somebody's work unless they give you permission. For GPL licensed code, the only way you can get permission is if you comply with the license.

If you're not distributing the code, then you don't need permission to do whatever it is you're doing and you don't need to comply with the license.


Edit:

In several other places, the GPL clearly states that you must include the license in any copies you make, for example section 5.b):

The work must carry prominent notices stating that it is released under this License

This means that if you give a copy of the code to your friend, you must not remove the license.

However that restriction only applies to you. Your friend can remove the license as long as they do not give that modified copy to anybody else (then they would have to put the license back in place).

Section 9 is stating that your friend is allowed to remove the license as long as they don't make "copies" (where a "copy" is as defined under copyright law (distributing a work to somebody else), not as defined by doing "cp -a" or right clicking to make a copy).

  • 3
    The OP's title "Can I just remove the GPL license if I give something to a friend?" is not directly answered here. As far as I understand it, the OP cannot remove the license when giving code to a friend. It is just that the friend need not concern themselves with the license until they too wish to distribute any work that they do. – Neil Slater Aug 20 '15 at 7:29
  • @NeilSlater forgive me, I thought that was obvious and didn't need to be included in my answer since it's covered half a dozen times in other parts of GPL that were not quoted in the question. Updated my answer to include it. – Abhi Beckert Aug 20 '15 at 20:53
8

tl;dr: No, you can't. Chances that you will be sued by the copyrightholder for unlawful distribution seem rather slim though.

The relevant phrase is

However, nothing other than this License grants you permission to propagate or modify any covered work.

You don't need to accept the license to use the software, but you do have to accept the license to distribute the software. Giving the software to a friend is distributing the software, for which you have to accept the license to do legally.

Ancillary propagation of a covered work occurring solely as a consequence of using peer-to-peer transmission to receive a copy likewise does not require acceptance.

Means that if you received to program through something like bittorrent, you automatically share the parts you already have, and for this it is not required that you distribute the GPL with it. This is for practical reasons. You can't really be expected to share the GPL license text with every block exchanged over bittorrent.

Of course, it is unlikely in the extreme that anyone would ever sue you because you copied a GPL licensed program to a friend, but omitted the license. But why would you? It's usually more of a hassle to remove the license file than to distribute it along. Furthermore, this is not a loophole. I got the software from a friend of a friend in good faith without the GPL attached is not a defense for violating the license by distributing propriety code built on that code.

  • And if I am the relevant copyright holder? Of course, if I try and go after somebody else, I wouldn't have the greatest of times getting my way, if the court discovers my leniency towards my friend. – Zizouz212 Aug 20 '15 at 21:11
  • 1
    That doesn't make any sense at all. The purpose of a license is to grant someone else rights that would otherwise be reserved to the copyright holder. If you are the copyright holder, you can do whatever the f… you want, it's yours, after all. – Jörg W Mittag Aug 26 '15 at 19:08
2

Simle reception of the code doesn't apply the license to you, hence "acceptance not required".

Distribution does require acceptance, because under normal copyright law you wouldn't be allowed to redist, so you have to accept a license agreement that gives you the right to (i.e. the GPL).

The same applies to anyone you distribute to: them receiving your distribution doesn't apply the GPL to them; then distrubuting further does.

Modifications are similar: if you keep them to yourself, you don't have to keep to the GPL; if you distribute them you do.

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.