The infamous "DRM clause" of the GFDL reads:

You may not use technical measures to obstruct or control the reading or further copying of the copies you make or distribute.

From Wikipedia:

A criticism of this language is that it is too broad, because it applies to private copies made but not distributed. This means that a licensee is not allowed to save document copies "made" in a proprietary file format or using encryption.

In 2003, Richard Stallman said about the above sentence on the debian-legal mailing list:

This means that you cannot publish them under DRM systems to restrict the possessors of the copies. It isn't supposed to refer to use of encryption or file access control on your own copy. I will talk with our lawyer and see if that sentence needs to be clarified.

On the other hand, sending GFDL-licensed material over HTTPS/SSL/whatever is definitely not your "own copy"; you are merely obstructing unscrupulous individuals from reading the copy as it travels through the network, but it is obstruction nonetheless.

Edit: I just noticed that the GPL has a requirement that could potentially be interpreted similarly. Section 6, final paragraph:

Corresponding Source conveyed, and Installation Information provided, in accord with this section must be in a format that is publicly documented (and with an implementation available to the public in source code form), and must require no special password or key for unpacking, reading or copying.

  • This is an excellent question. However, I feel that you're not interpreting distribution, obstruction, and control correctly (or reasonably, for use of a better term). I've got a number of good points hovering in my mind, so when I find the time, I'll see if I can get a long, good answer to this :)
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 19:59
  • Note that "reasonably" is not necessarily a criterion the legal system applies. Sometimes it does, but not always.
    – MAP
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 21:08
  • @MAP There are numerous tests applied in the legal system that can be used to create a definition of "reasonable." The word pops up more frequently than you may think.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 21:52
  • @Zizouz212 Yes, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. There have been many rulings where everyone I knew (with computer backgrounds) thought the ruling was not "reasonable" by any definition that we would accept. Maybe my final sentence should have been "Usually it does, but not always." I admit I was in a hurry and not being as finicky about word choice as I could have been (as my lawyer often tells me :-).
    – MAP
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 22:04
  • @MAP Perhaps that the general community would accept, but I'm talking about a case that would be reasonable in a court of law. Most laws (at least here in Canada), employ the word "reasonable." I'm also taking it synonymously with terms such as "fair use" or "fair dealing."
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 22:06

1 Answer 1


I don't think the GPL is affected.

To “convey” a work means any kind of propagation that enables other parties to make or receive copies.

So I'd say you convey the source by placing it on a web server and allowing others to obtain it from there. Individuals downloading it do not convey the source themselves, nor is each such transfer to be seen as a separat act of you conveying the software. And while it is true that due to the nature of SSL, each transfer does require a key, I'd say that this is not a special key since any visitor is free to negotiate a key.

Using the same kind of rationale in the case of GFDL, I'd say there is one copy on the server, which you access to create a second copy on your computer. The network transfer would be part of that copying process, and anyone interested would not be obstructed from obtaining their own copy as long as the origin server is freely accessible. Obtaining the document from an authentication-only server would probably be a different matter, but in that case the person offering the document would be to blame, unless special permission by the copyright holder (which might be the same person) gave him permission to do so. In which case that same permission probably extends to the transfer to clients.

What has me more worried is that I must not obstruct others from reading any of the copies I made. So is the fact that my user account is protected with a passwort an obstruction which prevents others from reading the files I downloaded? This would be a weaker case than that of an encrypted home directory or proprietary file format. And again fall under "own copy".

  • I think this answer is wrong. Each time a client accesses a resource from a server, the server sends a copy of the resource to the client. How is this not an act of conveying? Also note that servers are not guaranteed to send identical, or even related, responses to multiple requests for the same resource. I do not see how we can handle this, other than by considering each response as a separate act of conveying. Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 10:27

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