I have heavily modified GPLv3 software running on my system. If hire someone external for code-reviewed, will this be automatically a re-distribution of software? Hence I would need to provide the external code-reviewer the software under GPLv3 or are there any contracts which would avoid this. What if make this guy an employee (for a month)?


2 Answers 2

  • Say that some folks wrote some app1 and released it under the GPL-3.0.
  • Say this app1 further embeds a GPL-3.0-licensed third-party library lib1.
  • Say that I further take the code of this app1 and lib1 and create a new enhanced app2.
  • Say that I contact or contract one of the folks that authored app1 and send them code of app2 for review.

What happens then?

There is a complex interplay between open source licensing and private contract terms.

This is such a complicated situation and this is unlikely to be resolved without proper legal advice.

There are surely GPL terms in play. In all cases, the terms of the GPL will surely apply to the app1 and lib1 code. In most cases the terms of the GPL would likely apply to the app2 code and I have to meet these obligations especially if I already redistributed app2 on some app store.

On the specific topic of whether sending code for review constitutes redistribution under the GPL 3.0 this article (page 118 Does Outsourcing Trigger Copyleft?) provides some detailed commentary:

It is unclear whether outsourcing triggers copyleft, although the answer is likely no.

In particular in section 2 of the GPL:

You may convey covered works to others for the sole purpose of having them make modifications exclusively for you, or provide you with facilities for running those works, provided that you comply with the terms of this License in conveying all material for which you do not control copyright. Those thus making or running the covered works for you must do so exclusively on your behalf, under your direction and control, on terms that prohibit them from making any copies of your copyrighted material outside their relationship with you.

In contrast the GPL FAQ talks about contractors differently:

In particular, providing copies to contractors for use off-site is distribution.

So it boils down to interpreting use vs. convey and whether I have whole control over the copyrights of app2 which I have not and the nature of the contractual relationship between me and the app1 folk which is private.

I surely need to get legal advice but the GPL likely applies in may ways.


If we believe this answer from the GNU FAQ:

Is making and using multiple copies within one organization or company “distribution”? (#InternalDistribution)

No, in that case the organization is just making the copies for itself. As a consequence, a company or other organization can develop a modified version and install that version through its own facilities, without giving the staff permission to release that modified version to outsiders.

However, when the organization transfers copies to other organizations or individuals, that is distribution. In particular, providing copies to contractors for use off-site is distribution.

Then yes, giving a copy to a contractor is considered distribution but if you hire the person to make them a short-period employee, then it is not distribution anymore.

I don't know if a court would follow this logic though. It could be considered that in some specific cases, hiring a contractor is equivalent to employing them. You could check what your lawyers think about that or, to be on the safe-side, you could just employ the person.

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