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We are discussing if it would be a license breach to post / distribute GPLv3 licensed material on Facebook (of course with attribution to the origins of the material and the owner)?

Some say if you are the owner of the repository you can spread it via Facebook, and if you only do have a fork you cannot do this.

You have to agree to "IP-Licensing" for all content you post on Facebook. This gives Facebook "non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post" and so would override GPLv3.

It is allowed to share and modify GPLv3 licensed content if you

  • add a license
  • add the origin of the document
  • add the owner of the copyright

Facebook will not do this if they are allowed to use parts of posted IP content. It can be they use GPL content and ignoring added information as listed.

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    "if you post anything on Facebook it gets 'special Facebook licensing'" - Why do you think that posting code on Facebook would change that code's license?
    – Brandin
    Dec 8, 2017 at 15:53
  • If it get's "special Facebook licensing" this conflicts with GPLv3 which does not allow to license same subject with different licenses - isn't it?
    – df8oe
    Dec 8, 2017 at 17:45
  • You haven't given any reason to think that it gets "special licensing." What is the basis for you thinking that?
    – Brandin
    Dec 8, 2017 at 19:28
  • You have to agree to "IP-Licensing" for all content you post on Facebook. This gives Facebook "non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post" and so would override any othe license.
    – df8oe
    Dec 8, 2017 at 20:48
  • How is that agreement with Facebook in conflict with GPL-v3's requirements?
    – Brandin
    Dec 8, 2017 at 21:07

1 Answer 1

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If you were to post a GPL work on some service such as Facebook, the difficulty arises that we may only convey this work under the terms of the GPL. In particular, GPLv3 section 4 says:

You may convey verbatim copies of the Program's source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you [state the license, keep intact all licenses, notices, and disclaimers, and include a copy of the license].

So if we view the service only as a distribution medium, this would be fine. For example, the GitHub terms of services are crafted so that they have just enough rights to perform their service, but e.g. don't have any right to prepare derivative works. As such GitHub will comply with the GPL, and it is possible to post GPL works on GitHub.

The Facebook terms of service are very different, and you issue a broad license grant when you post any content. This license has three important properties:

  • The license is sub-licensable, i.e. they can issue licenses to the work to other people.
  • The license is a “license to use any IP content”, without explaining what “use” means.
  • The license is not restricted in purpose, such as “in order to display your content to other users”.

Sublicensing is a problem because a GPL-covered work may only be conveyed under the terms of the GPL. If they were to sublicense the work, it would probably be under a more restrictive license, thus stripping the recipient from their GPL-granted rights.

The vague permission to “use” the content clashes with the GPL because the GPL allows some uses only under certain conditions. Notably, derivative works may only be created if they are also licensed under the GPL. This would not have been a problem if they had restricted themselves to specific uses, such as creating (unmodified) copies of the work and displaying the work, which are allowed almost without restrictions under the GPL.

If they had limited this license grant to a specific purpose, it would have been possible to argue that they would only be a distribution medium, not a license recipient under the GPL – similar to how you do not grant a GPL license to your internet service provider for GPL works that you transmit via their connections. Confusingly they do concede a limitation that this license grant is bound by your privacy settings, but it is unclear from their terms of service how this works with that very broad license grant.

As an example of how this license grant would subvert the GPL if you were to publicly post GPL-covered works on Facebook, consider that they would receive the very broad permission to “use” these works. That goes beyond the rights you would have received via the GPL, so you can only post these works if you are the (sole) copyright holder. Without any limitation on uses, a possible use would be to incorporate any artwork or code into their apps. It is unlikely they would do that (e.g. because they also promise to delete the posted contents under some conditions). But unlikely is not good enough: this appears to make it possible to strip the GPL from works you posted to FB.

As a quick note, you suggested that “Some say if you are the owner of the repository you can spread it via Facebook, and if you only do have a fork you cannot do this.” It doesn't matter who “owns” the repository, but who holds the copyright of the contents. In particular, a repository may hold contributions by multiple people, which all hold the copyright to their contributions. The repository owner would then still be bound by the GPL for the contributions, and would be unable to grant rights that go beyond the permissions they received through the GPL.

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  • Despite the wording of Facebook's agreement ("license to use any IP content"), the act of posting content could not subvert the GPL license. Consider a simple example: suppose I post a portion of the Linux kernel on Facebook (GPL v2 licensed). Anyone who encounters this post will receive that code under precisely the same license. Now suppose Facebook staff tries to subvert the GPL license in some way, perhaps by incorporating that code into a closed source product of theirs. Does that mean they are in the clear, just because I posted it there? No. That would mean Facebook are in violation.
    – Brandin
    Dec 11, 2017 at 7:12
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    @Brandin “the act of posting content could not subvert the GPL license”? I disagree. When you post content on FB you license that content to FB under the ToS you agreed to. Since you would be licensing the GPL'ed work to FB under non-GPL terms and therefore in violation of the GPL, you and not FB would be infringing. The licensing relationship between you and FB needs to be viewed separately from the licensing between you and other users, to whom you did not issue a broad license grant under the FB ToS.
    – amon
    Dec 11, 2017 at 15:01
  • I would like to think that the original, more restrictive license would take precedence in court, but who knows these days.
    – RubberDuck
    Dec 21, 2017 at 18:40

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