Understanding GPL: was...What price do you want?

Buck RHList at towncorp.net
Fri Sep 26 17:11:22 UTC 2003


Thank you for your reply.  

I recognize that you work for Redhat but do not represent them in this
conversation.  Please recognize that I am hashing this out for myself,
not accusing Red Hat of wrong doing.  While that has been or may be my
perception that they are wrong, we must both remember that perception is
shaped only by those fragments we have seen and not those we have not
seen.  (i.e. the three blind men describing an elephant... One saw a
wall, one saw a tree and the other a snake.)

I reviewed the FAQ on the GPL last night.  After having read the
messages up to this point and after sleeping on it last night, I have
re-shaped my thinking a little.  

First of all, I have never questioned Red Hat's right to charge any
price they want for their product.  I have always understood the GPL to
allow a person to sell their product for any price they desire to
charge, but my problem may be in knowing where the line is drawn in the
buyer redistributing the binary.  

Here is how I understand the GPL.

If a product is fully covered by GPL, then the creator of the product
can sell the product at any desired price but must provide the source
code to the buyer for free if requested.  If a buyer desires to
distribute this product, the buyer may also charge any desired price or
may give it away freely but must also provide the source code for free
upon request from anyone that gets the product from him.

The problem comes in when proprietary programming or products are used.
GPL allows a creator to maintain copyright to any proprietary software
included in their creation provided it meets certain terms.  To
over-simplify this, I will say that if the creator compiles the
proprietary code into the same object file, his code assumes the GPL.
If, on the other hand, the creator creates a separate compilation of his
work and the GPL object calls his object, then his object is not
required to be under GPL. Here is the problem:  The buyer can distribute
the GPL portion but not the proprietary (assuming the creator restricted
the distribution of his own work.)  The creator is still responsible for
distributing the source code of the GPL portion of his work.  How does
the buyer know which is which?  

     Begin quote:
On the license thing: The GPL and your right to redistribute and copy
around individual pieces licensed under GPL are one thing that nobody
can touch. However, the compilation of those pieces as a whole, the way
they are put together, does have additional caveats, like if you
distribute it you can not call it "Red Hat" anything, you can not use
Red Hat trademarks in promoting it without a written permission, etc. 
     End quote:

Granted that here you are being specific about Red Hat and I am now on a
hypothetical, but I disagree with you in principal, if not in fact.
(allow me a little room here and drop the Red Hat name for this part of
the discussion, debate or whatever this monster is I created.)  

If I take the source code for a word processor, a C compiler and two or
three libraries, all GPL products, and I link them in such a way that I
produce a new C-compile program (call it "Jump") then I have the right
to sell the product at for any price.  But, because I don't have any
proprietary code, this entire product is licensed under the GPL.  I am
required to give the source code to the buyers and the buyer can
distribute this according to the GPL.  Here is an example of my creating
a unique collection of GPL items and creating a new product.  

If, on the other hand, I create a menu (I think they call them
switchboards now) and that menu uses my own coding and I use the menu to
make calls to the various GPL products which are modified enough to
interface with my menu, then I have a proprietary product. Now, Jump is
my product and if I want to, I can upgrade it with the newest GPL
modules by modifying them to conform.  I may distribute the GPL with it
and must provide those source codes, but I am not required to include
the source code to my switchboard nor is my buyer allowed to distribute
it.  But, that same buyer has the right to distribute those portions of
GPL that I included.

Likewise, I could create a proprietary c-compiler and a text editor and
link them from a modified GPL Library.  I still have Jump-C but where do
I draw the line in the re-distribution of the binaries?  Obviously I
have to provide source code for the menu and the GPL libraries I include
with the compiler but not the compiler and editor.  

The GPL makes provisions for proprietary products included with GPL
products.  Maybe the real question is how is the binary actually

You mixed in the Red Hat logos and other trademarks.  From what I
understand, I can copy, sell, or otherwise distribute Red Hat Linux 9.
Is this correct?  Does not GPL give me that right?  RHL includes logos

     Begin quote:
You can not represent that you are offering to others a Red Hat product
because you are not - you are not offering support, you are not offering
any of the genuine Red Hat services that we provide for our products.
We're working really hard to make sure that a Red Hat product, when it
gets offered, it gets offered with the whole set of support options and
services that we currently provide.
     End quote:

You are effectively saying that if a person distributes Red Hat Advanced
Server that it isn't Red Hat unless it comes with the service contract.
Here you are mixing the product and the service together.  I understand
that Red Hat wants to sell a package deal of both the software and the
support and not separately, but they are two separate items and as such
I am specifically referring to the license covering the software only.
It is the service contract that I saw as restricting the distribution of
that software, not the software license and that's why we are having
this discussion.  If Red Hat is selling a service agreement called "Red
Hat Advanced Server powered by Red Hat enhanced Fedora Linux and
supported by Red Hat Corporation" (That's too much to say lol) then I
believe that your statement would be more accurate.  Besides, does it
cease to become "Red Hat Advanced Server" at the end of the year if the
support contract lapses?  This is just a technicality and not worth
arguing over...

Last year when I did some research to choose a Linux to learn, I chose
Red Hat because it offered a free copy of the product (which at that
time I believed was free because of the GPL) so I could learn it without
dishing out thousands of dollars, and because it offered several levels
of support from which I could choose according to my needs.  

>From what I understand, Fedora will be supported by updates only through
the 4-6 months that it is the active release and 4-6 months while the
following release is active.  This means the support period will vary
from 8-12 months.  If, on the other hand, we were guaranteed a full 12
months updates support for each release, I believe it would fill a very
big nitch in the market.  It isn't as good as what we had with an option
of buying needed support, but I believe it would be acceptable to most
of us that want to be up-to-date without bleeding.  Some of us would
want to update when the product has been out a few months and most of
the bugs are worked out and still have 9 months of support in case a
dangerous exploit is found.  Likewise we could install a release and
purchase a year's updates for that install and feel safer.  At the end
of the year, install a new one and continue the trend, or leave the old
one until it is necessary to upgrade the computer.  Likewise, we would
be able to get which ever release is available at the time it is needed
and get up to a year's support on it.  As I see it, there is no
intermediate step from no support to the all-or-nothing support by Red
Hat.  I guess that Red Hat has decided that I am too small a fry to be
worthy of working with.  That saddens me but I realize that it is only
business.   I learned from experience that the 80/20 rule is correct.
20% of your customers account for 80% of your profit.  The ideal
business is one that only acquires the right 20%.

In all this conversation, I have learned a bit more.  Part from reading
what others say and part because I my writing these responses reveals
flaws in my thinking.  It's still a little cloudy to me, but I do see
more than I did originally.  

I don't know if there is a Linux that offers its latest release free and
then they support it for 12 months for a reasonable fee, but I'll be
looking for one that at least offers an acceptable compromise.
Unfortunately, as I see it, it won't be Red Hat.  That's ashamed, too,
because with all the books and other resources available for it, it had
real promise.

Until next time....


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