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GPL/artistic licence issues

by Anonymous Monk
on May 27, 2001 at 20:14 UTC ( #83615=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Non-Disclosure Legal Fun w/ my ex-Employer

Your post strikes me as I'm currently starting a 'legal fight' with my employer
(I really don't like it, but I'm not given any other option).

Being all but a lawyer, I'd like to know how the GPL/Artistic Licence affects what I coded while I was employed, specifically :

I used the LWP to code several products for my (futur ex) company.
I'm employed in France.

  • Isn't it mandatory to make public the sources of those product as they were made using LWP and Perl ?
  • Is it legal to keep perl script sources secret
    (based on the fact that they're only executed on our servers, even if we're selling the use (ASP)?
  • Am I allowed to code a new 'open source' (here read 'free') version of the products (as the GPL grant me the right to enhance anything producted by a GPLed product) without exposing legal pursuit ?
  • Can I use the fact that they use several GPL,Artistic licence based products without granting access to source against my company ?
  • Can my company claim any rights on the SOURCES of a product based on the LWP ?
    (I know they can charge for it, but can they forbid someone else (me?) to use the sources to make a new products (free or not)
I know that my questions are REALLY vague, but feel free to ask for any info you'll find necessary to give me an accurate answer...

If you find the question redundants, you're probably right, but I want to make things sure, by asking them a slighltly different way...

NOTE: Sorry for not posting under my real nick, but as my employer and several co-workers can read this post,
I prefer to play it safe...
(I'd like to add, for those willing to restrict AM rights, that I've never been so happy that AM CAN post...)

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: GPL/artistic licence issues
by chromatic (Archbishop) on May 27, 2001 at 22:52 UTC
    Disclaimer: I am not an attorney at law, nor is this legal advice, especially in your jurisdiction.

    With programs licensed under the GPL and the Artistic license, you are free to choose one to follow. You do not have to follow both. (You are also free to make other arrangements with the copyright holder, if you can.)

    Under the GPL:

    • You must make the sources of your product available to anyone to whom you distribute your product.
    • Linking to a GPLd application still falls under these rules.
    • It is *probably* okay not to distribute sources executed only on your server, as the output of a GPLd program is generally not also GPLd. This is a point of contention, however, and will likely be addressed in GPL v3.
    • In general, only the copyright holder can pursue legal action against someone violating the license. Specific laws in your jurisdiction may apply.
    • If you modify the program, you only have rights to your modifications, not the original version.

    Under the Artistic License:

    • You are not required to provide your modified sources to people to whom you distribute your modified version. You must provide documentation that describes your changes in detail, though, and you must rename any modified applications. You must also provide instructions on how to obtain the original version.
    • Linking to libraries or packages under the Artistic License does not require your application to use the Artistic License.
    • The output of a program under the Artistic License does not fall under the license.
    • Again, it's probably only the copyright holder who can pursue license violations.
    • If you modify the program, you only have rights to your modifications, not the original version.
    In either case, you do not have a right to the source of an application from a user or company if the application has not been distributed to you. (That sentences parses poorly.)
Re: GPL/artistic licence issues
by OeufMayo (Curate) on May 28, 2001 at 00:42 UTC

    ObDisclaimer: I am not a lawyer, though I should have normally become one. I just chose Perl instead of Law, go figure...

    Hey AM!
    In France, the law about copyright makes really clear that everything you do during the time spent in a company and for tasks that are described in your contract belongs to the company.
    No matter the nice GPL forewords you may write at the top of your file. As long as you're hired to write programs, all the programs you write during your work hours aren't yours.

    Now, that being said, you may be aware that Perl (and most of the modules that come with Perl, including LWP) is ruled by two licenses: the GPL (french translation) and the Artistic License. If you read the 5th article of the Artistic License, you'll notice that one can distribute a program (or package) in another product. This other product doesn't need to be available for free.

    That being said, I don't think that your (future-ex)company will apply the GPL for the programms you wrote, if it has half a clue of where its interests are... Since they belong to it, the License can easily be switched to the Artistic License.

    As for distributing the sources of the programs. As I understand the Artistic License, you don't have to provide the source of the package, as long as you document where can you find the original version, and what modifications did you make to the package.

    /msg me if you want more infos on how coypright and intelectual property works in France!

    my $OeufMayo = new PerlMonger::Paris({http => ''});</kbd>
      In France, the law about copyright makes really clear that everything you do during the time spent in a company and for tasks that are described in your contract belongs to the company. No matter the nice GPL forewords you may write at the top of your file. As long as you're hired to write programs, all the programs you write during your work hours aren't yours.

      I agree, but
      As the product I wrote for the company use and modify the LWP which is GPL'ed -> this product is GPL'ed (even if owned by my company).
      So I should be allowed (at least) to modify and sell it ?(I should be granted an acess to the source and a right to modify)
      In this case how could I be sued for copy ?
      Or did I miss something ?

        It is my understanding that the GPL and Artistic licences apply to copying and distributing the "program". I am free to modify perl (or any other module or such licenced software) and 'use' it as I wish (whether I'm an individual or a company). If that means I create a web application based on those modified programs and run it on my server (perhaps charging a fee for usage), I am not required to release source --- because I am not "distributing" the product, merely providing a service (or, as chromatic says: I would only be providing output from a GPL'd program). Once I decide to sell, or give away, or otherwise *distribute* the application itself, then I am bound by the terms of the GPL or Artistic licence (which are different in what they actually allow me to do).

        If you coded programs for "the company", the company (probably) owns those programs. They do not own any of the original open source code that your products were based on (or that your products used) and they cannot restrict your future use of such code (probably stating the obvious here). But, they do own your new code, and any modifications you made to the original code while in their employment. (Note: this interpretation is based on assuming relatively standard employment agreements you likely signed when you were hired). So, yes, they can restrict you from using code you wrote for them (which isn't really yours) to make new products.

        Should you decide to "independently" recreate their modified software you may still have legal problems --- convincing a court that you recreated it independently of your work for the company may prove difficult at best (hard to claim 'clean room' status since you were intimately involved with their project).

        if (you|the company) releases it, it has to be under the GPL (considering LWP is only licensed under GPL, which it ISN'T)... You could then sell it.
        The entire thing depends on weither or not 'it is released'. If the company decides not to release it, there isn't much you can do about it.

        ... Quidquid perl dictum sit, altum viditur.
Re: GPL/artistic licence issues
by jepri (Parson) on May 27, 2001 at 21:05 UTC
    I'm not to sure about your question about proprietry code that relies on GPL stuff. When in doubt, I tend to think "What does Debian do?". They never package proprietry code, so that doesn't help. Red Hat and SUSE do, so that makes me think it's ok.

    As an example, just because something compiles under gcc doesn't mean it inherits the gcc (GPL license).

    Had you modified LWP in any way, however, you would have had to release your LWP changes as GPL.

    I'm not familiar with the Artistic License (PERL), but at work we use a product which stealth installs perl on the hard drive without making a mention of it, and then uses it as a back end. This indicates that either it's ok to abuse the perl distribution license a bit or that the authors of this software are over the line.

    You are definately allowed to write your own free version of the software that you wrote for your company, but if it looks too similar you leave youself open to charges of copying. The GNU people do this all the time (it's called Chinese Wall or Black Box coding - you try and reproduce the functionality with no knowledge of the inside workings. Gnutella, ICQ and AIM clients were done like this).

    Update Chromatic gives a much better answer below.

    I didn't believe in evil until I dated it.

      According to the GNU GPL FAQ:

      The GPL does not require you to release the modified program. You are free to make modifications and use them privately, without ever releasing them. But if you release the modified version to the public in some way, the GPL requires you to make the modified source code available to the users, under the GPL. Thus, the GPL gives permission to release the modified program in certain ways, and not in other ways; but the decision of whether to release it is up to you.

      So if you modify LWP, and you release it, it has to be under the GPL
      (Update:considering LWP being released under the GPL; I don't know how it works under Artistic License)

      ... Quidquid perl dictum sit, altum viditur.
      Section 8 of my copy of the Artistic License says:
      8. Aggregation of this Package with a commercial distribution is always permitted provided that the use of this Package is embedded; that is, when no overt attempt is made to make this Package's interfaces visible to the end user of the commercial distribution. Such use shall not be construed as a distribution of this Package.
      I believe that this explicitly allows the "stealth install".
      Thanx Jepri !

      By the way, I may contact you soon for any available contract
      (seen on your homenode ;-)

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