Business use of VNC

Jonathan Morton chromi "at" cyberspace.org
Sun, 17 Jun 2001 13:02:59 +0000


>  > > Ah.. So can you instruct the technicians to not distribute the source
>>  > of the server outside the company?
>>  No. If you use GPL'd source code to create a modified version of some
>>  GPL'd program that you then distribute, you must release the modified source
>>  code under the GPL.  If you don't ship the modified source code with any
>>  binaries you distribute, then you must make it available upon request. In
>>  either case GPL license must accompany the program (binary and source). You
>>  cannot sell GPL code. You can sell services. You can make GPL'd 
>>programs used
>>  by you for your services freely available. Give back to the community and
>>  keep free software free.
>
>The modified GPL code would not be 'shipped' or 'distributed' anywhere
>outside the company. It would be used on servers that provide a service.
>So in this case, 'customers' would be using the normal VNC client and
>they would connect to a server that some ASP that happens to run a
>modified version of the Xvnc server.
>
>So under this circumstance, the code for the modified internal version
>of Xvnc would have to be made available to the public even though
>they are not getting a copy of the binaries?

If you give the technicians a copy of the binaries to install, then 
under the GPL they must also be given access to the source.  The GPL 
also gives the technicians a right to distribute/modify source and 
binaries in the same way, so they could conceivably release it to the 
public.

HOWEVER, it might be that giving the technicians a copy of the 
binaries solely for company use might not be classified as 
"distribution".  IANAL, but given that under US law a corporation is 
a "single entity", distribution of code within a corporation might 
not actually be distribution at all.  In that case, your 
modifications need not be GPL'ed and thus you can expressly forbid 
your technicians (and anyone else) from distributing them.  You'd 
best talk to the Free Software Foundation themselves to find out if 
this is the case.

The second interpretation, however, does not quite fit with the 
spirit of the GPL.  I suggest that unless your modifications involve 
restrictively-patented systems or trade secrets, you simply avoid the 
hassle and GPL the modifications, and then if the code goes public it 
is for benefit rather than detriment.

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