Confusion about the GPL’s Purpose

While googling for open source game development to see what was out there, I came across Jeff Dillon’s blog. In his entry on June 18th, 2004, he argues that the GPL needs to be updated because software is not being run on the localhost anymore. The example he mentions is Google. It uses Gnu/Linux but they don’t have to provide any of the changes they might make to the end user. He thinks this goes against the purpose of the GPL:

The GPL Needs Updating

This means that any online services company can use all the Open Source work they want without ever giving anything back. This was not the original intent of the GPL. The original intent was to bring progress to software by sharing innovations. Google or any other online service company can now use all open source code without ever showing anyone what they have done.

Copyright law is frequently misunderstood, and the GPL is no exception. The purpose of the GPL is not to spread innovation. The purpose was to secure freedom for the user. Google is able to do what it does because the GPL says they can. The moment they release the modifications to some other party, that’s when they will have to distribute the source (or promise to provide it upon request) as well. Does Google get to exercise the freedoms provided by the GPL? Yes. Does the end user of Google’s services lose any freedoms? No. They have the same freedoms that Google has to use the same software. If Google doesn’t release the changes they made, the end user doesn’t get to use those changes and so hasn’t lost any freedom.

If the GPL needs to be updated, it isn’t because of a need to foster innovation.

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