[development] Modules that integrate non-GPL PHP apps violatethe GPL.

Larry Garfield larry at garfieldtech.com
Fri Sep 7 15:33:16 UTC 2007

On Fri, 7 Sep 2007 09:14:52 -0600, Laura Scott <laura at pingv.com> wrote:
> On Sep 6, 2007, at 4:28 PM, Thomas Barregren wrote:
>> Assume you write a module for Drupal. Any meaningful module to
>> Drupal implements at least one hook. That alone makes the module a
>> derived work of Drupal.
> I wonder whether that in fact is true. By this logic, if you write an
> application that interfaces with Word, then Microsoft owns it as a
> derivative of their product. Is that how copyright works? Every time
> two different applications touch, we have litigation as to who has
> the most cooties?

No, only if Word's license explicitly said that they own any Macros you write.  AFAIK it doesn't (although I've not actually purchased a copy of Word since last century).  

If Word were GPLed, they still wouldn't own your macros.  There is no transfer of ownership in the GPL.  There is only a requirement of GPL re-licensing for derivative works, e.g., Word plus your Macros wrapped up together.

> If someone pulls on a door handle, does he become a derivative of the
> door? Some things are designed to be utilized by other systems. APIs
> exist in large part to allow different systems to interface with each
> other. To claim that not only must a bridge module (to use the
> example we've been tossing about) be GPL but anything it touches must
> be GPL as well seems to be a rather far-reaching legal claim ... or
> tragically self-isolating interpretation for policy.
> Can GPL exist only in isolation from all other systems? Does mere
> communication or interaction imply derivation? That's what the RIAA
> and MPAA claim in their dragnet lawsuits, pre-litigation settlement
> demands and things like the Sony Rootkit. What next? A GPL rootkit?
> I wonder how Lawrence Lessig would interpret GPL.
> Laura

The amount of FUD in this thread is starting to amaze me.  (Not you specifically, Laura; in general.)  I think some people here are reading from the Microsoft anti-GPL playbook with the "transfer of ownership" nonsense.  

Folks, the GPL is not as evil ("viral") as some here are making it out to be.  It says, simply, "you can do anything you want with this code, but *if* you redistribute it, *even if it's part of a derivative work*, then it, and as a result the derivative work, must be distributed under the GPL."  That is all.  There is no transfer of ownership, no "viral infection", no "loss of property" (since copyright is not property to start with, but we won't get into that.)

The only question at hand is exactly where the line for "derivative work" is, in particular for modules that interface with 3rd party systems.  The only relevant questions here are:

1) If a Drupal module exists only to interface between Drupal and a non-GPL system using in-process PHP function calls, does that violate the GPL?  (FSF, according to Jeff, believes it does.  I say to ask a lawyer not in the FSF's employ in order to get a more unbiased answer.)

2) If a Drupal module exists only to interface between Drupal and a non-GPL system using non-in-process APIs (SOAP, RSS, REST, reading a CSV, exec/fork, etc.), does that violate the GPL?  (FSF, according to Jeff, says "not in letter, but in spirit".  Given the number of RSS feeds coming off of non-Free systems that we all read on a regular basis using Aggregator, I don't think many people agree with the "spiritual violation".  For the letter, again, we should ask a lawyer.)

Bottom line: Unless you are a lawyer or have recently spoken to one on this subject, you have nothing constructive to contribute to this thread any more.  Yes, I include myself in that statement as I am not a lawyer.  Can we move the GPL FUD to some other forum and get back to something useful, like getting Drupal 6 finished?

--Larry Garfield

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