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GPL's cloudy future

Apr 13, 2009, 14:33 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jeremy Allison)

"But the fatal flaw in the GPL is that the reciprocal clause is only triggered by the act of redistribution. This works well in the world of traditional software, where in order to use a program it must be directly distributed to the recipient. Under the GPL, that person then inherits the same rights to the software source code as the distributor had. But now consider the strange new world of cloud computing, and software as a service. The way software works in this world is completely different. Most of the complex logic and the actual programs themselves live as software only running within server farms, communicating solely by network requests sent from a client Web browser via downloaded Javascript programs.

"There is no "distribution" here, so the reciprocal clause of the GPL is never triggered. In such a world, service providers can use GPL-licensed code in proprietary back-end server farms with impunity. This seems contrary to the spirit of the authors of much of the GPL-licensed code used in this way, although it strictly complies with the license. It means that, as Bradley warned, GPL code can be used in the cloud computing market in exactly the same way as BSD code can be used in the traditional software market."

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