[thelist] GNU / GPL

Phil Turmel pturmel-webdev at turmel.org
Fri Oct 26 08:03:44 CDT 2007

kasimir-k wrote:
> Phil Turmel scribeva in 24/10/2007 12:25:
>> Note that you cannot charge for GPL software, other than copying costs.
> This is not true. From <http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html> :
> "Many people believe that the spirit of the GNU project is that you 
> should not charge money for distributing copies of software, or that you 
> should charge as little as possible — just enough to cover the cost.
> Actually we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as 
> much as they wish or can."

Indeed. I mis-spoke.  I intended to get across the point that you cannot
charge a *license fee* for GPL software.  You can charge anything you
want for your binary *distribution* services.  The limitation to copying
costs only applies to source code distributed separately from the
original binary.  If you neglect to deliver the source code with the
original package, you must make it available to the public for download
or for a reasonable copying fee.

> Stephen Rider scribeva in 24/10/2007 23:09:
>> The requirement that you release the source code makes commercial  
>> software effectively free, as anyone with a bit of know-how can take  
>> your source and compile it as the full program.  Am I mistaken in  
>> this?  Please do correct me if I'm wrong -- this topic _does_  
>> interest me.
> Lets assume I have a client who runs, say, a pet shop. They know 
> everything about pets and how to take care of them, but know computers 
> just enough to use them. Then I create a program for them to manage 
> their pet sales, and it gives them an advantage over other pet shops. 
> And I license that program under GPL.
> When I sell the program to them (for good money :-) I must also provide 
> them with the source code - but only them, nobody else. The pet shop 
> then could, if they wanted, release the program and its source in 
> public. But I doubt they would want to do it, as then every other pet 
> shop would get the advantage for no money, while my client had to pay 
> for it.

But that client could certainly install that software on every computer
across their thousand-shop chain without paying you anything more.  And
an employee could walk home with a copy and later start their own pet
shop using it.  And you can't force your client to protect their copy
against such, because the GPL forbids additional restrictions.

Of course, if your software is providing that big of an advantage to one
shop, the big chain store they're beating will buy them out (and thereby
find out about, and get a copy of, your software).

> Also, doing anything with the source code would require my client to 
> hire a programmer, as they don't know them selves anything about 
> programming. If I'm good to my client, they'll hire me.

And if they do choose a different programmer, who happens to know a few
other pet shop owners, there's no stopping him or her from redistributing.

> So in short: yes, it is possible to make a revenue selling GPL software.

It may seem that way, but what sustains the revenue is the sale of your
*services*.  Whether that is on-site installation, formal training,
phone support, or general hand-holding matters little.  The GNU selling
philosophy you linked points out that an unreasonably high price won't
be sustainable.  And "reasonable" is defined by the market.  "Being good
to my client" is just another way of saying "serving my client's needs."

> Having that said, if you were planning to sell the program to general 
> public, then this business model is not so viable, as in general public 
> there are also programmers, who know what to do with the source, and 
> could distribute the program for lower price (or for free).

If your target market is big enough to make you a decent living, then
it's likely to be big enough to have a few programmers in it.

> I hope this made it more clear (and that I wasn't grossly mistaken - 
> after all IANAL either :-)
> .k

IANAL, but I am a business owner, and I do sell engineering and software
services to companies that insist on unencumbered intellectual property.
 If I don't serve their needs, they can and will go elsewhere.  (I draw
the line at "Work made for hire"... I'll be damned before I let a client
deny me the use of my own code.)

Companies like Red Hat and Novell are making money off of open source
software right now.  They are absolutely clear in their sales pitch that
you are buying their *services*.


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