How is the RHEL change GPL compatible?

How are they able to add terms to the use of the customer portal that don’t allow the download of SRPMs and redistribution to others?

From GPLv2:

  1. Each time you redistribute the Program (or any work based on the Program), the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensor to copy, distribute or modify the Program subject to these terms and conditions. You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients’ exercise of the rights granted herein.

It seems like any terms on the use of their customer portal that attempt to impose further restrictions on the customer’s right to redistribute the source further violates the GPL.

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tl;dr – refusal to distribute future releases to someone that might exercise their rights under the GPL isn’t actually a violation of the GPL as I understand it.

Longer: I’m not a lawyer, nor a current employee of Red Hat. (Former, however.)

Red Hat gets to choose who it does business with. This isn’t controversial, I hope. Even the staunchest free software folks should acknowledge that the GPL doesn’t require me to sell a CD/DVD with my software on it to anyone and everyone.

I can refuse to do business with a person or company just because I don’t like them, or any other reason. So refusing to sell GPL’ed software in the first place doesn’t violate the GPL. Once I do sell or give it to you, I have to comply with its terms to provide you source code because now I’ve distributed it to you.

Therefore, it’s not a GPL violation AIUI to say “nah, I’m not giving you this binary that will obligate me to also give you source code. Go away.” A company can refuse to distribute binaries to certain geographies/countries, for example, to comply with U.S. export controls.

Red Hat’s terms don’t say you can’t distribute source under the GPL, but (AIUI) they can terminate their business relationship with you if you do that, and then you cannot get new releases under the terms.

So - they’re basically saying “the GPL says if we give you this code, you can redistribute it - so we can’t stop that. But we can choose not to do business with you and therefore choose not to distribute future code to you.”

Your rights to redistribute what you have already remain intact. Your right to receive code for what you’ve already gotten remains intact. You could stop your RHEL subscription today but still request code for releases you’ve gotten after the subscription ends, for example.

They just don’t have to continue to give you more in the future under those terms.

Whether that fits with the intent of the GPL, you can argue, but as I understand it, that doesn’t violate the GPL.

Sure, but then how do they sniff out people who sign up for a RHEL license, exercise their right to download the SRPMs, and exercise their right to distribute them?

I don’t know their download portal, but assuming it is really a portal and not some easy way to download the src.rpms via a FTP server, downloading all the source packages would be exhausting. One could certainly automate that somehow but Red Hat would notice high volume users and could close the user’s account.

Another thing to consider is, that you can’t redistribute those packages.

I wonder if Amazon and Cern have forseen this change or were notified by Red Hat that any Red Hat derivatives won’t have free access anymore to the source packages sometime in 2023.

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I’d love to see Red Hat actually identify customers exercising their rights under the GPL and terminate their paid subscription because they exercised those rights. At that point, we’d know what kind of participant in the open source community they undeniably are.

Check: Unauthorized Use of Subscription Services section


Partner will not use Red Hat Products
or Services to create an offering competitive with Red Hat, directly or indirectly,


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Honestly, thats the easiest part with all the metrics and monitoring capabilities of such portals.

The GPL prevents someone (RedHat for example) to distribute a GPL product with redistribution restrictions. Preventing the creation of a “competitive offering” is a restriction. Then RedHat should not prevent the redistribution of GPL SRPM… (but it seems it does).

However, not all sources are GPL. I guess that if some key parts of the distribution are not GPL, a competitive product based on RedHat should fill the gaps. (Like NetBSD or FreeBSD did from the original BSD4.4 where some parts was removed because of copyright issues).

I’m not a lawyer but I believe the argument is that severing the subscription does not constitute a restriction on your GPL rights. Red Hat does not stop you from redistributing the source you’ve already received under the GPL - they (may) simply refuse to continue doing business with you & therefore you won’t be entitled to future updates.

It would be an interesting exercise to see how Red Hat would react if someone distributed only the packages under one of the GNU licenses or any other license that requires reciprocity.

But if Red Hat severs the subscription because someone downloads all the RHEL source and creates a competitive distribution, they seem well within their rights to cancel the subscription. Red Hat can add restrictions to its permissively-licensed source, which would take out a pretty big chunk of packages.

And, again, Red Hat (as I understand it) would honor the party’s rights to redistribute the GPL’ed software they’d already received. It just wouldn’t provide new versions.