Article 14.17: Source Code
1. No Party shall require the transfer of, or access to,
source code of software owned by a
person of another Party, as a condition
for the import, distribution, sale or use of such software,
or of products containing such software, in its territory.
2. For the purposes of this Article, software subject to
paragraph 1 is limited to mass-market
software or products containing such
software and does not include software used for critical
3. Nothing in this Article shall preclude:
(a) the inclusion or implementation of terms and
conditions related to the provision of
source code in commercially negotiated contracts; or
(b) a Party from requiring the modification of
source code of software necessary for
that software to comply with laws or regulations
which are not inconsistent with
4. This Article shall not be construed to affect requirements
that relate to patent applications or granted patents,
including any orders made by a judicial authority in relation to
patent disputes, subject to safeguards against unauthorised
disclosure under the law or practice of a Party.
The General Public License (GPL) is a requirement, a contract, that says if a company includes GPL-licensed software within a product, the source code must be available to any consumer who receives the software. The source code is the human-usable computer code that is transformed into the machine-usable computer code that runs in the device.
There is an extensive body of GPL-covered code, created globally, and available without cost. Some of this software is used in popular operating systems like Windows, OS X, and Linux. GPL software is used across the servers that operate the internet, and is used by companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, as well as this website, Indymedia. They are also used in devices like routers -- and, there are routers where the entirety of the software is covered by the GPL.
The "deal" with the GPL is this: you can use this inexpensive or free software, but, in exchange, you must also make your modifications to the software available under the same terms.
Companies, by using GPL software, save millions of dollars in software development effort.
Because the GPL forces companies to share their source code, consumers are able to find alternative operating systems for small home routers. Programmers use the GPL to get copies of the router's source code, and then, using that information, and their skills, can understand how the router's hardware works. Armed with this information, they can then create software like OpenWRT to run on the router and enhance its features.
Note that while the GPL forces companies to share code, it doesn't force them to share all the code. Companies that wish to avoid these provisions can purchase software that is copyrighted according to existing laws. There are also ways to add software to a system that doesn't combine with GPL'd code. Nothing forces them to use the GPL-covered software.
The GPL goes beyond routers, of course. The GPL is a specific attempt to challenge the regime of intellectual property. Machine code is difficult for people to understand, and is a kind of "protection of intellectual property" - it's a kind of secret.
The GPL creates a kind of "software commons", where software is share freely and there are no secrets; as the software is improved, the benefits are enjoyed by everyone, whether they are individual programmers, or corporations.
In practical terms, the GPL levels the field, so that large companies have a harder time creating huge masses of software that effectively entrap smaller companies. It also means that programmers have legal protection from nuisance lawsuits around copyright.
Tens of thousands of programmers and companies have willingly contributed to the body of work covered by the GPL. They have done so out of self-interest, because they don't want to be entrapped by intellectual property laws.
The TPP would abolish the GPL, an agreement made freely by thousands of people, with benefits enjoyed by billions of people.
Even worse, the TPP does not protect the rights of these people who share code via GPL. A company is still free to take from the software commons, but give nothing back. This was obviously written by corporations that want the people to labor without any compensation, and that wish to destroy the software commons.