GPL and warranties

This article will apply most to the Australian reader, and readers from other jurisdictions that have strict consumer protection laws relating to the provision of goods and services and obligatory warranties covering them.

Software under the GPL is automatically licensed without warranty to the extent applicable law allows it. This consideration ensures that if a version of the software is modified by a new developer and a user encounters a problem, the original developer is not required to address the problems arising from the recent modifications.

GPL and Warranties

Although there is an automatic ‘no-warranty’ flavor to the GPL, there are numerous clauses within it which allow developers to offer warranty protection, disclaim warranties that exist in a GPL covered software they have modified, or even offer comprehensive warranties for a fee if so desired.  After all, most professional developers would, or at least should, have enough confidence in their skills and products to offer an assurance of some sort.

In Australia, consumer protection laws are very strong.  In recent years we have seen consumers been given not just more protection under the law, but perhaps more importantly, greater access to their rights.  Here I am basically talking about the Australian Consumer Law, enacted in 2011.  A good effort was made by state governments to make it easier for consumers to understand their rights and for business to understand their obligations in relation to the provision of goods and services within Australia.  The key message of the legislation is this: regardless of what express warranties or guarantees are or are not provided by a supplier, the law obligates suppliers to provide a statutory warranty to consumers.  So the statutory warranty exists if a supplier does not expressly give a warranty and also exists in addition to an express warranty a supplier does provide.

What does it all mean?

So what does this legislation mean for the provision of intangible goods such as websites and plugins or things like web services? A digital product or service sold in Australia would be covered by the law.  This means a developer providing plugins (or other digital products) sold in the Australian market is obliged to give a warranty on their products and services.  In legal terms, this means that the certain provisions of the GPL relating to warranties must be ‘read down’ so that the Australian Consumer Law applies.

I personally feel this is fair and just, particularly if you are selling the product or even if you are presenting it to a client in a bundle of other products or services.  The supplier is the expert and thus in a position of greater knowledge and expertise such that the consumer forms a reliance.  This reliance should not be dismissed lightly and certainly not abused.


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