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In the GNU Affero General Public License, there is a section that reads:

The GNU Affero General Public License is designed specifically to ensure that, in such cases, the modified source code becomes available to the community. It requires the operator of a network server to provide the source code of the modified version running there to the users of that server. Therefore, public use of a modified version, on a publicly accessible server, gives the public access to the source code of the modified version.

So clearly I couldn't make a modified version of a piece of software and then put it on the public internet for everyone to access (assuming network software living on a server) without also making the source code available.

But what is defined by "public" here? Do subscription based services where only select paying customers have access count as "public"?

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    Ask your lawyer, but very probably the answer is yes. But IANAL – Basile Starynkevitch Sep 22 '15 at 9:17
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    You would be far better off asking this question on opensource.stackexchange.com. – David Arno Sep 22 '15 at 9:29
  • I didn't even know that was a site. If any moderators would like to migrate this question there that would be great :) – leylandski Sep 22 '15 at 9:29
  • This text is part of the preamble, it is not part of the legally binding terms and conditions. – Jörg W Mittag Sep 22 '15 at 9:42
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The text you quoted is part of the preamble, it is not part of the legally binding terms and conditions.

The relevant part is article 13, which states that you have to make the source code available to everybody to whom you make the object code available. Note that this is no different from the "normal" GPL. The difference between the normal and the Affero versions of the GPL is not to whom you make the source code available, but rather what counts as making the object code available. In the normal GPL, only giving the object code away counts, whereas in the Affero GPL also making it available as a service counts.

To repeat: no version of the GPL requires you to make the source code available to the public. In fact, no version of the GPL requires you to make the source code available at all.

All versions of the GPL only require you to make the source code available iff you also make the object code available and only to those people to whom you make the object code available.

What the Affero GPL adds is the idea that Software-as-a-Service is also a form of making the object code available and thus also requires making the source code available to the users of the service.

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