Why is Fedora not a Free GNU/Linux distributions?

Alexandre Oliva aoliva at redhat.com
Mon Jul 21 07:21:23 UTC 2008

On Jul 21, 2008, Les Mikesell <lesmikesell at gmail.com> wrote:

> Agreed that there is next to no chance for enforcement in such a case,
> but does your reading of the GPL not indicate that non-GPL
> distribution of copies of anything ever covered by its work-as-a-whole
> provision is prohibited?

Yep, my reading does not indicate that.  As I've already tried to
explain to you, the GPL doesn't take away any rights that you had
before receiving the program, or even before accepting the license.

So, if you have received a whole program under the GPL, and one of its
files says:

  This file is in the public domain

Then you can use it however you like, no matter what the GPL says,
because the GPL can't bring the file out of the public domain.

If the file says:

  Copyright 2008 John Doe

  You have permission to do whatever you like with this file,
  including running, reading, studying, modifying, distributing,
  publishing, selling, etc, as long as you retain the copyright notice
  and this license.

then it doesn't matter that the GPL refrains from granting you
permission to do certain things, you have that express permission
straight from the copyright holder in the file itself, and the GPL
will not take it away from you.

To make sense of this in your twisted "GPL has restrictions"
understanding, you could picture it as if each file was under a dual
license: the GPL under which the whole is distributed, with its
alleged restrictions, and the individual license applied to the file
(or even to parts of files).

To me it makes more sense to just take it as a sum of permissions:
such and such license over such and such parts (or the whole) grant me
permission to do such and such with those parts (or the whole); such
and such license over such and such parts grant me permission to do
such and such with those parts, etc.

Free Software licenses, being pure copyright licenses, can't remove
any rights, so this kind of reasoning has worked quite well for me.

Of course, if you bring non-Free agreements into the picture,
agreements that require explicit acceptance because they do remove
certain rights you had before, then things get messier, and this
simple sum of permissions approach won't work.

> I don't see any escape clause.

There isn't any for dual licensing either.  But that's because other
licenses and rights you might have are outside the scope of this one
license; it only adds to the things you're entitled to do.

That said, IANAL, so please don't take this as legal advice.

Alexandre Oliva         http://www.lsd.ic.unicamp.br/~oliva/
Free Software Evangelist  oliva@{lsd.ic.unicamp.br, gnu.org}
FSFLA Board Member       ¡Sé Libre! => http://www.fsfla.org/
Red Hat Compiler Engineer   aoliva@{redhat.com, gcc.gnu.org}

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