Why is Fedora not a Free GNU/Linux distributions?

Gordon Messmer yinyang at eburg.com
Sat Jul 26 19:20:07 UTC 2008

Les Mikesell wrote:
> The context is that it is a part of what you must agree to do if you 
> want to do anything with _every_ GPL-encumbered work that copyright law 
> alone would not permit. 

That statement is a little ambiguous.  The GPL does not have any power 
which copyright law does not grant.  Specifically, it can not change the 
terms of work licensed under any terms other than its own and it can not 
force you to accept any other or additional terms on such work.

> If the FSF doesn't not believe that the work-as-a-whole clause actually 
> means the terms must cover the work as a whole, why don't they make 
> another license that says what they want it to mean?

You're still not getting what "work as a whole" means.  First, you have 
to understand that legal interpretation of terms is not like English 
interpretation.  Legal terms have specific meanings which are sometimes 
different than English meanings because language tends to change and 
evolve with people's use of it.  Legal terms do not change.

In the context of a legal interpretation of a distribution license 
(copyright license), "work as a whole" does not mean each individual part.

If it did mean each individual part, then the GPL would have used a 
different term.  If the GPL had said "each individual part" or something 
equivalent, then no license other than the GPL could be compatible with 
the GPL.  Copyright law does not allow you to change the distribution 
terms for a work to which you do not hold the copyright.

Instead, "work as a whole" means the functional work that is a sum of 
all of the parts.  Since this meaning does not require that all parts 
have the same license, it allows for the work as a whole to contain some 
parts under different but compatible terms.  Thus, a GPL protected work 
may contain BSD licensed code.  The BSD license does not place any 
requirements on distribution that the GPL does not, so it is compatible. 
  When you distribute a work that is GPL licensed and contains BSD 
licensed code, you are meeting the terms of the BSD license and are 
allowed to distribute that code.  However, since you can not change the 
license on a work to which you don't hold copyright, both you and your 
users are distributing the BSD licensed code under the BSD license.

The terms of the GPL state that (among other things), you must 
distribute the source code corresponding to any modified or unmodified 
"work as a whole" that you distribute.  That means that if you start 
with a GPL licensed work that contains BSD licensed code, then among 
other options, you may:
   * distribute the unmodified work, containing the compatibly licensed 
   * distribute the GPL licensed code without the BSD licensed parts. 
The result may not function, and I'm not sure why anyone would want to 
receive a non-functional work from you, but you have that right.
   * distribute a compiled version of the unmodified work.  In this 
case, the terms of the GPL require that you also distribute or offer to 
distribute the source code to the "work as a whole".  That means that 
you may not withhold any of the source code, or offer any of the source 
code under an incompatible license.  It does not mean that each part of 
the source code must be GPL licensed.
   * distribute a compiled version of a modified (derived) work.  In 
this case, you must still distribute or offer to distribute the complete 
source code, and any changes that you've made must be under a compatible 

None of the terms of the GPL require that you give up the rights that 
you were granted by the copyright holder who gave you -- either directly 
or indirectly -- code under a compatible license.  It merely requires 
that when you distribute a work, then you must meet the distribution 
terms for the entire work.  Even after distributing a work under the 
GPL, you may extract the parts under a compatible license and distribute 
those parts, only, under the terms of their own license.  The recipients 
of your GPL licensed work as a whole may do the same.

No other interpretation of the terms of the GPL is allowed by copyright 
law.  You may continue to argue otherwise, but you're arguing about an 
imaginary situation which does not exist and can not exist under 
existing copyright law.

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