Why is Fedora not a Free GNU/Linux distributions?

Les Mikesell lesmikesell at gmail.com
Sat Jul 26 20:26:41 UTC 2008

Gordon Messmer wrote:
> 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.

The GPL doesn't change terms on anything else and I've never implied 
that it can or does.  However, it only grants permissions beyond 
copyright restrictions if you comply with its terms, which include 
applying the GPL restrictions to all parts of a work.  If you can't or 
won't do that, you don't get to do anything with the already GPL 
encumbered portions that copyright does not permit.

>> 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.

I understand that there can be some contention about what a 'derived 
work' is.  But there can be no confusion about what the GPL says about 
the components, once you agree that a work is derived and thus 
encumbered by the terms.

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

Of course it does, or proprietary parts could be included - or linkages 
that make them a required part of the work as a whole.

> 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.

The licenses that are compatible with the GPL are compatible because the 
GPL restrictions can be applied without violating there own terms. 
Licenses where you cannot apply these terms are all excluded. That is, 
it is your inability to apply these terms that determines what can or 
can't be combined in something you  can continue to share.

> 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.

In the case of the 'modified' BSD, it may.

 > The BSD license does not place any
> requirements on distribution that the GPL does not, so it is compatible. 

No, the reason it is compatible is that the modified BSD license does 
not contain any terms that prohibit you from applying the GPL terms over it.

>  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.

Yes, but if you distribute a portion without applying the additional GPL 
restrictions you are violating your agreement that was required to be 
permitted to distribute the GPL portion.

> 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.

Yes, someone who had no need to distribute the GPL-encumbered portion 
would not have to make that same agreement and could thus pluck the BSD 
covered portion back out under its original terms.

> 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 
> parts.

Covered by GPL terms.

>   * 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.

Covered by GPL terms.

>   * 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.

You aren't reading that license.  If you need GPL-provided permissions, 
you must agree to apply GPL terms to your own actions.  A recipient is 
not bound by this unless they themselves need GPL-provided permissions.

>   * 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 
> license.

Binaries aren't a special case other than requiring source to be 
provided too.

> 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.

Yes they do.  The concept of 'compatible license' shows specifically how 
you must give them up.   Compatible licenses are ones that permit you to 
do what the GPL demands.  If you weren't required to apply the GPL terms 
to all parts, then all other licenses would be compatible.

> It merely requires 
> that when you distribute a work, then you must meet the distribution 
> terms for the entire work.

And those terms include agreeing to section 2b.

> 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.

If, and only if, they have no need to agree to the GPL terms.  Doing 
both at the same time is a contradiction in logic and dishonest even if 
you are unlikely to be sued over it.

> 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.

If the GPL restrictions do not have to be applied to all components, 
then under your interpretation, what would determine license 
compatibility?  For example, why can't I include a proprietary component 
and distribute only to people where they also have the right to that 
component under the terms of some other license?  My interpretation, and 
what the words actually say, is that you must apply exactly the GPL 
terms to all parts regardless of any other terms that might permit the 
next recipient to get a copy.  And the list of compatible licenses is a 
direct side effect of that requirement.

     Les Mikesell
      lesmikesell at gmail.com

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