Misunderstanding GPL's terms and conditions as restrictions (was: Re: Why is Fedora not a Free GNU/Linux distributions?)

Alexandre Oliva aoliva at redhat.com
Sun Jul 27 23:27:03 UTC 2008

On Jul 26, 2008, Les Mikesell <lesmikesell at gmail.com> wrote:

> Gordon Messmer wrote:
>> 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.

GPLv2 section 2 says: (emphasis mine)

   the distribution of the whole must be on the terms of this License,
   whose *permissions* for other licensees extend to the entire whole,
   and *thus* to each and every part regardless of who wrote it.

IOW, the whole is under the terms and conditions of the GPL.  The
permissions (1-3, in GPLv2) apply to each and every part as a
consequence of this.

Section 6 says:

6. Each time you redistribute the Program (or any work based on the
   Program), the recipient automatically receives a license from the
   original licensor to copy, distribute or modify the Program subject
   to these terms and conditions.  You may not impose any further
   restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted

IOW, you get the GPL permissions by receiving the program, and
upstream distributors can't have restricted any of these permissions.
I don't see anything that would stop any of them from granting
additional permissions over their own contributions.  They can't grant
additional permissions over others' contributions, because copyright
law prevents that in the absence of explicit permission from the
copyright holder.

Now, back to section 2, and your favorite 2b.  It says that you may
modify the program and distribute modified versions of the program
under this license, as long as you (among other things) grant the same
permissions, subject to the same conditions, to recipients of the
modified program and derived versions thereof.  Again, it doesn't say
you can't grant additional permissions.  It doesn't say you have to
impose restrictions that stop others from enjoying additional
permissions you might have gotten yourself.  It doesn't say you can't
enjoy any additional permissions you got yourself.

Now, what does agreeing to this amount to?  "You may breathe in, as
long as you breathe out.  Do you agree?"

Some possible responses:

- No, I don't agree.  I don't need to agree with it to keep on breathing.

- Yes, I may.  I have other permissions to breathe, but if they're all
revoked, it will be nice to have this one.

- Yes, I do agree.  It's no big deal, and if I ever need to breathe in
without breathing out, I can always use the other permissions I have.

- Why, sure, and thanks!  I was losing my breath already, all my other
permissions to breathe had been revoked!  Thanks for saving my life!
And so nicely!  I don't mind the requirement to "breathe out" at all,
it's just reasonable!  Of course you understand that I can still
accept other permissions that are not subject to this condition, and
that if I do, I'll then be entitled to breathe in without breathing
out.  My lawyer says so, and I have no doubt so does yours.

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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