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Re: Using gnulib build tools in a non-GPL project?

From: Eric Blake
Subject: Re: Using gnulib build tools in a non-GPL project?
Date: Fri, 26 Apr 2013 12:52:59 -0600
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:17.0) Gecko/20130402 Thunderbird/17.0.5

On 04/26/2013 12:22 PM, Assaf Gordon wrote:
> Hello,
> Is it possible (legally) to use two gnulib scripts (git-version-gen and 
> gitlog-to-changelog) in a non-GPL project? and if so, can the project be 1) 
> BSD/MIT, and 2) proprietary/closed-source ? 
> The two scripts are GPLv3+, and are categorized as "GPLed build tools".

I am not a lawyer (if you want a binding answer, then find a laywer
instead of asking on a developer list), but my answer is yes.  Just like
it's possible to use a GPL compiler (gcc) on a non-GPL project.  As long
as the point of the build tool is to convert your input to your output,
without injecting any of its own code, then there is no legal claim that
the tool can put on your output.  And even for the build tools that DO
inject some of their own code into your output (hello autoconf,
automake, and gcc) - they have explicit exception clauses in their use
of GPLv3 to avoid putting you under the burden of releasing your output
under GPL.

> The intended usage:
> 1. The project will use autoconf/automake
> 2. The scripts will be copied into the "build-aux" directory as-is, and will 
> be used during development, but not modified.
> 3. The scripts will be distributed as-is with the source code of the rest of 
> the project.
> 4. The project license file will clearly mention that those files are GPLv3+, 
> while other files in the project are in another license.

Yes, projects do this all the time.

> To the best of my understanding, it's OK to use GPL'd tools in a non-GPL 
> project, and this does not constitute "derivative work" - however I would 
> appreciate an expert's advice about this.
> The closest discussion I could find was "gnulib's licensing" thread ( 
> http://lists.gnu.org/archive/html/bug-gnulib/2011-05/msg00103.html )    but 
> it was more about using gnulib's C code modules.

Eric Blake   eblake redhat com    +1-919-301-3266
Libvirt virtualization library http://libvirt.org

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