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Re: GNU licenses

From: David Kastrup
Subject: Re: GNU licenses
Date: Mon, 04 Sep 2006 09:38:07 +0200
User-agent: Gnus/5.11 (Gnus v5.11) Emacs/22.0.50 (gnu/linux) writes:

> David Kastrup wrote:
>> That is no force.  It is the condition for its use.  You are free
>> to take it or leave it, just like when you are in a supermarket,
>> nobody forces you to buy anything.  If you do, you have to pay the
>> price.
> But I don't know _WHY_ the license is made this way, WHAT is the
> motivation for requiring people to make all their original work
> "free" if they use the "free" code. Could you explain? More detailed
> than "it's needed" or "it works".

The GPL states in its preamble:

      The licenses for most software are designed to take away your
    freedom to share and change it.  By contrast, the GNU General
    Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and
    change free software--to make sure the software is free for all
    its users.  This General Public License applies to most of the
    Free Software Foundation's software and to any other program whose
    authors commit to using it.  (Some other Free Software Foundation
    software is covered by the GNU Library General Public License
    instead.)  You can apply it to your programs, too.

      When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not
    price.  Our General Public Licenses are designed to make sure that
    you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software (and
    charge for this service if you wish), that you receive source code
    or can get it if you want it, that you can change the software or
    use pieces of it in new free programs; and that you know you can
    do these things.

      To protect your rights, we need to make restrictions that forbid
    anyone to deny you these rights or to ask you to surrender the
    rights.  These restrictions translate to certain responsibilities
    for you if you distribute copies of the software, or if you modify

Well, you obviously would like to use freely available software, or
you would not be whining here in the first place.  So freely available
software appears to be a good thing in your opinion.

Not only in yours.  The deal with the GPL is that you are free to use
it _if_ you reciprocate.

This has, for example, made it available for the Linux kernel to
become as ubiquitous as it is now, and for GNU/Linux systems to
capture a major piece of the pie traditionally shared among Unix

In contrast to free licenses like the BSD license (which don't demand
the source code for derived works), no significant splintering of the
GNU/Linux has occured.  There were some border cases which offer
interesting study in itself: the XEmacs/Emacs split, and the egcs/gcc
split, for example.  While the XEmacs/Emacs split has persisted,
XEmacs development _does_ track Emacs development and merges material
from time to time, and egcs/gcc have been merged after some time

So the intent of the license, sharing one's work and efforts, seems to
work out in the main.  The same can't be said for the BSD-derived free
Unix systems: there is quite a larger number of them, and they are a
fringe market.  While some of this might be attributable to project
management, part of it lies simply in the fact that they are free for
the taking for large commercial players: they can just cherrypick the
best pieces from there and market them under their own terms.

And that means that the BSD derivatives have to _compete_ with parts
of their own code base without being able to make use of the
improvements others did on that code.

>> You should be careful with throwing unfounded accusations around,
>> there are laws against slander.  In particular, "PDCurses", as can
>> easily be guessed from its name, is _not_ licensed under the GPL
>> but is in the Public Domain.
> Oh, OK. I didn't know. I was just curious -- take it easy :) Well I
> guess he's not, then. But I'd still like an answer -- if one
> (anyone) uses a _library_ that's GNU in one's program, does that
> mean the _program_ has to be GNU?

Again, it depends on whether the other parts of the whole work can be
considered independent of the library according to copyright law.

> Another question: if you compile and link with the GNU GCC compiler
> does that mean you have to give that program you compile GNU
> license, or not? Ie. if I make a program with NO GNU code in it,
> THEN compile & link w/GNU GCC and GNU runtime, etc. libraries do I
> have to GNU it?

Please stop using this nonsensical expression "GNU it".  There is a
lot of GPLed stuff around that is not part of the GNU project, and
there are non-GPLed pieces that are used in GNU systems.

Anyway, if you are interested in such questions, you should read the
licenses coming with GCC.

First, the GPL itself states in section 0

     Activities other than copying, distribution and modification are
     not covered by this License; they are outside its scope.  The act
     of running the Program is not restricted, and the output from the
     Program is covered only if its contents constitute a work based on
     the Program (independent of having been made by running the
     Program).  Whether that is true depends on what the Program does.

For the rest of the conditions and rationale, read the license of
glibc (which is licensed under the LGPL).

>> > Ie. it's designed to not only keep the already-free software free
>> > but also to force people to make their own _original works_ free
>> > if they want to use GNU free code.
>> If they want to make it part of their "original work", yes, they
>> have to follow the rules.
> Ie. they have to make their "original work" GNU and give up the
> right to control it any more strictly than permitted via GNU.

Please don't use "make GNU" or similar nonsensical phrases.  Yes, GPL
code is not free for the taking.  If you want to use it, heed its
license.  Same as with any other software.

>> Not at all.  As long as you work is your OWN, you can do with it
>> what you want.  But if your work contains GPLed parts and you don't
>> acquire a different license, you are bound by the GPL's conditions.
> Oh, so the license then spreads to cover all of your ORIGINAL work
> as well.

No, it doesn't.  You are bound by the GPL only for such software which
integrates GPLed software as a part of it.  Namely software which is
_not_ all your ORIGINAL work.

As long as any piece of your software is independent of GPLed
software, the GPL does not come into play.

>> It is the same if your work contains EULAd parts and you don't
>> acquire a different license, except that the GPL'l condition allow
>> distribution under conditions, whereas the EULA doesn't.
>> In all cases, if you don't like the license conditions of some code
>> you want to use, leave it alone, or negotiate (and likely buy)
>> different usage conditions.
> So then I guess it all comes down to what the author says -- they
> still hold copyright. The GNU license is what they say you can do
> _without_ having to "negotiate" (and maybe pay money) with them. In
> other words, the condition is:
> It's free but all your original work that uses it must also become
> free _in whole_.

Where "free" here means: must be accompanied by source code under the
GPLed when purchased by anybody.  It does not mean that you can't
demand money for it.  Just that you are bound to providing the source
under the GPL.

> But the author could grant more rights (perhaps for a fee, although
> I might not charge if someone asked me for more rights for use of a
> GPLed program I make, depending on use), if they want to.

More or less, yes.

David Kastrup, Kriemhildstr. 15, 44793 Bochum

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