Get ready....

Seth David Schoen schoen at
Thu Apr 15 03:34:02 UTC 1999

Derek J. Balling writes:

> >The only way this idea would not restrict freedoms is to say "You may copy
> >specific wordings from this license, but in addition to your excerpt you
> >must also include the rest of the freedom's in accordance to the GNU GPL in
> >your own form.  No freedoms listed in the GNU GPL can be ommited."
> I disagree. The GPL is NOT the be-all-end-all. To believe otherwise is to
> seriously underestimate the requirements of the commercial world.
> If the GPL was the end-all-be-all, then the GPL itself would be released in
> a GPL-like manner. As you'll notice, it isn't. It's a copyrighted document
> with the phrase:
> " Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
>  of this license document, but changing it is not allowed. "
> Where's your freedom there?

In fairness to the license terms of that license, the GPL exists for a
particular tactical purpose, to satisfy (and emulate as far as possible) a
vision of a world in which there would be no software licenses whatsoever.
The GPL explains this:

	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 it.

The significance of this paragraph in the GPL is sometimes overlooked, but
this is arguably the entire reason for the GPL's existence.  The argument of
the GPL is that (in this corrupt world we happen to inhabit) it is tactically
useful to make restrictions in the service of protecting the freedoms that
software users ought by right to have.  The prohibition on changing the GPL
can then be justified as one of these restrictions.  This is a consistent

As it was written, the GPL was not intended to be "the be-all-end-all" for
intellectual property licenses, because the person who wrote it does not
believe in intellectual property.  The GPL was a practical document with a
particular function in the current system of IP laws; putting it under its
own terms would not advance that function.  (See Richard Stallman's
explanations of copyleft as a means of using the system of copyright against

Licenses which are not attempting to embody a larger philosophical position
as the GPL does have much less reason to prohibit people from changing them.

                    Seth David Schoen <schoen at>
      They said look at the light we're giving you,  /  And the darkness
      that we're saving you from.   -- Dar Williams, "The Great Unknown"  (personal)  (CAF)

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