Get ready....

Martin Pool martinp at
Thu Apr 15 03:42:38 UTC 1999

phred at wrote:
> There are two things to say about the GPL:  it's a license, not code that
> performs some function on a computer. 

It's a document.  Copyright applies to documents, not just code.

> And its terms do not forbid you
> from modifying it and making a different license.  In fact, that happens
> fairly often.  What you can't then do is call it the GPL.

The second paragraph of the GPL v2, just before the Preamble, says:

   Copyright (C) 1989, 1991 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
     59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA  02111-1307  USA
  Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
  of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.

It doesn't say anything about not calling your versions the GPL.  It
fairly plainly states that you may not modify the text.

The GPL is a copyright document, and you're no more allowed to change it
than (say) the code of Windows NT or the text "Code Complete", except
for 'fair use' provisions.  (For example, I imagine quoting parts of the
GPL in this discussion counts as fair use, even thought the GPL's
meta-license doesn't permit it.)  The text of the GPL is not licensed to
you under the GPL: you may think that's inconsistent, but it makes sense
in terms of the FSF's goals.

Even if I license my software under the GPL, I can't modify the license:
I can either use the GPL verbatim, or make up my own, or apply to them
for permission to modify it.  I imagine copying most of the GPL and
dropping a paragraph you don't like would probably violate its

Of course, as somebody previously observed,
theft/borrowing/appropriation/reuse of license text is pretty common. 
Plenty of people seem to make them their licenses based on others, so a
dictionary of well-understood paragraphs and conditions would make
sense.  To be most useful, it'd have to be in the public domain, even
though the software it applies to generally would not be.

 /\\\  Mincom | Martin Pool          | martin.pool at
// \\\        | Software Engineer    | Phone: +61 7 3303-3333
\\ ///        | Mincom Pty. Ltd.     | 
 \///         | Teneriffe, Brisbane  | Speaking for myself only

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