GPL and LGPL question

Seth David Schoen schoen at
Wed May 19 02:05:29 UTC 1999

Wilfredo Sanchez writes:

>   So this linking business is RMS's interpretation, but is not in  
> the license text.  I know certain other licenses get heavily  
> critiqued for being vague, but I don't see the same scrutiny applied  
> to the GPL here.

Well, that sort of scrutiny _has_ been applied to the GPL on many lists for
many years, so that many people are sick of it. :-)  Take a look at
gnu.misc.discuss, and you should find such a thread fairly quickly.

I personally have seen an interpretation-and-merits-of-GPL thread show
up on three mailing lists and two newsgroups, none of which were
license-related.  That debate has been going on for years, and it's
pretty easy to be tired of it already.

Since the OSD hasn't existed for as long as the GPL, it's a new opportunity
to try to harmonize the GPL with something or something with the GPL; most
other GPL topics have already been done to death.

Version 3 of the GPL is being written and supposedly close to release.
Many people have provided input, and there have been some _huge_
debates about what GPL v3 should contain.  I'm very optimistic that
it will fix some outstanding problems and ambiguities.

> The lack of clarity here is the biggest reason I know of why some
> companies prefer to avoid dealing with the GPL at all costs, even when
> they are open to the idea of open source in general.

There are some very solid arguments for that decision.  On the other
side, the GPL has been used with tremendous success in the past as the
license for a number of projects.  One reason that many people trust
that GPL is that it has such a long track record in comparison with
some other free software licenses.

This proves that the developers who worked on those projects, at least,
had enough confidence in the GPL to make it useful to them.  A particular
concern for companies, I know, is whether a license would stand up in
court, and whether it can be interpreted easily and clearly.  At LinuxWorld,
I talked with some license enthusiasts about whether _any_ free software
license has ever been an issue in a lawsuit.  Apparently, the answer is
no.  The current version was written with the assistance of a law professor,
but it would be an appeal to authority to say that this means that it would
hold up.  In the absence of litigation over the GPL (o si sic omnes!), each
company needs to decide for itself whether the current GPL is enforceable
and whether it contains loopholes or ambiguous wording.

> If you have some proprietary code which may ship alongside  
> GPL'ed code, you may accidentally fall into the "derived work"  
> category.  Certainly, it is reasonable to be wary of this.
>   I realize that this is intentional; after all, proprietary code is  
> inherently evil in the eyes of the GPL's authors.  But I would argue  
> that this hardly represents freedom.  Protecting one's right to  
> share code by removing one's right not to doesn't seem like a Good  
> Thing to me.

It's a question of emulation, an extremely old tradition in computing.

                    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)

More information about the License-discuss mailing list