GPL and LGPL question

Pat St. Jean psj at
Wed May 19 14:00:24 UTC 1999

On Tue, 18 May 1999, Seth David Schoen wrote:
>Wilfredo Sanchez writes:
>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.

Yeah, and it wasn't my intention.  I'm trying to figure out how some
clauses in the (L)GPL and the OSD work together.

>> 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.

Yep.  We're one of them.

>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.

How much of that track record is in court.  I'm not trying to sound
snippy, but most of these licenses don't seem to have had a legal
challenge yet.  THAT is a HUGE fear for corporate open sourcers.  Really,
who cares what a license says if it won't hold up in court?  Other than
the NPL and QPL, most of these documents were drawn up years ago, and case
law has grown with different precedents since then.

>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.

It's not just the GPL, I don't recall reading about litigation involving
any of them.  That's too much of a risk for most companies, and it's quite
understandable.  Which is why you're seeing a proliferation of licenses.

>> 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.

Yup.  You decide to give away a library that you use in other software
that is proprietary.  No GPL, no LGPL because some competitor of yours
could invoke clause 3 and release whiz bang improvements under it.

Also, other than the QPL and NPL, I don't think that any of them have been
written with international use in mind.  The BSD and X licenses are
probably exceptions because they say so little...

A company, trying to protect its rights to the software that it created,
but still benefit the community at large seems forced to draw up YAOSL
because every case IS different.

I think that some clarification of OSD #3 and #7 would help this
immensely.  It would be nice to put a non-infecting clause in there.  By
that I mean that a OS'd chunk of code cannot infect the work it is
incorporated into with its license.  That is my big gripe with the FSF's
licenses, because they're using it to further a political agenda, not help
the programming community at large.  Leave politics to politicians.


Patrick St. Jean              '97 XLH 883                psj at
Programmer & Systems Administrator                    +1 713-977-4177 x115
Larson Software Technology              

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