BSD / GPL compatibility

David Johnson arandir at
Wed Feb 16 04:22:52 UTC 2000

On Tue, 15 Feb 2000, Nick Moffitt wrote:
> begin  Ian Grigg quotation:
> > OK, so does the same apply in reverse?  I guess it does, so I can
> > take any part of a GPLed work and shove it into my code and
> > distrubute it as BSD.
> 	No, because the GPL explicitly covers derived works.

Copyright law gives the author certain rights to his works. Any rights not
specifically given to him are given to the world at large. For example, only
the author has the right to sell the work for profit. But everyone else has the
right to make copies for their personal use. Note: I am arguing on the basis of
"classic" copyright law, and not that monstrosity known as the Digital
Millenium Copyright Act.

In order to change this state of affairs, software authors have used licenses.
These licenses can grant additional rights to the users. However, they cannot
take any rights away from the user without violating copyright law, which
already gave them away. Thus, a typical license cannot forbid a user from
making copies for their personal use.

To get around this, and impose additional restrictions upon the user, a
software license cannot be used. Instead, there must be a voluntary contract
betweent he author and the user. This is why so-called "one click" licensing is
so controversial. The authors claim that such a license is indeed a contract,
however the users have not signed any legal documents, electronic or otherwise.

Getting back to the GPL... The GPL is the traditional software license. It is
not a contract. Therefore, at can give away all the rights and permissions it
wants to. But it cannot take back any right that copyright law has already
given. In fact, the GPL specifically states that it operates under copyright
law. One of the earlier posts in this thread mentioned Fair Use. This is a
right that the users already have under copyright. The GPL cannot take it away,
even if it tried.

You cannot argue that the GPL forbids Fair Use because of its derivation
clauses. If you do so, you are arguing against yourself, since the GPL is not a
contract. A much better tack would be to define what Fair Use is in relation to
source code.


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