BSD / GPL compatibility

John Cowan jcowan at
Wed Feb 16 20:47:21 UTC 2000

Ian Grigg wrote:

> > Free/open-source software is decidedly published: it is made
> > available to any member of the public who can pay the
> > owner's price ($0).
> I can't back up my claim of publication, so I'll leave
> that one for now...

According to the U.S. Copyright Office FAQ
(, "publication"
is defined by statute as "the distribution of copies [...]
of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership,
or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies
[...] to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution,
public performance, or public display constitutes publication."

Putting source on Sunsite is obviously publication; any member
of the public may obtain a copy there.

(I have removed statutory text relevant only to audio recordings.)

> I've never come across this term, and can't find any useful
> description on what it is from google.  If a "copyright license"
> is not a contract, what is it?  Do you have a reference to
> this concept?

It's basically a statement by the copyright holder, which may
but need not be in writing, granting someone (or the general
public) certain rights from the bundle of rights called
"copyright ownership".  For example, I hereby license you to
make five verbatim copies of this email and give them away
to whomever you like, but not to sell them.  That's a copyright

If the license *transfers* my copyright ownership to you in its
entirety, then you become the copyright owner, I have no special
rights, and the license must be in writing.   The Copyright Office
will register license transfers if you ask them to.

> > You must include the *text* of the license, but the derived work
> > as a whole may be licensed under any license, including a
> > proprietary one.
> Sorry, I don't read that.  What is your logic that says that the
> covered code is permitted to be re-licensed?  It permits redistribution
> under the licence, clearly, as it says you can only redistribute if
> you include the licence (and usage in a similar fashion).

The covered code itself may not have its license changed by someone
other than the copyright holder.  What I was referring to is the license
under which the derivative work as a whole is distributed.   I can
incorporate MIT/BSD licensed code in my proprietary work and license
it as restrictively as I like, provided I include the *text* of the
license (copyright notice, permissions, etc.) with the proprietary work.

> Re-licensing seems to be a different thing than use and redistribution,
> more akin to changing the authorship or copyright than the former lesser
> rights.  The best you can get out of the BSD licence is that it does
> not state specifically whether relicensing is permitted, and for my
> money, I'd err on the side of this being a right reserved to the owner.

Indeed, there is no "relicensing" in this sense.  There is only
making derivative works under one or another license, subject to the
conditions of that license.
> Which is not incompatible with redistribution nor usage, all
> of those products (presumably) include the MIT licence, and
> thus are redistributing the MIT code in used form, not relicensing
> it.



Schlingt dreifach einen Kreis vom dies! || John Cowan <jcowan at>
Schliesst euer Aug vor heiliger Schau,  ||
Denn er genoss vom Honig-Tau,           ||
Und trank die Milch vom Paradies.            -- Coleridge (tr. Politzer)

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