How To Break The GPL

John Cowan jcowan at
Fri Mar 3 20:12:56 UTC 2000

Ken Arromdee wrote:

> The FSF takes the position that if you distribute software that can only be
> run by linking it with something GPLed, your software is a derivative work of
> the GPLed software even if you don't include any parts of it.

That strikes me as unlikely to be the law.

Consider the _C Answer Book_, which contains
the answers to the questions in the first edition of K&R.  The book makes
little sense without K&R handy, but it doesn't infringe K&R's copyright.
It is not a derivative work.

> So by these
> standards, Alice would be distributing a derivative work, so she would be the
> one violating the GPL.

What if there were a non-GPL and a GPL implementation written to the same
interface definition?  I don't want to drag in the *ix kernel here, but there must be
other cases.

Alice could test using the unfree library (for which, perhaps, she does not
have a distribution license) and distribute the unfree application to run
with Trent's freely available clone.  Of course, Trent can make Alice's
life hard by changing the interface, but then he makes his other customers
suffer too.

> (I didn't buy that--it wouldn't be in Microsoft's interest to ban *all*
> Windows software, but it would be in their interest to ban, say, Word Perfect
> or Netscape.)

Shh!  Someone may be listening!  :-)


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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