How To Break The GPL

John Cowan jcowan at
Fri Mar 3 23:30:56 UTC 2000

Justin Wells wrote:

>   -- fame from becoming well known as the author of a free software work
>   -- expectation that you will receive further copyrighted material in
>      return, from someone who contributed to your project (this is
>      explicitly mentioned as being of value in US title 17, the
>      copyright act).
>   -- the service of distributing your copyrighted work to other people
>      for you so that they can provide one of the above
>   -- personal satisfaction in knowing that others use your software

Yes, but you don't *get* those things as a direct consequence of
someone else downloading your software.  Also, consideration can't
be immaterial: that's why contracts say "the sum of $1 and other
valuable considerations".  The $1 makes it real.

> Also, is the GPL a copyright *grant* or a copyright *license*? A grant
> assigns ownership rights to other people. A license simply gives
> everyone some permission to use it.
> I think the GPL is a *license* and probably depends on there being
> some consideration.

In the technical terms of the Copyright Act, there are neither
grants nor licenses, but only copyright transfers, exclusive and
non-exclusive.  Exclusive transfers are what we geeks would call
transfers (transferee gets all rights except those already granted
away, transferor keeps no rights).  Non-exclusive transfers are
what we call licenses.

> I am not a lawyer, so take all this with a grain of salt.

Nor am I.

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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