How To Break The GPL - Copyright versus Contract

John Cowan jcowan at
Fri Mar 10 14:34:28 UTC 2000

"Dennis E. Hamilton" wrote:

> However, my sense of the GPL is that the Free Software Foundation is relying
> only on Copyright for the GPL, and that there is nothing but a conditional
> (non-exclusive and royalty free) license of copyright conveyed in the GPL
> (apart from the "no warranty" aspects).


> I guess here it is a matter of asking the FSF whether they see themselves as
> having accomplished anything else, since when we employ the GPL we appear to
> be assigning copyright to the FSF.

Not at all.  The GNU GPL is a nonexclusive transfer of copyright (a regrettable
term, since "transfer" connotes "you don't have it any more") from you,
the author of the software, to everyone.  The FSF is not involved.

When you make a patch to an FSF-copyrighted program and send it to them for
incorporation (which you are not obliged to do) they ask you for an *exclusive*
transfer of your copyright to the FSF, but that has nothing to do with the
GNU GPL and everything to do with administrative convenience.

The Linux kernel, e.g., is copyright Linus Torvalds and others.  The FSF has
no copyright interest in 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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