Wired Article on the GPL

John Cowan jcowan at reutershealth.com
Thu Mar 30 22:09:35 UTC 2000

"Matthew C. Weigel" wrote:

> Ummm... yes, you can accept or reject the GPL, if I understand it correctly.
> You either accept the terms of the license -- the restrictions placed on
> distribution, for instance -- or you don't, and if you don't, you have no
> legal recourse for distribution.

You can "accept" the GPL by exercising your rights under the GPL in accordance
with its terms, or you can "reject" the GPL by not exercising your rights.
But this is not acceptance as understood in discussing contracts.  That
would be like saying you "reject" your constitutional right of free speech
by remaining silent.  You still have your rights, you just aren't exercising
them.  And if what you want is to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre (when
there is no fire), your free speech rights will not help you.

> If you choose to not accept the license, then you can't use the software.

Definitely not true of GPLed software.  You may not copy, distribute, or
create derivative works except under the terms of the GPL.  But you can use
the software on one machine or many; you can study the software to determine
how it does what it does, etc. etc.

In this way the GPL is unlike proprietary licenses, where indeed you cannot
use the software unless you have accepted the license (but under UCITA,
using counts as accepting).

> > If the copyright owner revokes the permissions, you are probably out of
> > luck.
> Can a copyright owner revoke a license which has no 'revocation' clause?  It
> seems that other licenses, such as the APSL, were scrupulous in including
> such a clause so as to be able to revoke the license.

Sure.  If I grant you bare permission to do something, with no reciprocal
promise on your part, I can change my mind whenever I like, thus:

"Here, use my car....no, I lied.  You can't."

The previous license will not help you now.

Schlingt dreifach einen Kreis um dies! || John Cowan <jcowan at reutershealth.com>
Schliesst euer Aug vor heiliger Schau,  || http://www.reutershealth.com
Denn er genoss vom Honig-Tau,           || http://www.ccil.org/~cowan
Und trank die Milch vom Paradies.            -- Coleridge (tr. Politzer)

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