A question about distributing software under GPL

kmself at ix.netcom.com kmself at ix.netcom.com
Tue Jan 16 05:50:15 UTC 2001

on Tue, Jan 16, 2001 at 12:11:56AM -0500, Chris F Clark (cfc at world.std.com) wrote:

> If we have some software (a library) that we wish to distibute under
> the GPL, but that software supports an application (specifically an
> application generator) that is not distributed under the GPL and is
> not open source,
>     can we distribute the library under the GPL, 

Oblig:  IANAL, this is not legal advice.

As a general rule, my argument would be "yes".  *If* you are the sole
author and/or copyrightholder in the work, *or* if you have secured
permission from (all) copyrightholder(s) to do so.

>     and more importantly
>     can we distribute it (and permits others to do so) with the
>     non-open source program, since their interoperability is more than
>     mere aggregation?

Again, as a general rule, yes.  Subject to the caveats above.

The short explanation:

    The GNU GPL (as with most free software licenses) grants rights to
    _non authors_ (or copyrightholders) of a work _which they wouldn't
    have, independently of the license_.

    You, as author, have these rights.  It's not necessary to grant them
    to yourself (though, as I say in my standard spiel on this topic,
    you can have your people talk to your people, do lunch with
    yourself, and see if you can't do business together).

> Relevant facts (as I percieve them):
> The software to be released under the GPL is not currently open source
> (and has not been derived from any open (or closed) source
> materials)--i.e. the group wishing to distribute the software is the
> author of the software in all senses of the word and it is theirs to
> distribute under any licenses they see fit.

If this representation is true, you should be OK.


> Still, the real question is can the author of software release it
> under the GPL and yet distribute it with non-GPL software when the
> (interoperability) bonding appears to be tighter than aggregation?

Generally, yes.  See above.


> Note that we cannot be compelled to release the application under the
> GPL (or any other license) as it does not currently contain any GPL
> (or otherwised licensed) components. 

Regarding compulsion under the GPL.  My understanding is that you may
find yourself, as a result of certain actions and/or inactions, in
noncompliance of the GPL.  However, you cannot be compelled (short a
directive from some legal authority) to release anything against your
will.  You may *choose* to release code to come into compliance.  As
I've said here before, compliance with and release of code under the
GPL are two separate issues.

> Further, I presume that if we can release our library under the GPL
> with the related application generator (not under the GPL), this will
> not produce a hole in the GPL, since the only reason we want to claim
> that we can do so is that we have a non-GPL copy of the library code
> we used in the generator.  

This is how I'd argue it.


> If we had used any GPL (or otherwise licensed) code in our program,
> then we would have had to abide by that license (and in the case of
> the GPL release a source copy of our generator under the GPL (or not
> release it at all)).

Yes.  Glad you got to this, because this is a limitation of acting in
the way you describe.  While you can claim bragging rights to a piece of
LGPLd software, you are essentially becoming what I call a "code
exporter" -- you have granted your code to the free software community,
but your rules of operation provide you very limited benefits from doing


> On a related point, if we cannot distribute our non-open source
> application with a GPL copy of our library, how could anyone release a
> CD with a non-open source Linux application and a copy of Linux (since
> the application is not useful without Linux, of which some parts must
> be GPL)?

See the OS exemptions to the GPL.


> For those of you are interested why we might do this, we are
> attempting to follow the lead of L. Peter Deutsch and release old
> copies of our software under more liberal (and more open source)
> licenses.  We expect no return for this release--we are doing it
> simply so we can easily give our software away (for example to
> universities)--in the hopes that by giving it away someone might do
> something useful with it that they couldn't (or wouldn't) have done
> without it.

Fair 'nuf.

> Finally, if we can distribute the software as we desire, how should we
> describe it?  

An unpretentious application, with fruity overtones....

Call it what it is and state that the libraries are *also* available,
separately, as an LGPL'd package, but not the combined work as a whole.

Karsten M. Self <kmself at ix.netcom.com>    http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
 What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?       There is no K5 cabal
  http://gestalt-system.sourceforge.net/         http://www.kuro5hin.org
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