The regrettable use of "all" in Section 7 of the GPL

jcowan at jcowan at
Wed Feb 18 18:48:55 UTC 2004

A private mail drew to my attention the following sentence in Section 7
of the GPLv2:

	For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free
	redistribution of the Program by *all* those who receive copies
	directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could
	satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely
	from distribution of the Program.

(Emphasis added.)

Now this "all" seems extremely unfortunate to me.  Suppose I file
for a patent P, the practice of which is required to run program R
released under the GPL.  Normally, distribution of R would be impossible.
But suppose I issue the following public license:  "Everyone is allowed
to practice patent P royalty-free (etc. etc.) except for the notorious
Richard Stallman."  Is distribution of R still impossible because Stallman
can't use it?

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye
have done it unto me, without doubt; but is the presence of a single legal
disability in a whole nation (and it doesn't have to be patent-based;
any kind of disability will do) grounds to withhold free software from
the rest?

John Cowan  jcowan at
If a soldier is asked why he kills people who have done him no harm, or a
terrorist why he kills innocent people with his bombs, they can always
reply that war has been declared, and there are no innocent people in an
enemy country in wartime.  The answer is psychotic, but it is the answer
that humanity has given to every act of aggression in history.  --Northrop Frye
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