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

Seth Johnson seth.johnson at
Wed Feb 18 19:15:53 UTC 2004

Yes, its distribution is still impossible.  The GPL preserves its 
generality through the generality of the provenance of copyright.  
Various licenses may assert all manner of things, but the principled 
position of the GPL inherently applies in this case.

(Or so I would say by way of taking a stab at this question.  I hope 
I've managed to express the idea well.)


-----Original Message-----
From: jcowan at
Date: Wed, 18 Feb 2004 13:48:55 -0500
Subject: The regrettable use of "all" in Section 7 of the GPL

> 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
> --
> license-discuss archive is at

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