"viral" (was RE: Licensing options for firmware)

Michael Bernstein webmaven at cox.net
Wed Apr 6 16:17:07 UTC 2005

On Wed, 2005-04-06 at 10:39 -0500, James W. Thompson, II wrote:
> Sorry, not an acquaintance of Ken Brown's.
> What justification can there be to say that if you choose to extend an
> application that you must license your work under the same terms as
> the original app, shouldn't the author of code set its terms, not
> someone else?

The author *did* set the terms, and chose the GPL. Oh, I see, you mean
the author of the derivative work should have the option of ignoring the
original author's express wishes.

The justification is simple: It is a quid-pro-quo. If you want to use
this GPL-licensed code, you must pay in kind.

If this is so unpalatable to you, you have several options:

* find a BSD-licensed body of code with similar functionality
* find a commercial product that permits commercial derivatives
* ask the original author for an exception or access under another
license (which you might have to pay for)
* write your own damn software and stop trying to make a quick buck off
of other people's work

>  The GPL restricts freedom in regards to derivative works
> through this 'viral' nature and without solid justification, why? In
> order to expand the GPL sandbox at the expense of author freedom.

I think the justification is simple and described very well in the GPL
preamble and other places. You want the freedom to restrict your users'
freedom. The GPL limits your freedom to do so in order to maintain
freedoms for users. This seems like an eminently reasonable trade-off to
me, and to many developers who choose to license their code under the

>  Sure
> I can choose to not use and extend Free software but wouldn't it be
> more profitable to simply accept extension under reasonable terms, or
> heck, shouldn't the author of a modification be permitted to decide
> the destiny of their code so long as he doesn't go against the desires
> of the original author's code in regards to that original author's
> work.

More profitable? While the GPL isn't anti-business, it is safe to say
that the profit motive (in a purely monetary sense) wasn't the foremost
concern in mind when it was drafted. Nevertheless, plenty of very
profitable businesses have been built around GPL code, so if you are
unable to do so, I think this is more a reflection of your lack of
talent for business.

And, the author of a modification *is* permitted to decide the destiny
of their code so long as it doesn't go against the desires of the
original author. It so happens that the desires of that original author
include that derivative works be licensed under the GPL.

> Just because no other 'resonable terms' at the time of authoring of
> the GPL is merely a lack of foresight.


The authors of the GPL, in my opinion, showed a *remarkable* amount of
foresight, and the results (a vital and growing body of code) are a
testament to that foresight.

Good luck in your endeavors,

- Michael Bernstein

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