Combining GPL and non-GPL code

John Cowan cowan at
Thu Aug 2 21:42:30 UTC 2007

Wilson, Andrew scripsit:

> This one's actually pretty easy.  The book publisher has an anthology
> copyright on the compilation.  You can still make fair use
> of individual articles.

In this case, licensed use rather than fair use as such.

> However, the creator of the derivative
> program we were discussing in the GPL scenario, which is itself a
> work of authorship in that it combines GPL and BSD code 
> to form a new expression, has a no-adjective
> copyright in the new expression, not an anthology copyright.

Well, a derived work copyright, but that doesn't affect your point.

The catch, however, is that the typical tarball in which a work in
source code form is delivered is a lot like an anthology, only even
thinner because ordering is alphabetical.  That is, you have a bunch
of files in it, each under its own license.  If you compile and
link them into a binary and there are GPLed components, you must
follow the GPL with respect to that binary.  But just taking a file
out of the tarball, that's much more like copying the chapter as
described above.

> I don't see the argument that you can reach into a copyrighted
> work and extract subsections without following the copyrighted work's license.

If the work is simply assembled from those subsections, and each subsection
has its own license, the case begins to look different.

> Again, in the GPL hypo, the only license you have from the
> creator of the derivative and from any subsequent distributors is GPL.

True, but you have licenses from the creators of the parts as well.
The BSD license applies to anyone into whose hands the source code comes.

> IANAL, TINLA, etc.

/me too.

There are three kinds of people in the world:   John Cowan
those who can count,                            cowan at
and those who can't.

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