Combining GPL and non-GPL code

Rick Moen rick at
Sat Aug 18 01:18:08 UTC 2007

Quoting Andrew Wilson (andrew.wilson at


> Once you get your mind around the necessity to relicense
> (or sublicense) GPL derivatives as GPL,...

FWIW, I deny the premise, as detailed below.

> makes other questions more decidable.  For example, the NDIS
> driver wrapper scenario you raised: you may combine that binary NDIS
> driver with GPL code as long as you do not distribute the combination.
> To distribute it, sec-2-para-b says you must relicense the whole as
> GPL.  Since you do not have rights to relicense the binary, there is a
> conflict of licenses and you cannot distribute the combination.

GPLv2 section 2b does indeed use the phrase "must cause any work [...]
to be licensed as a whole [...] under the terms of this License."
_However_, for purposes of avoiding copyright infringement, it suffices
for the extra, third-party code to be available with new-BSD or MIT /
X11 rights, of which GPLv2 rights are a proper subset, with the effect 
of compliance to the likely satisfaction of any judge.  I agree with
John Cowan:  If someone hands me a CD with tarballs of the Exim MTA
source code (which is GPLv2 with a licensing exception for
old-BSD-licensed libraries) configured to use external library code for
SSL/TLS-wrapped SMTP, accompanied by OpenSSL source code (which is a
combination of Eric A. Young's old-BSD code and subsequent new-BSD
additions), then, if I extract the OpenSSL tarball and redistribute it,
_that_ code remains BSD-licensed, as specified and required by its
owners and licensors.

Many innocent electrons have been needlessly murdered, over the years,
by some of our BSD brethren up in arms over the bugabear of GPL
codebases' alleged "relicensing" of their work to GPLv2, against their
wishes:  This may be a fine point of law, but I personally think it's
abundantly clear that this is, actually, a phoney issue, because
copyright owners alone are entitled to decree licence terms for their
creations.  Period.

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