Question about the GPL v3

Chris Travers chris at
Sun Aug 19 20:24:27 UTC 2007

Donovan Hawkins wrote:
> On Sun, 19 Aug 2007, Chris Travers wrote:
>> I don't read the GPL v3 as precluding other permissive terms, 
>> possibly on a per-file basis.  Is there any reason to think that an 
>> individual implementing an additional interactive interface by adding 
>> new files to a program could not provide permission to omit the legal 
>> notices for the interfaces provided in the file?  (i.e. "you have 
>> permission to implement the interactive interfaces in this file 
>> without adding Appropriate Legal notices as otherwise required by the 
>> license")
> IANAL, but I think you would need to obtain that permission from all 
> GPL v3 code used in the project, not just from the code that 
> implements the additional interface.

Hmmm...  Not sure I agree with that reading.  Here is my reasoning based 
on decisions made by other projects.  IANAL either, of course.

I see no reason to read the GPL v3 any differently than the GPL v2 with 
regard to questions of additional permissions of original but derivative 
elements.  In short, I don't think that either license precludes 
offering additional permissions to original code even if that is 
derivative of GPL code.  The GPL v[23] also very explicitly separates 
additional terms based on whether they are permissive or restrictive.

In short you are *only* required to release your code under the GPL and 
an appropriate version.  You are not required to release your code 
*only* under the GPL and appropriate version.  Let us look at two 
analogous cases under the GPL v2:

1)  ndiswrapper.  This work, arguably a derivative of the Linux kernel, 
allows one to link the Linux kernel to proprietary WIndows NDIS 
drivers.  Nobody has ever challenged the author's right to add a linking 
exception to this code unambiguously allowing the use of Windows NDIS 
drivers with the code (though arguably such a linking exception may not 
generally be required as questions of derivation or what constitutes the 
work as a whole probably would not include them).

2)  nVidia closed source Linux drivers.  The general argument in favor 
of nVidia is that kernel-level core logic was included in such a way 
that it was not derivative of the Linux kernel and is therefore not 
covered under the GPL.  However, the nVidia driver distribution does 
also include another set of code, derived from *both* the Linux kernel 
and the nVidia proprietary elements which is released under a license 
generally acknowledged to be compatible with both licenses provided that 
there are not questions as to whether there exists a work as a whole 
which encompases both the GPL and nVidia proprietary elements (and even 
if there is, nVidia does not seem to be distributing such a hypothetical 
work as a whole).  The nVidia example suggests that derivative elements 
outside the work as a whole may clearly add permissions not found in the 

So this seems to raise the following questions:

Does such a file, if derived but distributed separately from another 
GPL'd work allow for original elements (i.e. new user interfaces) to 
bear additional permissions?  It seems clear to me that the answer is yes.

If that file is incorporated back into the main work as a whole do those 
permissions go away?  I don't think so.  Even if they do, you run back 
into the fact that the GPL v3 does not require you to add such notices 
if they are missing.

If someone does give permission to drop the notices for interfaces they 
add, this is not distributed separately even at first, and these are 
included, is this actionable by another developer?  I really don't 
know.  It is, however, hard for me to see how this would be 
differentiable from the case listed above if the contributor in question 
retained copyrights to his/her contribution.

THe problem however in the last case seems to me that it makes the 
appropriate legal notices clause very weak and seems to say "it is OK to 
intentionally exclude yourself from this requirement, but if you do so 
accidently...."  But the same thing exists with regard to linking 
exceptions in GPL v[23] as well.  Nothing in the GPL v2 forbids linking 
exceptions to works under incompatible licenses for content under one's 
own copyright ownership.  The question is how different this sort of 
thing is.

We are actually considering what to do about the license of the project 
at the moment (currently GPL v2 or later).  We may go LGPL v2, stay with 
the current arrangement, GPL v3, or GPL v2 with linking exceptions to 
GPL v3.  I don't like what I see in the GPL v3. and the release of the 
license poses a number of possible problems for the project down the 
road including eroding some of the main protections that the GPL v2 has 

Best Wishes,
Chris Travers
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