Question about the GPL v3

Donovan Hawkins hawkins at
Sun Aug 19 20:58:03 UTC 2007

On Sun, 19 Aug 2007, Chris Travers wrote:

> In short, I don't think that either license precludes offering 
> additional permissions to original code even if that is derivative of GPL 
> code.


> 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.

You can add as many additional permissions as you want to your derivative 
work, but they apply only to your derivative work.

Look at copyright law in general. If I create a derivative work from your 
copyrighted work, I hold copyright on the derivative work. Even if I have 
no permission to use your work, you likewise have no permission to use my 
work. My derivative work is in limbo, and is only usable by someone who 
has permission from both of us. This issue has come up before with anime 
fansubs: fans who take Japanese shows, subtitle them into English, and 
give away copies of the combination. The fansubs aren't legal because the 
shows are copyrighted, but that doesn't mean the licensor of the show can 
steal the subtitles for use on his own DVD release.

So here we have GPL v3 and a similar situation. You have used my GPL v3 
software to create your GPL v3 derivative work and would like to add an 
additional permission to use your new interface without including 
Appropriate Legal Notices. My software has a legal notice on it, and you 
want to release your derivative without that legal notice on your new 
interface. When and where did I give you the right to apply that 
additional permission to my work? The rights I granted are within the four 
corners of GPL v3 and it doesn't say anything about forcing me to accept 
your permissions.

You have certainly granted that permission with respect to your derived 
work, but that permission is meaningless without the same permission from 
me. I released my software with an explicit requirement that ALL 
interfaces must contain my legal notice, and you cannot release anyone 
else from that requirement. Your derivative work could not be used unless 
someone adds back my legal notice.

So what effect does your permission have? If someone were to take your 
derivative work and remove all my code, they could use your interface in 
their own program and not put any of your legal notices on it.

> 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 provided.

I don't think the GPL v3 is as weak as you suggest, though I sympathize in 
general with the difficulty in finding a good license to release under. 
I'm right now conteplating whether to create my own license, add 
permissive terms to GPL, or just give up and settle for GPL for my own 
open source software.

Donovan Hawkins, PhD                 "The study of physics will always be
Software Engineer                     safer than biology, for while the
hawkins at                   hazards of physics drop off as 1/r^2,                biological ones grow exponentially."

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