For Approval: GPLv3
hawkins at cephira.com
Tue Aug 28 03:53:54 UTC 2007
On Mon, 27 Aug 2007, Chris Travers wrote:
> In the US, and many other countries, we have an originality standard for
> copyright. This means that original expression may be copyrighted, but that
> functional elements (ideas, facts) may not. Furthermore in derivative or
> collected works, any copyrights for the work as a whole only extend to the
> original expressive elements added by the new author. Thus, if I include an
> excerpt of a translation of poetry in a book on Norse mythology, I need the
> translator's permission to do this, but if I am granted that, I do not gain
> copyright ownership over that excerpt as included (I ran into this, couldn't
> get permission, and did my own translation as a result).
That's my understanding of copyright law as well. If you did get
permission, you would have copyright over the rest of the book but not
over the quote you used from that translator. You could stop anyone from
reprinting the book without permission, but could not stop anyone from
stealing that quote because it isn't yours.
> I don't think anyone will argue that the same applies to software. If I
> include BSDL code into my program, I do so under the permission fromthe BSD
> License. I do not acquire any copyrights to the code I include by doing so.
How is this different? If you take some code (the quote) from a BSDL
program and put it in your GPL program (the book), you have copyright on
your code but not the BSDL code. You can enforce how your code is used but
not how the BSDL code is used.
But then, you don't need enforcement power to issue permissions. You can
tell your readers "You may use this book" when it contains another
person's quote because that person gave you permission to do that.
Similarly, you can tell people "You may use this program under GPL v3"
when it contains BSDL code because that person gave you permission to
distribute that (and most any other) way.
Keep in mind that all licenses are permissions. In no way does the
existence of a license place restrictions on you...if it did, you would
have to consent before the license could be issued. GPL v3, for example,
is the permission to use the program in a very specific way. That specific
way is phrased in terms of a ton of "restrictions", but they are
restricting you from doing things you couldn't have done anyways without
the license. On the whole, the existence of GPL v3 on the program simply
grants you a complex permission. BSDL grants you a greater (and less
So if you distribute your derived work under GPL v3, you aren't telling
anyone "you are not allowed to release binary-only copies of this". You
are telling people "here is a permission to use this which is contigent on
not releasing binary-only copies". GPL v3 specifically allows other
permissions to exist and does not limit them, regardless of whether they
are "Additional Permissions" included with the GPL v3 license or simply
other permissions that happen to exist (such as you might get by
contacting a GPL author directly and negotiating a deal for usage in a
closed source program).
To modify the earlier example we had going: you told people "You have
permission to dance and/or sing". I told them "you have permission to
dance while not singing." I technically granted a permission to dance a
certain way, not a restriction to not sing.
(Of course, that recent court case involving the Artistic License being
treated as a contract mucks my whole argument up, but let's set that aside
at least until the appeal is over. Speaking of which, has the EFF or SFLC
been asked to help out with that yet? I hope they don't let this go down
to defeat without filing a few briefs at least.)
> Now in either case, the work as a whole needs to be licensed under the GPL.
> We can all agree on this. However, the basic matter is that I can only
> enforce my own copyrights-- I cannot enforce copyright infringement on
> elements that are not original to me or have had copyright transferred
> appropriately. Hence even if I "only leave the notice of the license and
> relicense under the GPL" the original elements of the code which have not
> been substantively altered do not become, as a practical matter, encumbered
> by the GPL simply because I do not have rights to enforce it.
I agree completely. Practically speaking, nothing has changed in terms of
what someone can do.
> For this reason, I have *no* idea what it means to, in the process of
> conveying, remove additional permissions (section 7, second paragraph). Such
> a removal of permissions would either be meaningless (I try never to read a
> contract or license that way if I can help it, and if this *is* the correct
> reading, one runs into truth-in-advertising issues), it could be beyond the
> scope of the copyright license (in which case it might be compatible with the
> MS-PL), or it could be in conflict with every license out there by mandating
> controls over copyright permissions that nobody else has the right to
I forget if GPL has a severability clause, but if it does then the latter
interpretation wouldn't hurt anything because that would simply not occur.
For the most part, the only affect that removing an Additional Permission
really has is to do a bit of housecleaning on LICENSE.TXT, prevent
possible confusion from people who think the permission applies to all the
code, or allow someone to not have to mention by name a license they don't
I think the FSF was concerned with people using Additional Permissions and
Further Restrictions to mutate the GPL into a different license in a
permanent way. The ability to remove Additional Permissions and ignore
Further Restrictions ensures that any copy of GPL v3, no matter how
mutated, can be restored to the original GPL v3 in the next generation.
They were afraid of someone coming in and releasing their derived works
under GPL v3 plus a bunch of absurd permissions/restrictions that would
keep any other developer from touching it, making it a worthless
contribution to the community. Keep in mind that the author of that
derived work would NOT be bound by those additional terms, so he could
poison the well without drinking from it himself.
As a good example, imagine the "Additional Permission" to use all future
derived works under BSDL. Would it prevent others from enforcing GPL on
downstream derived works? Even if it didn't, it would probably scare off
most developers from trying if not from the trivial ability to nuke the
Donovan Hawkins, PhD "The study of physics will always be
Software Engineer safer than biology, for while the
hawkins at cephira.com hazards of physics drop off as 1/r^2,
http://www.cephira.com biological ones grow exponentially."
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