Dynamic linking, was: Re: Dispelling BSD License Misconceptions

Chuck Swiger chuck at codefab.com
Tue Jan 30 02:47:19 UTC 2007

On Jan 29, 2007, at 2:37 PM, Ben Tilly wrote:
> True.  However it all rests on what is considered "mere aggregation".
> I'd be surprised to see a court rule that linking was mere aggreation.
> Particularly given the fact that the FSF has made it very clear that
> they *don't* think that linking is mere aggregation, and nobody has
> challenged them on that.

Hmm-- what about people like nVidia providing proprietary Linux  
kernel modules for their video cards...?

> [ ... ]
>> > In any case you raised a number of interesting points in that  
>> email.
>> > A key one is that in your opinion distributing a hyperlink to  
>> the GPL
>> > along with a GPLed file should count as distribution of the GPL
>> > license.  While this seems like a reasonable practice, it doesn't
>> > match my understanding of the GPL that one can merely offer the
>> > license text in place of giving the license text to the recipient.
>> > (The license says that one must give the recipient the license.)
>> Yes, it does.  If you've redistributed GPL'ed software such as
>> JavaScript code, CSS, etc, then you need to provide the text of the
>> GNU General Public License to the recipients.
> Excuse me?

You said "(The license says that one must give the recipient the  
license.)"; I agree with this, that is a reasonable paraphrase of  
what GPL clause 1 says.

> When I said that it doesn't match my understanding, I meant what I
> said.  It doesn't match my understanding.

Apparently true; I doubt your understanding matches that of the GNU  
project or almost anyone else such as a Linux vendor redistributing  
GPL'ed software via the WWW.

>> To me, that means you need to make the text downloadable as a
>> normal .txt or HTML file from the site which offers the GPL'ed
>> software, not that you need the whole text of the GPL on every single
>> page of the site, or included with every single resource files which
>> comprises the site.  After all, you can GPL image resources like PNG/
>> GIF/JPG/etc files, but the image file formats do not lend themselves
>> to including the GPL text with these image files...
> You've just repeated your understanding.  However you haven't changed
> mine.  I don't think that telling someone where they can find the text
> to the license is equivalent to actually giving them the license.

Yes, that's right-- the two are not equivalent.

If you browse to a website which redistributes GPLed software via  
Javascript or whatever, the site should "print or display an  
announcement ... telling the user how to view a copy of this  
License." per GPL clause 2c.  If you provide a link which lets them  
view a copy of the license from your site, you've satisfied this  

A single source file, .js file, etc does not normally constitute an  
entire Program; you need to distribute a copy of the GPL with the  
Program, not with each individual subcomponent.  And, as an example  
to support this interpretation, go visit:


...or any other GNU project available there via CVSweb and observe  
for yourself that gnu.org does not provide the full GPL text with  
every file nor even provide a link to the GPL on each and every  
page.  Neither do third-parties who redistribute GPL source code such  
as RedHat, Novell, the various BSDs, Darwin from Apple, etc.

If your position is that gnu.org, RedHat, and everyone else providing  
HTTP or FTP access to GPL'ed software in such a fashion nevertheless  
are violating GPL clause 1, even though it is simply not possible to  
provide the GPL text with each and every GPL'ed subcomponent due to  
(eg) binary image formats, please review "reductio ad absurdum":


...and re-evaluate your position until it does not require the  
impossible to occur.


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