Implications for switching licenses mid-stream

John Cowan cowan at
Thu Apr 24 18:29:56 UTC 2008

Rick Moen scripsit:

> That is true, but in this case, we've spoken of a project leader who
> _did_ issue a new instance of the codebase under a new licence.  That
> deed, and the accompanying lack of any tort by which anyone might
> enjoin, seems like all the legal power that ever _is_ available to one
> of us featherless bipeds, neh?

Why no.  The disability (lack of power) of relicensing the unchanged
code on legal theory B means that if I have a GPL-licensed copy that is
(otherwise than its license) identical to a BSD-licensed copy which I
have not got (perhaps I have a hash of it and can compare the hashes),
then I can (again on legal theory B) treat the GPLed code as if it were
BSD-licensed, ignoring the various restrictions the GPL imposes.

Of course this won't work on changed versions of the GPLed code.

These distinctions are founded on Hohfeld's basic classification of rights,
which unfortunately has no terse yet rigorous explication on the net that
I can find.  Briefly then, rights may be claims (or rights narrowly
construed), liberties/privileges (we say "liberty" if everyone has it and
"privilege" if only some do), powers, and immunities.  Each term has an

	if I do not have a claim (to be paid $100 by you), then I have a
	"no-right" (there is no proper name for this);

	if I do not have a privilege (to cross your land), I have a duty
	(not to cross it);

	if I do not have the power (to divorce my wife by a mere form
	of words) then I have a disability to do so;

	if I do not have an immunity (from the damages caused by my actions),
	I have a liability (to pay for them).

John Cowan   cowan at
If a soldier is asked why he kills people who have done him no harm, or a
terrorist why he kills innocent people with his bombs, they can always
reply that war has been declared, and there are no innocent people in an
enemy country in wartime.  The answer is psychotic, but it is the answer
that humanity has given to every act of aggression in history.  --Northrop Frye

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