DRAFT FAQ: Free vs. Open

Philippe Verdy verdy_p at wanadoo.fr
Fri Jan 11 04:46:35 UTC 2008

Matthew Flaschen [mailto:matthew.flaschen at gatech.edu] wrote:
> > (excluding also the "Preamble" which is not binding, even though it is
> > widely advertised, it is not a required part of the FSF licences,
> > including in "verbatim" copies of the licence, a Preamble that you
> > can freely drop if it does not reflect your opinion).
> The preamble is not legally binding (it may be advisory), but you *can
> not* drop it.  If you drop the preamble, you are infringing copyright on
> both the license and any software you're distributing with it.
> See http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/gpl-faq.html#GPLOmitPreamble,
> though it is also clear from the license text itself.

Thanks for pointing it. That's the first time I've seen such comment,
despite I've been on FSF discussion lists since many years (and also a
subscribing member). May be I read it sometime but I have forgotten it
within the huge flow of discussions about the GPL (including the preliminary
discussions of GPLv3).

I hope I never failed here (anyway the GPL is so easy to find that there's
no reason to modify it we you can just copy it verbatim without additional
work and without having to explain why it is there or if we support or like
it or not), by providing only an extract of it without also giving the full
text (it may have happened in some discussion mails or negociations, but not
in the deliverable products). What really matters is that the GPL itself
gives this preamble no real legal binding. And we never claimed ownership or
authorship on this text that is FSF-copyrighted and signed by the FSF.

But I've seen many GPL software packages coming without the final advisory
instructions ("How to..."). The "verbatim" word means that no change is
allowed in the text, but does not clearly state what parts of the text are
mandatory, because the most visible delimitations (in all capitals) are
stating such delimitation of the mandatory section. The GPL spends more time
to speak about the non mandatory additional rights that could be added in
some distribution, and which may be non-mandatorily transferable along with
it. This reduction of the GPL text to only its central mandatory part is
seen in some packages or bundles that are aggregating lots of licences
packed into a single "licences.txt" file, instead of many separate files;
I've also seen this text reduction within the confirmation dialog of some
GPL-released installers of some tools (but after installation the whole
licence file gets copied somewhere).

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