[License-discuss] GPL linking exceptions

Chris Travers chris at metatrontech.com
Fri Jul 6 01:30:23 UTC 2012

On Mon, Jul 2, 2012 at 9:48 AM, Felix Krause <flyx at isobeef.org> wrote:
> Hi everyone,
> does a linking exception to the GPL require approval, or may a software be called open source whenever it is licensed under the GPL, even when the publisher grants the user additional rights?
> There are some licenses around that add a linking exception to the GPL. The one I use is the GNAT Modified GPL [1]; but there are also others like the exception in the license of the GNU Classpath project [2]. Both licenses are not mentioned on the OSI site.
> I think the core question is, does adding a linking exception to the GPL create a completely new license (which would need approval as open source license), or does it still count as licensed under the GPL and thus open source?
> I think it would be a good thing if this question was answered by the FAQ.

I second Bruce's suggestion to go talk to a lawyer.  In this case, I
think the Software Freedom Law Center may be able to be of assistance.
 If not, get an IP lawyer generally.  IANAL, TINLA, and even if I were
a lawyer I wouldn't suggest reading too much into this, because Real
Legal Advice requires taking all of your circumstances into account.
So take this as a post for ideas to discuss with a lawyer not advice.

The GNU GPL v3 is pretty clear (in Section 7) in that an author of
code may attach additional permissions to that code.  So linking
exceptions would seem to my mind to require only the permission of the
author of the linking code (which seems a no-brainer).  Since the work
as a whole in that case is the GPL v3, permissions granted according
to it, would seem in line with the license.

In the GPL v2 it is less clear.  At its outer limits however, it can
only permit things prohibited under copyright law.  Generally RMS
seems to think this is not permissible, and most other people outside
the FSF don't listen.  The number of projects which do this are fairly
large, and to my knowledge nobody has taken action against someone who
creates their own code which is released under the GPL and contains a
linking exception.  However if using the FSF's code, the fact that
they have taken a strong line here, I would suggest asking them for

Additionally there is the question (much discussed on this list not
too long ago) whether copyright law even allows restricting secondary
markets for practical tools in this way.  Rick Moen and I strongly
disagree on this issue.  I think the clear pattern of cases including
Oracle v. Google points towards a negative answer here.

But the goal of getting advice from a real lawyer isn't just to
prevail if you are sued, it's to avoid being sued in the first place.
So get a real lawyer.

Best Wishes,
Chris Travers

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