[License-discuss] Red Hat compilation copyright & RHEL contract (was Re: License incompatibility)

Bradley M. Kuhn bkuhn at ebb.org
Mon Sep 2 15:46:20 UTC 2013

Al Foxone asked me on Friday at 13:58 (EDT) about:
> http://www.redhat.com/f/pdf/corp/RH-3573_284204_TM_Gd.pdf
> At the same time, the combined body of work that constitutes Red Hat®
> Enterprise Linux® is a collective work which has been organized by Red
> Hat, and Red Hat holds the copyright in that collective work. Red Hat
> then permits others to copy, modify and redistribute the collective
> work. To grant this permission Red Hat usually uses the GNU General
> Public License (“GPL”) version 2 and Red Hat’s own End User License
> Agreement."

It's certainly possible to license all sorts of copyrights under GPL,
since it's a copyright license.  Red Hat has chosen, IMO rather oddly,
to claim strongly a compilation copyright on putting together RHEL and
Red Hat licenses that copyright under terms of GPL.

It's certainly possible to do that.  It's admittedly a strange behavior,
and I've been asking Red Hat Legal for many years now to explain better
why they're doing this and what they believe it's accomplishing.  I've
yet to receive a straight answer.  Can anyone from Red Hat on the list
tell us if Red Hat Legal's answer remains: "No comment"?

> I doubt that "Red Hat’s own End User License Agreement" is
> 'compatible' (according to you) with the GPL'd components in that
> combined work as whole. Anyway, that combined work as a whole must be
> full of proclaimed 'incompatibly' licensed components (once again
> according to you). How come that this is possible?

However, don't conflate RHEL's compilation copyright issue with the RHEL
customer contract.  They're mostly unrelated issues.  The RHEL customer
contract has long been discussed, and it amounts to a "if you exercise
your rights under GPL, your money is no good here" arrangement.
That's not an arrangement that I think is reasonable (and it's why I
wouldn't be a RHEL customer myself), but there's nothing in GPL (that
I'm aware of) that requires that one keep someone as a customer.
Imagine if GPL *did* forbid firing your customers!  It'd really
hurt independent contractors who offer Free Software support.

Also, I encourage discerning carefully between mundane GPL violations
and Free Software license incompatibility.  While both could be
classified as "GPL violations", Free Software license incompatibility
usually refers to a situation where Free Software authors seek to DTRT
but are confused when navigating contradictions between two Free
Software licenses for works they seek to combine.  At most, you could
say "Free Software license incompatibility is a specialized case of a
potential copyleft violation".  However, that's a technically accurate
but misleading characterization, since the motives are usually
non-commercial, coupled with a desire to DTRT for the community.
   -- bkuhn

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