[License-discuss] GPLv3 'permanent' license reinstatement?

Kevin P. Fleming kevin+osi at km6g.us
Fri Oct 26 10:12:00 UTC 2018

For what it's worth, this is not just an academic exercise, nor am I
trying to waste the time of the fine people on this mailing list :-)

I've been requested to consider having my employer join the GPL
Cooperation Commitment, which effectively substitutes GPLv3's section
8 for the corresponding portion of GPLv2 in any GPLv2-licensed works
over which my employer holds copyrights. While I'm not a lawyer, and
thus I don't represent the company from a legal point of view, our
legal team relies on me to provide advice and guidance in many open
source related matters, and when I consult with them on this topic
they'll want to understand any community understanding or consensus
around this language (should it exist). Thus my goal here is to find
out if the community has had any previous discussion of this wording
choice (I haven't been able to find any such discussion, but it's a
difficult thing to search for), and if not, find out if the current
community considers this an area of concern.

Now back to the particulars:

Paragraph 2 of section 8 clearly contemplates the 'cessation' of
license-violating activities being a defined event, since the last
sentence computes a time period for the copyright holder to provide
notification based on the occurrence of the cessation. Thus, at least
in this context, 'cease' is being used to indicate the literal ceasing
of the license-violating activities which triggered the section 8
termination. If the cessation was instead expected to be ongoing and
indefinite, it could not be used as a trigger for any actions by any
party, since there would be no point at which it could be deemed to
have occurred.

This leads me back to the choice of the word 'permanently' in clause
(b) of the second paragraph. To my understanding of how English works,
'permanently reinstating a license' means that the license is now
permanent (not the reinstatement, which is an action that has no time
component). Permanent means... permanent, expected to exist forever.
Someone chose this word here for a reason, I assume, given how
extensive the GPLv3 drafting process was, and I fail to understand why
it would have been chosen over other alternatives: for example,
'indefinitely' would be a suitable contrast to clause (a)'s
'provisionally', while leaving open the possibility of termination at
an unspecified time in the future.

I do not believe the intent in the drafting was to provide a mechanism
for a licensee to escape the obligations of the license, but I can't
see how 'permanently' could reasonably be interpreted in any other

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