Open Source Content License (OSCL) - Other/Miscellaneous licenses

Wilson, Andrew andrew.wilson at
Fri Apr 18 23:19:16 UTC 2008


Rick Moen [mailto:rick at] wrote:

> Quoting Andrew Wilson (andrew.wilson at
>> Even FSF, to my knowledge, never uses GPL for any of their
>> documentation.
> Quoting :
>   "Originally, all our documentation was released under a short
>   Copyleft license, or under the GNU General Public License (GPL)
>   itself."

And so they did, but now they don't, preferring GFDL for all
their human-readable documentation since 2001.  Their
current guidelines are the same as my recommendation:

>> Using GPL, or any other SW license, for text strikes me
>> as not a good idea.  
> On what grounds, exactly?  The applicability of, e.g., new-BSD or GPL
> documentation is straightforward:  The "preferred form" is the
> format for purposes of modifications, etc.  Compatibility with
> accompanying software works for purposes of possible future creation
> derivatives becomes less of a problem, and the licence can be a
> one with known effects.  

Well, since you asked, it's not that I think you couldn't in principle
apply OSI-approved SW licenses to other forms of copyrightable material,
it's that I think there are compliance issues in practice.

Take new-BSD.  Sure, new-BSD allows you to redistribute in source
and make modifications. So far, so good.  But, it also requires you to 
reproduce the entire license text, including 
Reproducing an excerpt with attribution but sans full license
is not allowed.

GPL has the same problem -- you are required to provide a full copy of
GPL with each distribution of a derivative work and to mark each copy
with a disclaimer of warranty.  And then there's
the ever-popular debate over the scope of GPL copyleft, which is
confusing enough for code and for which there is absolutely no
case law, to my knowledge, for guidance on human-readable GPL'd text.

There are certain types of documents where it is vitally important
that text must be preserved as-is with no editing allowed.
GFDL, for example, recognizes this by allowing authors to mark
"invariant sections."  On the other hand, per the OSD, all
OSI-approved licenses allow you to make modifications to
licensed code without restriction.

All in all, it seems like good practice to use a SW license
for SW and a text license for text.


Andy Wilson
Intel open source technology center

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