OFF-TOPIC: Qt history refresher course?

David Johnson david at
Tue Feb 12 04:37:50 UTC 2002

On Monday 11 February 2002 11:40 am, Rick Moen wrote:

> A number of distributions including Red Hat (at first) and Debian
> declined to include KDE binaries because of licence conflicts.

I seem to recall that Redhat and Debian (which was first) were the only ones 
not to distribute KDE based on licensing. Other distros that did not 
distribute KDE did not distribute Gnome either. TurboLinux already had it's 
own desktop, and of course all the tiny linuces didn't have room.

One of the tidbits one finds when reviewing this history is a white paper 
posted at Redhat asserting that distributing KDE was illegal (their word, not 
mine). When Redhat 6.0 came out, but before Qt became GPL compliant, they 
once again started distributing KDE, but forget to take this white paper down 
from their website until I brought it to their attention.

> It was argued by KDE partisans that the creators of "K" applications
> implicitly permitted Qt linkage by the very nature of the what they
> wrote, despite their written licence terms being GPL v. 2. 

There were several arguments from the KDE side. One was that certain clauses 
in the GPL were very vague. Was Qt normally distributed with Linux? Was it a 
component of the operating system? Another was the question of whether the 
GPL could apply itself "backwards" in the chain of linkage, or if it only 
applied to the orginal work and derivatives.

> The KDE organisers persistently ignored the problem and acted as if it
> didn't exist.  I'm sure they have their own story to tell, but one of
> the unfortunate consequences has been lasting distrust on the part of
> some:  Open source authors' conditions of use were casually ignored, and
> nobody at KDE seemed willing to acknowledge a problem.

First, we didn't ignore the problem. We had already analyzed the legal issues 
and concluded that giving a copy of KDE to your friend was perfectly legal.  
The legal departments of Mandrake, SuSE and other distros concurred, and 
continued distributing KDE. That other people differed in their opinions was 
none of our concerns. Second, that "lasting distrust" was unfortunate, but 
still nothing we could have done anything about. To admit we were wrong when 
we knew we were not would have been dishonest.

Now that I think about it, I don't recall any lawyer specialized in the area 
ever actually commenting on this issue. I remember that it was all about 
one group's lay opinion versus another group's lay opinion.

Did this controversy cause conditions of use to be casually ignored? I don't 
think so. I think it did just the opposite. I think it made people read the 
licenses of their software to see what they actually said instead of merely 
taking some hacker's lay opinion as legal fact.

David Johnson
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