[forum] Mission statement and 1.1 license issues

Alexander Terekhov forum@xfree86.org
Mon, 29 Mar 2004 11:59:43 +0200

Richard Stallman wrote:
>     I say that XFree86 1.1 license is fully compatible with the GNU
>     GPL. A compilation is NOT a derivative work.
> You are right about the distinction. 

Bah. Let's see. 



The Lesser GPL, or LGPL, is a second software license written 
by the Free Software Foundation. It sheds some light on the 
FSF's view of linking and derivative works, both for the GPL 
and LGPL: 

  When a program is linked with a library, whether 
  statically or using a shared library [i.e., dynamically], 
  the combination of the two is legally speaking a combined 
  work, a derivative of the original library.


The GPL's language, then, tries to swallow every piece of 
software that incorporates a GPL program or portions of it. 
However, it probably cannot do so under the copyright law it 
purports to follow. This definition of a derivative work 
proves highly controversial in the software world, and may 
not stand up in court.


I asked two prominent representatives of the Free Software 
Foundation -- Eben Moglen, general counsel, and Richard 
Stallman, founder -- to clarify thorny issues of linkage to 
GPL code, and came up with two divergent opinions on 
derivative works in specific contexts. Their responses (to 
the question of whether or not they would consider the 
following derivative works) are recorded below:

A driver loaded as a module into the Linux kernel?

  Moglen: No

  Stallman: Yes. I think Linus made a mistake when he said 
  he would interpret the GPL so as to regard these as NOT 
  extensions to Linux.

A module written to be plugged into an API defined 
specifically to support dynamic loading?

  Moglen: No.

  Stallman: It depends on the detailed circumstances.

A program which uses a library? (i.e., Would it be fair 
to say that this is generally not a derivative work of 
that library?)

  Moglen: This depends. Code statically linked to other 
  code is a derivative work of the code with which it is 
  linked, as far as we are concerned. But what follows 
  from that depends on the license involved. That's the 
  difference between the GPL and the LGPL, which is 
  designed to permit proprietary code to be linked and 
  distributed with free libraries.

  Stallman: I think that depends on the detailed 

A library linked to a program? (i.e., Is this a derivative 
work of the program?)

  Moglen: Code statically linked to code constitutes a 
  derivative work of the code to which it is linked, 
  without question, regardless of license terms. More 
  specifically, now regarding licensing as well as the 
  status of the work, code that cannot be used at all 
  unless dynamically linked to GPL'd code, and which is 
  distributed along with that GPL'd code, must be 
  distributed under the terms of the GPL. This provides 
  a competitive advantage to free software, requiring 
  those who wish to make unfree software to undertake 
  proprietary reimplementation of feature sets only 
  available in GPL'd libraries, such as GNU readline.

  Stallman: That is normally true, but it one needs to 
  be careful drawing conclusions from it. Also, there 
  can be ambiguity in the definition of "library" which 
  can cause confusion about this.

A program running as a process on a Linux system? (A 
derivative work of the Linux kernel?)

  Moglen: Certainly not a derivative work of the kernel, 
  or of anything else, simply by virtue of executability 
  on free software systems, whether the kernel they 
  employ is Linux, the Hurd, or some other kernel.

  Stallman: I agree here [that the program running as 
  a process on a Linux system creates a derivative 
  work] -- except that it's a misnomer to speak of "a 
  Linux system". Linux is the kernel; the system is 
  really the GNU operating system, modified to use 
  Linux as the kernel.

>                                      However, the GNU GPL conditions
> apply to creation of combined works, ...

Take also this:


So, if I'm right about the distinction, then your rather 
creative interpretation of the GPL (on the grounds of "that's 
good for the movement") constitutes misuse of the copyright. 
Note that the penalty for copyright misuse  unenforceability 
of the copyright in court until the misuse has been purged 
and its effects no longer exist  is tantamount to losing the 
copyright. And, BTW, you might want to take a look at 
http://creativecommons.org share-alike licenses. Note that 
they do NOT try to expand the scope of share-alike to 
"combined works".