[linux-elitists] The GPLV3 Position... (and a suggestion to Jon Corbet)

Matthew Sayler sayler@thewalrus.org
Wed Sep 27 08:19:21 PDT 2006

> As a license is revised, any similarity or otherwise in goal and effect
> are the responsibility of the author - contributors by and large don't
> have a say. 

Contributors have copyright to their own work, unless assigned
elsewhere.  Even then, the original author has some unique standing
(based on law from recording contract disputes).

> So if Zaphod Beeblebrox were to rewrite ZSL (Zaphod's
> software license) v1 to make a very different v2, that's his prerogative.
> Others don't have to use the new license. That's theirs.
> But if Project ZZ9-Plural-Z-Alpha uses ZSL v1, me, a user, hacker (in
> the original sense), and all-around good guy, could use ASL v2 on my
> redistribution. Without permission of contributors to that project,
> though Zaphod would no doubt be charmed.

[I assume you mean ZSL v2?]

> All because of a name. Different license. Same name.

Well, only if the license used "or any later version" phrasing.
> I can't take any other different license and substitute it that way.

If the copyright holders didn't mean any later version, they shouldn't
have licensed their wrok under it.  You may argue that people didn't
read the fine print, but generally that's frowned upon in legal circles.

> The term "ZSL" (or "GPL") is a brand, and just like the term "Websphere"
> which can be applied to every product from appservers to tennis balls,
> it can be applied to whatever the owner of the brand likes. Even a
> completely different license.

Be careful that you don't confuse people using labels with people
licensing their code.  This is why it's a great idea to include a copy
of your license with your software, even if you just reference its
location in (e.g.) individual source files.

<... snip some generally reasonable things about intent, which IS by the
way considered by courts ...>

> When I've read licenses to select one for a new  project, for me it has
> often come down to single clauses. This license B seems to have been
> written to address a percieved problem with that license A, and the
> difference comes down to a few significant words here or there. 

I'm so glad you read the fine print!  That means you're somewhat less likely
to fall prey to unintended consquences.

<... intent ...>
> Expressions of "aim" aren't worth much, IMO.  In a very practical way,
> the text, with its various terms, benefits, obligations and so forth, is
> the only useful expression of the aim.

In general, and especially if your license is really a contract, courts
have to look at intent to some extent.

Contracts are formed when you have:
1) Meeting of minds
2) Consideration
3) Acceptance

Item 1 allows some wiggle room for intent.

The bottom line: if you trust(ed) the FSF to do the right thing, and you
later disagree with them...  you may be out of luck.  It's a good thing
they're having all this public review, though, so you can voice your


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