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Re: [gNewSense-users] "under the GPL" vs. GPLv2 or later

From: Sam Geeraerts
Subject: Re: [gNewSense-users] "under the GPL" vs. GPLv2 or later
Date: Mon, 07 Apr 2008 20:36:14 +0200
User-agent: Mozilla-Thunderbird (X11/20080110)

Bake Timmons wrote:
At the risk of beating a dead horse, I still am wondering about past
discussions on license versions.  In reaction to the ambiguity of
something like "under the GPL", we feel the need to email the author for
clarification.  However, with something like "GPLv2 or later", there
*also* is ambiguity.  After all, "under the GPL" could mean *at least*
v1, v2, or v3, but "GPLv2 or later" could mean *at least* v2 or v3.
That is, there is *still* ambiguity, so I do not see the logic in having
to resolve one ambiguity but not having to resolve the other.  Kevin
brought up the point that in failing to seek clarification, we
ultimately might even be breaking the law in some places., paragraph 14 says:

"If the Program does not specify a version number of the GNU General Public License, you may choose any version ever published by the Free Software Foundation."

That has been in there since version 1. I think that makes it pretty clear that "under the GPL" can just be replaced by "GPLv2" and that there is no need to contact the copyright holder.

It also says:

"If the Program specifies that a certain numbered version of the GNU General Public License “or any later version” applies to it, you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that numbered version or of any later version published by the Free Software Foundation."

That means that "GPLv2 or later" might as well be "GPLv2" for the purposes of Linux.

The GPL is kind of a quantum license: it's a superposition of all (or some) of its possible states. It's even better than quantum mechanics because you can set it to your preferred state at the time of your choosing instead of collapsing to some random state the moment you happened to observe it. :)

When Linux was first put under the GPL in 1992, the current version of
the GPL was already v2, so I would argue that it is hard to see what
prospect v1 could ever have.  You still see it explicitly mentioned here
and there, but clearly v3 is the future.  Thus, it really comes down to
v2 vs. v3, so *for us* how different is "GPLv2 or later" vs. "under the
GPL"?  Should we not also be asking authors about what they mean by
"GPLv2 or later"?  More generally, should we not also apply the same
policy--whatever it turns out to be--to *all* of the other software
whose freedom we check?

Consistency and setting a policy as early on in the process as possible is important to avoid having to do everything all over again. That policy also needs to be thoroughly documented so that the same discussions don't come up over and over again, and to let the user know what kind of freedoms he can expect from gNewSense and to let him figure out for himself how much he can trust the team behind it to have done a good job.

Such a policy would include:
- what licenses are considered free (e.g. Artistic License 1.0)
- how to resolve these version issues
- how to resolve license compatibility issues (not only for separate programs or modules or files, but also within files, e.g. cdrecord.c)
- what to do about patents (enforced or not, e.g. mp3/mpge2)
- what to do about non-licensing legal issues (e.g. DMCA vs. libdvdcss)
- what about artwork and such (license, source material)
- the (public) use of non-free means (e.g. Launchpad)
- issues not directly related to freedom (security, CoC, etc.)
- etc.

Personally, I'm still a bit confused about the policy on patents: says: explicitly no policy says: no patented technology in gNewSense (judging from the comment this bug should not be closed) says: we leave it out/we take no stance about mp3, not sure about other patented technology.

I hope I'm not overstepping my boundaries here. According to, the only way to help that doesn't involve the wiki is by joining the discussion, so that's what I'm trying to do.

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