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Re: autotools use in commercial projects

From: Ralf Wildenhues
Subject: Re: autotools use in commercial projects
Date: Sun, 22 Aug 2010 15:36:08 +0200
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.20 (2010-04-22)

Hello Reuben,

* Reuben Hawkins wrote on Sat, Aug 21, 2010 at 08:46:21PM CEST:
> Does the autoconf, automake and libtool license allow its use in
> commercial projects?

Yes.  Each of the various license bits are designed in such a way that
it should not matter which licensing a project using autotools has.

> If so, can you point me to where, in which document, it is stated?

Each of the Autoconf macro files should either be in the public domain
or carry one of the exception clauses:

  # Under Section 7 of GPL version 3, you are granted additional
  # permissions described in the Autoconf Configure Script Exception,
  # version 3.0, as published by the Free Software Foundation.


  # As a special exception, the Free Software Foundation gives unlimited
  # permission to copy, distribute and modify the configure scripts that
  # are the output of Autoconf.  You need not follow the terms of the GNU
  # General Public License when using or distributing such scripts, even
  # though portions of the text of Autoconf appear in them.  The GNU
  # General Public License (GPL) does govern all other use of the material
  # that constitutes the Autoconf program.
  # Certain portions of the Autoconf source text are designed to be copied
  # (in certain cases, depending on the input) into the output of
  # Autoconf.  We call these the "data" portions.  The rest of the Autoconf
  # source text consists of comments plus executable code that decides which
  # of the data portions to output in any given case.  We call these
  # comments and executable code the "non-data" portions.  Autoconf never
  # copies any of the non-data portions into its output.
  # This special exception to the GPL applies to versions of Autoconf
  # released by the Free Software Foundation.  When you make and
  # distribute a modified version of Autoconf, you may extend this special
  # exception to the GPL to apply to your modified version as well, *unless*
  # your modified version has the potential to copy into its output some
  # of the text that was the non-data portion of the version that you started
  # with.  (In other words, unless your change moves or copies text from
  # the non-data portions to the data portions.)  If your modification has
  # such potential, you must delete any notice of this special exception
  # to the GPL from your modified version.

Files which are not treated this way either do not copy parts of their
code to the generated files in your package (and thus don't need an
exception, by virtue of being "fair use" rather than "derivation"),
and helper scripts such as install-sh either have a permissive license
or are considered fair use as well.

By the way, we are in the (years-long) process of moving to GPLv3+ plus
exceptions for the autotools packages; Autoconf already has switched.
The FSF legal department is looking at and rewriting appropriately the
license exceptions for Automake and Libtool that are necessary to keep
the above intent, and harmonize well with GPLv3.

There is a web page explaining and pointing to the new Autoconf
Configure Script Exception:


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