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Re: Permission to use portions of the recent GNU Emacs Manual

From: David Kastrup
Subject: Re: Permission to use portions of the recent GNU Emacs Manual
Date: Sun, 19 Dec 2004 22:32:20 +0100
User-agent: Gnus/5.11 (Gnus v5.11) Emacs/21.3.50 (gnu/linux)

Paul Pogonyshev <address@hidden> writes:

> David Kastrup wrote:
>> b) why it would be technically impossible for you to change the XEmacs
>> manual licence to the GFDL: it does not seem like you have handed out
>> any written assurances that the licence is never going to change.
> I think because contributing a piece of work implicitly means that you
> agree to distribute it under the _current_ license.

Whose theory is that?  I don't see any of it in copyright law, and I
don't see any of it in the GPL.  This sounds suspiciously like the
"viral licence" theories where a contact with GPLed software magically
makes all of your software free for the taking.

This is simply not true.  To have software GPLed, you need to
explicitly licence it that way, regardless of whether it has come in
contact with other GPLed software or not.  Only if it has, you must
not redistribute a combined product under a different licence.  But
there is no automatic remedy involved: you always have _several_
choices to come into compliance: licence the whole under GPL, or
replace the GPLed parts by something different, or stop distributing

> So, to relicense a piece of contributed work, you need an agreement
> from the author, either got in advance (like FSF copyright
> assignment includes) or got right before the license change.

To "relince" something it must have been licensed in the first place.

> Since XEmacs has many contributors who hold their copyright, this
> means that license switch would require collecting agreements from
> all of them, which might be practically impossible.

Well, this "practical impossibility" is exactly what Emacs development
has to put up with: collecting agreements from all contributors.

> That said, I agree with you that this is mostly an XEmacs problem,
> largely caused by their policy of not collecting copyright
> assignments.

It is not only collection of a copyright assignment (which makes
relicensing possible).  As far as I can see, their process does not
involve even getting _any_ formal licence to use the work.

As long as they are just relying on contributors playing nice with
them in case of necessity (and GPL v2 is going to be replaced with GPL
v3 at one time, too, and that will probably also mean that XEmacs has
to follow suit at one time), they might as well see how the
contributors will react to a licence change.

> The situation is not nice, but I don't see why FSF should go against
> its decision and its policies.  As Robert Chassell said (or meant),
> FSF cannot ask other to use GFDL if it doesn't use it itself.  After
> all, XEmacs isn't fully cooperative either, since FSF won't merge in
> non-assigned code.

Which is the FSF's choice.  The difference is that XEmacs has decided
not to bother about assignments and stuff, and due to that decision
they don't have such a general cooperation to offer in a manner useful
for Emacs.  In contrast, the FSF still has the choice to licence the
Emacs manual under different free licences because they bothered about
the assignment, and they bother about licences.

So the FSF, in contrast to XEmacs, has retained the technical
possibility to "cooperate" (namely abandon the business of trying to
choose a licence of their own and instead let the terms be determined
by XEmacs' different processes), simply because they have been more

I have yet to see a good reason why this should be necessary (I don't
think the "contributions are automagically licenced from the
contributor to the potential redistributor without explicit agreement
like the rest is" theory holds much legal merit) as well as desirable.

David Kastrup, Kriemhildstr. 15, 44793 Bochum

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