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

From: Paul Pogonyshev
Subject: Re: Permission to use portions of the recent GNU Emacs Manual
Date: Mon, 20 Dec 2004 01:48:55 +0200
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David Kastrup wrote:
> 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.

Mine, I guess.  Just to note, I'm not particularly familiar with all
this stuff, so take it lightly, please.  I'm just on that ``common
sense'' ground.

> This sounds suspiciously like the
> "viral licence" theories where a contact with GPLed software magically
> makes all of your software free for the taking.

I fail to see much similarity, but feel free to elaborate.

> 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
> it.
> > 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.

I cannot understand what exactly you think about contributions without
signed papers.  Let's try to filter it out (again, I'm basing on my
common sense and little knowledge of copyright law, so, please, be
kind to my mistakes.)

So, let's assume John contributes a large patch (500 lines of code) to
XEmacs.  Since we are talking of XEmacs here, he is not asked for any
copyright assignments or other legal papers.

Now, what is the legal status of XEmacs + John's patch now?  (We assume
XEmacs is legally distributed under GNU GPL before the patch is added.)
I'm listing all possibilities I can think of.

Possibility 1.  John's patch is automagically licensed under GNU GPL
and ``license control'' is miraculously transferred to some mistical
``XEmacs spirit,'' that can change the license at whim, like FSF could
if it wasn't bound by our assignment papers.

This doesn't sound real.

Possibility 2.  John's patch is automagically licensed under GNU GPL,
but to relicense it, you need his blessing.  This is what I guessed
in the previous message based on XEmacs as a whole being distributed
under GNU GPL.

However, you wrote that John's code couldn't be licensed implicitly:
``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.''  What does ``explicitly'' means, BTW?  I'm distributing a
program I wrote, with each file saying it comes under GPL and the GPL
text in `COPYING'.  Is this explicit enough?  Should John distribute
his patch and GPL text along with it to make it explicit?  Or is
signing legal papers the only option?  What is the difference between
licensing done by the project original author and its contributors in
terms of licensing?

Possibility 3.  John's patch is not licensed at all, because he didn't
explictly license it.

However, to the best of my knowledge of copyright law, you cannot
even _use_ non-licensed work, not to mention modify or distribute it.
This means that XEmacs people cannot legally merge John's patch in.
In other words, XEmacs + John's patch combination is illegal to use,
modify or distribute...

Possibility 4.  John loses the copyright on his contribution.

That would solve the problem, but placing something in public domain
is the decision of the author, so implicit lossage of copyright sounds
way less realistic than implicit licensing.  Besides, some of XEmacs
files do carry other than FSF's copyrights.

Possibility 5.  XEmacs does require some sort of explicit licensing of

Again, that would solve all problems, but from what I've heard here,
this is simply not the case.

So, to summarize, if my reasoning is correct, there are only two options


        XEmacs is distributed under GNU GPL, because each contributor
        implicitly (and some of them explicitly, by assigning copyright
        to FSF) licensed it under that license.


        XEmacs is used, distributed and modified illegally, because
        some parts of it are not licensed by copyright holders in any
        way.  This means that people working on XEmacs, as well as
        distributors and even common users can be sued for copyright
        infringement (or how do they call it.)

I personally don't feel easy about the second option.  I'd like to be
convinced that either the first or a third (missed here) option is

Paul Pogonyshev

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