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Re: What license to use for Emacs libraries?

From: Marcin Borkowski
Subject: Re: What license to use for Emacs libraries?
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 2015 01:16:50 +0200

On 2015-08-18, at 23:48, Phillip Lord <address@hidden> wrote:

> Marcin Borkowski <address@hidden> writes:
>> This time, I reconciled myself to the idea of releasing some of my code
>> under GPL (even though it seems that it is not at all obvious that
>> I really have to do that).
> You do not have to do anything that you do know what to do.
> There are other options, I believe, including release under public
> domain which I you could do, although others can argue that this is a
> bad thing to do.

Yes, we have discussed that.  Not exactly that placing my code in PD is
a "bad" thing, more (as stated in later posts) a "technically
impossible" thing (at least in Poland).

>> The question now is: do I /have/ to use GPLv3? (Not that it's a
>> problem for me - GPLv2 and GPLv3 are most probably more or less
>> equally `evil' - but I'm just curious.)
> In general, if you are asking for advice on what you can and cannot do,
> and do not want to get into a big license battle (god knows, there have
> been enough of this), it's probably politic to avoid use of terms such
> as "evil" for any licence.

Well, I do not want to be politic;-).  I not only don't care about the
so-called "political correctness", I deliberately violate it if I can.

I probably should have said "wrong" instead of evil, though, since
I meant the rather technical sense "violating moral principles" (well,
not exactly violating, but close to - I lack a good English word for
what I have in mind).

>> This page: states:
>> ,----
>> | When we say that GPLv2 and GPLv3 are incompatible, it means there is
>> | no legal way to combine code under GPLv2 with code under GPLv3 in
>> | a single program. This is because both GPLv2 and GPLv3 are copyleft
>> | licenses: each of them says, “If you include code under this license
>> | in a larger program, the larger program must be under this license
>> | too.” There is no way to make them compatible.
>> `----
>> Does that mean that releasing Emacs libraries under GPLv2 is illegal?
>> I did a cursory check, and it seems that all libraries built-in in my
>> Emacs are GPLv3, but some other are not: for instance, my copy of
>> Icicles has GPLv2, and some code on EmacsWiki has GPLv2.
> Partly, this depends on the details. Many GPLv2 libraries are actually
> "GPLv2 or later". It is legal to release. v2 or later code can be
> combined with v3 code. The combination would be v3.

Ah, so there are indeed two licenses: GPLv2 and GPLv2+, and similar with
3.  As if it wasn't confusing enough.  (Since apparently the file called
LICENSE is identical for GPLvn and GPLvn+.)

> It is also legal to release libraries for Emacs under v2, since many
> versions of Emacs were released under v2. However, code under v2 could
> not be combined (i.e. used, modified and released) under a current Emacs.
>> OTOH, the next paragraph has this:
>> ,----
>> |  There is no problem in having GPLv3-covered and GPLv2-covered
>> |  programs side by side in an operating system.
>> `----
>> Does it mean that the famous issue "Is Emacs a program, or an OS" is of
>> critical importance here?
> No. While your legal system may take a different opinion on this, the
> FSF has a relatively explicit meaning to this statement. You can run
> Emacs on the same OS as propietary software, yet alone GPLv2 software.
> If two libraries communicate only through a file system, or a pipe, or
> do not communicate at all, then there is no combined work, just
> "aggregation". If there is a direct function call in the same VM (lisp
> or otherwise), there is a combined work.

Thanks for the clarification, though I would still maintain that it
seems a bit hazy.  I'm not in the mood to start another battle on such
a minor issue, happily;-).

>> BTW, if my suspicion that you must not distribute Emacs libraries under
>> GPLv2 is correct, does that confirm my intuition that some (many?)
>> people really just don't care?
> A piece of Emacs-Lisp code on it's own can be released under many
> different licenses. Whether you can practically use that code is a
> different question.

I see.  Yet another fine distinction that is too nitpicky even for my
mathematical mind.

> I would, indeed, be surprised though if there is nowhere in the entire
> Emacs ecosystem you did not find some GPLv2/GPLv3 combined code which
> technically cannot be actually run anywhere. Do people not care? Some
> do, some don't. I'd be surprised if there were GPLv2 code in core Emacs,
> for instance.

Me too, especially that I did a quick grep;-).  And taking into account
that Emacs devs seem to care (at least in general), I didn't expect
anything else.

>> Also, the suggested licenses for GitHub repos seem to be Apache 2.0,
>> MIT and GPLv2. GPLv3 is also there, but further down the list and not
>> in bold, so it's well possible that many people who don't really care
>> much about all this stuff (see above) just select GPLv2 and forget
>> about the thing. Does that mean that GitHub is a part of a sinister
>> software-patent conspiracy or something?
> Github's motivations are, of course, not something that any sensible
> person would wish to infer on a public mailing list without clear
> evidence, at least not if they do not with to be committing libel, which
> is a whole other part of the law.

I didn't "infer" anything.  I just asked, jokingly.  You mentioned libel
(thanks for teaching me yet another English word!), also jokingly (or so
I hope).

> As a matter of public record, though, it is clear that many people do
> care. The changes between GPLv2 and v3 where put in place quite
> deliberately and thoughtfully by the FSF because they care. Some

That is obvious.

> projects have, equally deliberately and thoughtfully decided to stick
> with GPLv2 because they care also.

And that is surprising (at least for me).  Are there any reasons to
prefer GPLv2 ober GPLv3?

> Who is right and wrong is probably an issue which would be better off
> discussed on gnu.misc.discuss, rather than

Well, my main question was much more technical, and I do not want to
discuss moral issues at the moment.  (As I hinted, I want to make my
standpoint clear, I do expect that some (many?) people will disagree,
but I want to explain that I have /reasons/ to avoid GPL.)

> Phil

Thanks for your detailed answer!

Marcin Borkowski
Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science
Adam Mickiewicz University

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