GPL does not tie your hands necessarily - Re: Rchard Stallman vs Darl McBride

Levi Pearson levipearson at
Tue Jul 20 22:21:12 MDT 2010

On Tue, Jul 20, 2010 at 8:53 PM, Michael Torrie <torriem at> wrote:
> On 07/20/2010 08:35 PM, Levi Pearson wrote:
>> Yes, that's it.  If there's a chunk of your code that's linked to the
>> rest that you want to keep private, for whatever reason, you cannot
>> use the GPL with the rest of your code.
> It pains me to see misunderstanding of the GPL and how it works.

It was not so much a misunderstanding as an oversimplification with
hidden assumptions, but your clarification is good information.

> If your wrote *all* the code yourself, you absolutely can release only
> part of it under the GPL.

Yes, but that negates the power of using open source building blocks.
I assumed some other copyright holders in the mix, either from the
beginning or from accepting contributions under the GPL without
copyright reassignment.

> Most projects tend to have a written
> exception clause to the GPL, but that is not strictly required.  It's
> your code; you can license it anyway you want.  So I could write a
> program with a closed-source plugin, and release everything but the
> plugin under the GPL.  Any derivatives of my code must be GPL, since
> that's the license I specified.  My having a closed module in no way
> changes that.  Derivatives of your program (the GPL'd part) could or
> could not ship a closed module, depending on exceptions that you as the
> copyright holder make and append to your license.  See the Linux
> Kernel's license, or GCC's license for exceptions to the GPL that are
> allowed for.

Yes, but that's GPL-with-exceptions, not vanilla GPL.  Structuring
things correctly and coming up with the necessary exceptions and all
that seem needlessly complicated to me.

> On the other hand, if I made a derivative of some GPL's project and then
> wanted to also ship a closed module for use with that, then you
> obviously cannot, because that would violate the terms that someone else
> (who owns the copyright on the code) dictated.  You could, of course,
> get the copyright owner to grant an exception for your closed module.
> In this case, if the GPL doesn't work for you, write your own code,
> negotiate a different license with the copyright holder, or find some
> other code whose license works for you.

I don't think most sizeable GPL works have a single copyright holder,
unless they were set up in advance with the intention of providing
alternate licenses as well.  This makes a vast amount of otherwise
useful software not very useful at all in some situations, even if
you're willing to pay.

> I hope that makes sense.  Copyright and licenses are not magical.
> Nothing is *automatic*.  Certainly in the case of the GPL, the license
> is there to ensure the freedom of the *developer* first.  The end user
> is of course always free, provided he does not distribute, as the GPL
> does not require the end user to agree to anything to use GPL'd
> software.  Just try to use Java on a nuclear submarine...

It doesn't seem to me that the GPL is about ensuring the freedom of
the developer, unless of course you mean contributors other than the
initial author.  Indeed, the preamble states that the purpose is to
allow people who receive the program to access the source code, make
modifications, and re-distribute it.  The initial author already has
the freedom to do these things.  You could say it grants the freedom
to not have the code incorporated into a non-free system, but that's a
pretty odd way to frame what it does.


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