Subject: Re: Two GPL Questions
From: Rick Moen <>
Date: Sun, 9 Dec 2001 20:35:37 -0800

begin Kenny Tilton quotation:

> Anyway, i would find it strange to give the FSF the option effectively
> to change the licensing of my stuff at any point in the future by
> producing a new version of the GPL.

People specify "or any later version" iff they trust FSF to act to
perpetuate (in later versions) the basic intent behind the current
version.  Let's say there's a radical change in copyright law, or a
technological development, that causes the current GPL v. 2 to
effectively no longer grant some important rights that it now does.  You
might then wish to have people be able to accept copies of your work
under a newly created GPL v. 3, crafted to restore those grants within
the changed circumstances.

If your work includes substantial third-party contributions (or is
itself a derived work), then that clause might be the only practical way
to move forward, in such a hypothetical situation (as the alternative is
securing new-licence permission from everyone with a copyright

The downside risk is, I suppose, the possibility that FSF might make GPL
v. 3 do something radically permissive, e.g., consist of BSD terms.
Which doesn't seem too bloody likely.  The opposite faux pas, FSF adding
new restrictions, is inherently no threat, because any user remains able
to accept his copy under v. 2 terms.

> I understand the impetus, viz, to have all GPL code consistently
> licensed now and in the future,....

That _cannot_ be the case, since the clause creates a situation where
some code is available only under some specific GPL version, while
others is available under either version n or any version >n, at the
recipient's option (absent special permission from the copyright holders
to the contrary, in both cases).

> ...but the price paid is to give FSF control over the licensing of all
> GPLed code....

That can't be the case, either:  Recipients have in perpetuity the right
to receive the code under the originally specified version.  The most
FSF might do is grant recipients an option to receive the code
alternatively under some different terms.  In that case, FSF could do
harm to the copyright holders' intent if it made GPL v. n+1 be wildly
permissive.  Are you worried about that?  Then, by all means, don't
include the clause.  But most of us would consider that improbably in
the extreme.

> Otherwise, my second problem was with the GNU GPL itself being
> copyrighted and not allowing modifications, which I assume means I
> cannot use it to make my own license revised as I like.

Not without violating FSF's copyright, no.  You could independently
write a licence in different wording, that expresses the same ideas,
without violating FSF's copyright.

I'm unclear on the nature of your question:  You said you were planning
to release some software under the GNU GPL, but wanted our insights into
the implications of these two things you've cited.  But further on, you
come across as just venting displeasure.  So, what exactly is your
question, if you don't mind?

> What exactly does it do for FSF to lock up the GNU GPL that way?

My guess is that it gains some standard of identity for its licence.
That is, nobody can legally create "Fred's GPL" or "Fred's Free Software
Licence Based on the GPL", and have it sitting around.

But nothing stops you from creating a GPL-work-alike licence based
entirely on your own creative efforts.  Go to town on that one, if you

> Sounds again like control....

The fact that this is little more than polemics isn't a problem, so much
as the fact that it's vague.

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