Subject: Re: The GPL is "inherited"
From: "William C. Cheng" <>
Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1999 10:22:02 -0400

L. Peter Deutsch <> wrote:

  | >> So what term should we use instead?  I find Mr. Lang's suggestion of 
  | >> "hereditary" fair and close enough.  Why not use that instead?
  | > 
  | > I like "partnership". I think it conveys the spirit of all parties being
  | > equal. "Hereditary" conveys an impression of privilege passed down
  | > blood-lines with no thought of an individual's competence, as with
  | > royalty, which is not the impression we're out to create.
  | I think "hereditary" is a really good term.  (I guess it takes a
  | non-native-English-speaker to point the way out of these terminological
  | swamps!)  "partnership" implies a joining together of equals to create
  | something.  In the case of the GPL, the original author decided the license
  | terms, and they were inherited by all subsequent contributors, who did not
  | have a choice in the matter.  The original author has powers and rights
  | (including the right to license the code under other terms and licenses)
  | that no subsequent contributors do.  And as far as "no thought of an
  | individual's competence" goes, that is an accurate description of the
  | situation with respect to the GPL.  The GPL gives no one the authority to
  | rule on the quality of any subsequent contributions.  Of course it's a
  | separate question as to whether leaving this up to the market (or at least
  | the marketplace of ideas / actual use) may be a good thing, and even an
  | important good thing.
  | Actually, I think "inherited" is even better than "hereditary".
  | "Inheritance" is a relatively value-free term in common technical use,
  | unlike "hereditary".  How does it feel to say that the GPL is an "inherited
  | license"?

If one actually "derives" a piece of code from another, the "hereditary"
or "inherited" description would be quite appropriate.  But a lot of
free software are not "born" this way.  If you use 1% of GPL'ed code in
your program, your code must be distributed under GPL.  "Heridity"
doesn't spread this way.  And if I'm 1% Babylonian, I don't have to say
that I'm a Babylonian.
Bill Cheng // <URL:>