What the GPL means

Summary:For now, I'd say take the GPL at its word and change only if a court says so.

philosophical gnu
Until a contract is changed by a court it means what it says. And that's all the GPL is, a contract.

As George Ou writes today, TinyPEAP used GPL software, from FreeRADIUS, and the program had to be rewritten before it was released as commercial code.

This sort of thing happens a lot. GPL code gets into projects designed to be released under different licenses. The amount of GPL code involved may or may not be material, but the GPL's FAQs are pretty explicit. When GPL and non-GPL code are combined, the result is always GPL. In logical terms it's an and/or statement.

Lawyers rely on legal cases and precedents to interpret meaning, and for a 14-year old contract the GPL has a very clean record in court. The only case that is "on point" (as they say on Law & Order) is Progress Software (now NuSphere) vs. MySQL. Progress used MySQL libraries in a commercial work, and settled on terms favorable to MySQL after a judge ruled that the underlying contract was valid, but no irreperable harm had been done.

Haroun-costume
How much GPL code is needed to pollute a project under another license? What should the resulting damages be? These are questions no court has fully answered. I don't expect GPL 3.0 to answer them all either, and I also don't expect its interpretation to be accepted without a fight. Already, speculation abounds and those writing the new license are keeping deliberately mum. The questions, and answers, all lie above my pay grade.

For now, I'd say take the GPL at its word and change only if a court says so. That may not seem fair, in a world where GPL, BSD, and closed source code all run around like streams in the sea of story, as in Rushdie's book Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  All I'd say is there are plentimaw fish in the sea, and there's more to the GPL than meets the blinking eye. (That's a costume from the Charles Wuorinen opera of Salman Rushdie's book.)

Am I copping out here with a cheap literally allusion? Yes. But I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. Legal disputes can quickly make your money disappear, and in my opinion are thus best avoided.

Topics: Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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