Debian's stance on KDE copyright and licensing issues
There has been much controversy about the various licence conditions
under which KDE and Troll Tech's Qt library are distributed, and
about the relationship between these two licences.
This document attempts to focus on the aspects of this situation that
have resulted in Debian's decision to cease distribution of KDE
binaries via Debian Internet sites and official CD-ROMs.
It should be noted that this action has not been taken out of any
antagonism towards non-free software, or KDE, but purely on the
basis that the various licences combine in a way that fails to grant
Debian (or anyone else) the right to distribute these binaries.
1) Troll Tech's Qt library is distributed under a licence that includes
You may copy this version of the Qt Free Edition provided that the entire
archive is distributed unchanged and as a whole, including this notice.
2) The KDE code is licensed under the GNU GPL v2
3) Currently, KDE must be linked against Qt in order to produce usable
Clause 2.b. of the GPL reads:
You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in
whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any
part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third
parties under the terms of this License.
The corollary of this is that if you link the GPLed KDE code against
Troll Tech's Qt library, and distribute it, you must distribute it
under the GPL.
However, the GPL insists that you grant the right to modify the
complete source of a program distributed under its terms, which is
clearly in conflict with Qt's licence conditions.
Clause 7 of the GPL reads:
7. If ... for any other reason ... conditions are imposed on you ...
that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not
excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot
distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under
this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence
you may not distribute the Program at all.
So, we have been denied the right to ``distribute the Program at all''.
1) Licence change
Since it is the choice of licence that has given us this problem, one
possible solution is to change the licence. It is perfectly possible
to distribute a program under a licence that reads something like:
``This program is distributed under the GNU GPL v2, with the
additional permission that it may be linked against Troll Tech's Qt
library, and distributed, without the GPL applying to Qt''
This would allow Debian (and everyone else) to distribute KDE
binaries, and it appears to reflect the KDE developers' actual
Who can make this happen ?
The only person that can change the licence conditions under which a
program is distributed, is the copyright holder (i.e. the author in
In the case of programs that were written entirely by KDE core
developers, there should really be little difficulty in agreeing to
choose an alternative licence under which the binaries can be
Difficulties are likely to arise when either, significant portions of
the code have been contributed by the wider community, or when third
party GPLed code has been ported to Qt. This is not surprising,
since the GPL was explicitly designed to prevent GPLed code being
incorporated into non-free software.
2) KDE losing its dependence upon non-free software.
There are a few scenarios that could lead to this, the most promising
one being the Harmony project (an attempt to implement a GPLed
replacement for Qt).
If any of these come to pass, then KDE binaries built without any
dependence upon non-free code should be possible, and would then be
included as part of the main Debian GNU/Linux distribution.
Of course, for this to happen the KDE developers will have to
restrain themselves from using any other non-free libraries. Also,
limiting themselves to using only those features (soon to be)
available in Harmony would obviously help.
So what IS allowed ?
For code that is 100% authored by KDE core developers, they can flout
their own licence and distribute KDE binaries as they feel fit.
For operating systems that supply Qt as a default component there
is an exception in the GPL, which would allow them to distribute KDE
binaries, linked against Qt.
Of course, the source can be freely published, since there is no
problem until it is combined with the Qt libraries, and their
So what is NOT allowed ?
The taking of GPL code (by people other than the copyright holder),
linking it against code with an incompatible licence, and distributing
the resulting binary is explicitly prohibited.
In practice, most GPLed programs include patches submitted by many
authors. This means that it becomes impossible for any single person
to claim that they are the sole copyright holder, and can thus issue
the code under alternative licence conditions.
It should be noted that some of the KDE binaries have significant
amounts of third party GPLed code for which consent to link against Qt
and distribute has not been sought or granted.
1) People should choose licences that reflect their wishes.
The KDE developers do not wish to impose all of the restrictions
embodied in the GPL, so they should not use the GPL.
2) People should respect the licence conditions under which software
For Debian, this means that as it stands, we will respect KDE's choice
of the GPL, by not distributing their binaries (as requested in the GPL)
For KDE, this means that they should respect others' use of the GPL
and obtain permission to link that code with non-free libraries before
distributing the resulting binaries.
 Stephan Kulow, who is both a Debian maintainer and a KDE developer,
has declared his intention to continue producing Debian packages
which will be distributed from the KDE site.
 It is not clear that there are any such OSs, but this is a bone of
contention. In any event Debian GNU/Linux does not include it, since
it does not comply with the the Debian Free Software Guidelines .
 A possible exception is the distribution of KDE binaries for an
operating system that includes Qt as a default component. Debian
GNU/Linux is certainly not such a system, and many people (RMS
included) would say that Linux as a whole is not.
Note: RedHat have come to a related conclusion, that may also be of interest:
"Qt" is a trademark of Troll Tech AS.
You may find answers to questions arising from this document here:
Copyright (C)1998 Philip Hands. You may redistribute this statement
according to the terms of the GNU General Public Licence, version 2
(Note that of course you must prominently mark any modified versions).