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Re: Documentation Freeness (Re: Packages to be removed from hamm)

On Wed, 3 Jun 1998, Joost Witteveen wrote:
>   sed -e "s/e/E/g" /usr/doc/copyright/GPL > /tmp/my-changed-gpl
> I wouldn't be changing the copyright of any GPL-ed programme -- and I
> don't want to change those copyrights. I just want to be allowed to
> execute the above command. The text of the GPL says I'm not allowed to
> do so.

It can't.  You haven't signed the GPL.  So the GPL *cannot* tell you what
to do.

This is a major piece of FUD, so I'll try to clear it up, even though I
understand it imperfectly myself.  I draw the substance of this from the
GPL itself.

1) The GPL is a License, or a contract.  None of us have signed this
license, so we are not bound by anything it says. 

2) A piece of work which happens to be protected by the GPL, is a
copyrighted piece of work.  This means that, a priori, we may not copy it.
*However*, the author of this piece of work has chosen to cede some of his
copyright.  He has set out conditions under which we may copy it.  This is
his right, as copyright-holder.  The conditions he has chosen are the GPL.
We are only bound by the GPL at the point at which we decide to do
something which would otherwise be illegal - I.e. copy the work.  (not the

Also note the following paragraph:

Activities other than copying, distribution and modification are not
covered by this License; they are outside its scope.  The act of
running the Program is not restricted, and the output from the Program
is covered only if its contents constitute a work based on the
Program (independent of having been made by running the Program).
Whether that is true depends on what the Program does.

The GPL is about *copying* not about using.  So it does not restrict use.
Some other condition imposed on you by the author may.


Now, the GPL itself is a document.  And as such it is copyright the FSF.
It says so at the top of the GPL:

                    GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE
                       Version 2, June 1991

 Copyright (C) 1989, 1991 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
                       59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA  02111-1307
 Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
 of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.

This does in fact mean that the GPL is copyrighted.  And, since the
copyright holders have not given us the right to create derived works, we
don't have it.

Now, unicode would be fine, because a unicode copy of the GPL is
'verbatim'.  So is EBCDIC.  So is printed.  The copyright applies to the
words, not the bytes.

Personally, I'd argue that sed 's/e/E/;' is also verbatim (albeit now

Also, note that you can do anything you like to the GPL 'in the privacy of
your own home'.  Copyright restricts distribution, not use.

Raul wrote, in another email that just arrived as I write this:
> You're saying that all those people who have licensed their software
> under modified versions of the GPL are breaking the law? Do you have any
> basis for this statement?

Personally, I find that a clear indication of the above quote.  A license
which is merely inspired by the GPL is clearly fine.  A license which
actually quotes some parts of the GPL, would appear to be quoting from a
copyrighted document, which requires the permission of the copyright

Incidentally, it would be fine to say : This program is covered under the
GPL, except for point X, which I exempt you from.  As long as the GPL was
included in full (verbatim).

> I think there's a very strong distinction between changing the license
> under which software is released, and changing the corresponding
> document.

You're quite right.  Of course there is.

Changing the GPL in your own home cannot be made illegal.  Unless you have
signed a document agreeing not to - and none of us have.  Distributing
modified versions of the GPL which claim to be the GPL is clearly illegal
(I hope none of you would argue with that).  However, and very worryingly,
it appears that the FSF copyright on the top of the GPL means that
creating a derived work requires the consent (explicitly) of the FSF.


I wonder if there's a public document somewhere in which the FSF say
they're happy for people to derive works from the GPL?

Otherwise, the GPL is non-free.


Talked myself into a corner.  Someone dig me out?


|  Jelibean aka  | jules@jellybean.co.uk         |  6 Evelyn Rd	       |
|  Jules aka     |                               |  Richmond, Surrey   |
|  Julian Bean   | jmlb2@hermes.cam.ac.uk        |  TW9 2TF *UK*       |
|  War doesn't demonstrate who's right... just who's left.             |
|  When privacy is outlawed... only the outlaws have privacy.          |

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