Public Domain Python

Pat McCann thisis at
Mon Sep 18 19:28:52 CEST 2000

"Tim Peters" <tim_one at> writes:

> The GPL is not a contract, and by deliberate intent:  it explicitly covers
> only "copying, distributing and modifying", and explicitly leaves "the act
> of running the Program" out of its scope (despite that its clause 12 appears
> to be about nothing *but* runtime issues ...).
> The ploy here was to try to rely solely on copyright law, which is much more
> uniform across jurisdictions (& especially across national boundaries) than
> contract law.  Whether the kinds of things the GPL is trying to do can
> actually be done under copyright law alone is at least a matter of academic
> debate, and without a court case will remain so.

That first sentence shocks me, coming from you.  Despite your humble
protestations against accusations of having legal knowledge, you've
shown before that you understand the theory of contracts better than
that displayed above.  Here's why I think the GPL does form a contract:

First, it seems to me that all popular licenses go beyond copyright law
by conditioning the offer of license upon anything but money.  And I'm not
aware that copyright law addresses liability, warranty, copyleft, etc.
Some (patent) licenses have been found to go so far beyond IP law that
they have been determined to "overreach" it and not been enforced.
(The fuzzy line over which one should not cross is the field of lawyers.)

Second, whether or not the GPL does limit itself to the licensing of 
copyrights, it most definitely is the basis of a contract.  It makes
an offer (explicitly conditioned on acceptance of terms, btw) by the
licensor/contractor to do and not do certain things conditioned by the
licensees agreement to do and not do certain things and when the
someone enters into the agreement by accepting the offer, a contract has 
been established.

Licenses which are not contracts are pretty hard to come up with.
"Anyone may use this software" is probably one.  An example of a
non-contract license I've seen is the implied license for me to walk
across your lawn.  The law infers that you think "anyone may cross my
lawn" unless you've posted it otherwise.  But as soon as you start
making things at all complicated like saying "anyone who will mow my
lawn may cross it", I think the law will quickly resort to contract
law (which also may be implied, btw) so I cannot revoke my license
just after you mow my lawn, for example.  Similarly for software.
You (or CNRI) wouldn't be allowed by law (if anyone cared to litigate
the issue - eh, there's the rub) to revoke their old license if people
could do something that depended upon it, like having writing
derivatives (modifications or linked programs) that depended on the

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