Public Domain Python

Tim Peters tim_one at
Tue Sep 26 03:21:11 CEST 2000

[Huaiyu Zhu, says he'll feel safer using the GPL]

>> Safe from what, though?  The copyright holder can change a
>> license any time they feel like it, and the GPL has no magical power
>> to prevent that.  It's just a license, no better or worse in that
>> respect than any other.

[Huaiyu Zhu]
> Safe from the knowledge that, whatever the copyright holder may or may
> not change the licence to, everything that had been licenced as GPL
> will retain a GPL forever.  If I'm not satisfied with the new licence, I
> could just fork from there with the GPL I already got.  A user who got
> a GPLed code is guaranteed a perpetual right to do anything with it
> compatible with the licence he got with it, not with any future or
> additional licences.

How does that differ from using, say, a BSD or X/MIT license?  Or CNRI's 1.6
license?  Or, for that matter, CWI's license?  That is, I see nothing
special about the GPL in this respect.  I'm unclear on why you do.  All the
other licenses I named grant explicit permission to make derivatives too.

> [snip discussion of assigning copyright to FSF]
> Yes, this would be useful for fighting licence violations.

Perhaps, but that wasn't the point.  If you read the FSF's copyright
assignment form (I have, because I've signed it in the past), you'll see
that it promises *they* (the FSF) won't change the licensing terms for your
contribution in various nasty ways as the years go by.  Will you promise
that too, in a binding legal document?  If not, I'm no safer with your
GPL'ed code than you are with CNRI's Python code.  From my POV, you and CNRI
are the same thing <wink>:  copyright holders who can change their minds on
a whim.

>> Or you can put your stuff in the public domain, which, by
>> removing copyright entirely, prevents anyone (including you!) from
>> ever asserting copyright on it.  It also prevents you from telling
>> anyone else what they can do with it.

> That's another alternative.  But it requires giving up copyright.

And the downside to that is what?  From my POV as your paranoid *user*, I'm
wary of you wanting to retain copyright.  What motives could you have for
*wanting* the right to change the licensing terms later?  I'll trust the FSF
far more easily, because at least they promise not to renege; but that
promise depends on assigning copyright to them first.

>>> If Python had been GPL'ed from the very beginning, would it be
>>> better or worse off? This is anybody's guess, but it is sure that
>>> its licencing status would be much more stable and simpler than it
>>> is today.

>> Sorry, but so long as CNRI remained the primary copyright holder,
>> *nothing* about Python's licensing status would be different today.
>> They could still put a new license on 1.6, and there's nothing anyone
>> could do to stop that.  It's not the license that makes the rules, it's
>> the copyright holder:  a license merely tells you how they felt about
>> sharing their rights in the past; it can't stop them from changing
>> their mind later.

> Here's a scenario: Suppose Python had been GPLed with CNRI as copyright
> holder, and CNRI announced that 1.6 would have a different licence.  The
> developers could take the CVS tree at that time and release 1.6 under GPL.
> If the developers can't do that due to employment contracts, anybody else
> could do it.  Then when they move to BeOpen they could start from the
> competing 1.6 under GPL. (Here 'GPL' is a generic term including 'LGPL'.)

Why do you think people couldn't do that now?  Sure, CNRI has made some
vague noises about terminating rights under the CWI license, but nobody has
really pressed them on it, and at least we got a paid legal opinion stating
they wouldn't prevail.  And any argument they could make against the
legitimacy of the CWI license is likely one they could just as easily make
against the GPL.  For example, that Python was "never really released" by
CNRI before 1.6.  The specific license in question has nothing to do with
most of those ploys.

> The only code CNRI could prevent others from using under GPL are
> those that have not been published under GPL.  If they are ever going
> release these codes that has to be GPL'ed as well (if it falls under
> derivative work).

If they claim the code was never *legitimately* released under the GPL, that
argument fails:  if they prevail on that point, the code was never really
under the GPL to begin with.  Much the same is true of code released under
the GPL that violates other peoples' copyrights or-- God forbid --even
patents these days.  Merely slapping the acronym "GPL" on it doesn't make it
legal, let alone make it "free".

>> illusory-safety-isn't-really-better-than-none-ly y'rs  - tim

> With GPL, what you see is what you get - there's no illusion to something
> free that could be reclaimed by the owner in the future.

Not unless the code was legitimately and legally released under the GPL.
But if we're assuming legitimately and legally, the CWI license looks just
as strong in this respect, and just possibly stronger due to its relative
lack of legal novelty.

Have you read the CWI or CNRI or BeOpen licenses?  If so, what text in them
gives you the idea they can be withdrawn?  And what text in the GPL gives
you the idea it can't be?

CNRI:  .... grants Licensee a non-exclusive, royalty-free, world-wide
license to reproduce, analyze, test, perform and/or display publicly,
prepare derivative works, distribute, and otherwise use the Software alone
or in any derivative version ... [list of conditions]

GPL:  You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program's source
code as you receive it, in any medium ... [ditto] modify ... [longer list of

If anything, the CNRI license explictly gives you more rights (while the GPL
is constrained in what it can grant you given that it's trying to stay
solely within copyright law).

wondering-whether-it's-legal-to-*run*-gpl'ed-code<wink>-ly y'rs  - tim

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