The Industry choice

Robert Kern rkern at
Fri Jan 7 11:50:47 CET 2005

Alex Martelli wrote:

> Until some judge passes some judgment, the intent and effect of GPL must
> remain a matter of opinion.  But RMS's opinion is probably more
> meaningful than mine or yours -- certainly regarding intent, given his
> role in designing that license. 

But it may not have practical effect in an actual dispute. I believe 
that in some jurisdictions[1], the important piece of information in 
interpreting a license is the common understanding of what the license 
means between the disputing parties. The author of the license, if he is 
not one of the disputing parties, has no say in what the license means 
for that dispute.

[1] IANAL; TINLA. This is from my memory of what I read in Lawrence 
Rosen's book[2] that I don't have in front of me right now. See his 
book, chapter 12, I think, for more details.


> If he's badly erred, and one day a
> judge endorses your opinion and says that a program which copies no GPL
> source cannot be infected by GPL, ah well -- then I guess GPL is badly
> designed as to putting its intents into practice.  But until there is
> some strong basis to think otherwise, I believe it's prudent to assume
> RMS is probably right, and your statement therefore badly wrong.

I've always found, especially in light of what I wrote above, the best 
thing to do is to ask the author himself what he wants. If he subscribes 
to an unreasonable interpretation of the license, it's better that you 
found out quickly and avoid getting sued even though you might end up 
winning. You also avoid inadvertantly stepping on anyone's toes and 
garnering ill-will even if you never go to court.

Robert Kern
rkern at

"In the fields of hell where the grass grows high
  Are the graves of dreams allowed to die."
   -- Richard Harter

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