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Question about automatic generation of GPLv3 COPYING file

From: Brian Cameron
Subject: Question about automatic generation of GPLv3 COPYING file
Date: Mon, 15 Sep 2008 14:33:20 -0500
User-agent: Thunderbird (X11/20080825)

I notice that the latest versions fo automake cause a COPYING file to
be created with the GPLv3 license in them, if the COPYING file does not
already exist.

I also notice that there are a few GNOME modules which are not GPLv3,
but do not have a COPYING file (such as gconf-editor).  So the latest
releases of gconf-editor confusingly have a COPYING file which says
GPLv3, but the code actually has a different license.  I assume this
is because the maintainers are building the code with the latest
version of automake.  There are other GNOME modules with the same
issue (such as gnome-control-center).

So does this mean that modules like gconf-editor is GPLv3 or the actual
license as specified in the source files?  This seems confusing.

It does not seem to be a good idea to automatically create a license
for code.  This really seems to be something the authors should be
free to determine for themselves.  As described above, it also seems
to create inconsistent and confusing licenses for modules like

I am wondering if the behavior of creating a COPYING file (if one
does not already exist) with the GPLv3 license is intended to be a
feature or not?  Either way, I would like to encourage the automake
community to consider removing this feature.   Although I can understand
that some may support this sort of feature to propagate the GPLv3
license, I do not think that automatically generating a license via
autotools is the best way to do this.  It seems a very unfriendly way to
propagate a "viral" style license, and a way that could be really
damaging to some users, and could generate bad feelings about the free
software community.

If the automake community is not agreeable to removing this feature,
would there be a problem if a particular distro removed the feature of
automatically creating this file with any particular license?  Is this
something a distro could do, or does the license of automake forbid
changing automake in this way?

Or is there a way to configure the default behavior of automake so
that a distro can specify how automake should create the default
COPYING file, or what license (if any) should be used when creating


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