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Re: Question about automatic generation of GPLv3 COPYING file

From: Ralf Wildenhues
Subject: Re: Question about automatic generation of GPLv3 COPYING file
Date: Tue, 16 Sep 2008 23:41:32 +0200
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.18 (2008-05-17)

Hello Brian,

Thanks for the feedback.

* Brian Cameron wrote on Mon, Sep 15, 2008 at 09:33:20PM CEST:
> 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.

Yes.  If you want to keep it at GPLv2, then one good idea is to put the
COPYING file into version control, so that it will already be present
when automake is run.

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

This is a question for a lawyer, not for this list.  I agree that it's
confusing, but note that there should be both: the license file, and the
copyright notices at the top of each source file.  It is not uncommon
that source trees have files with differing (compatible) licenses, and
carry several license files.

> 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.

You can use 'automake --foreign' or AM_INIT_AUTOMAKE([foreign]) to avoid
installing GNU-related files.  Without the 'foreign' option, automake by
default installs GNU defaults.  Not just for the COPYING file, but
several other things as well.  One of Automake's expressed goals is to
create packages that match GNU's rules.

> 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.

That to me really sounds a bit over the top.  Given there are very easy
ways to avoid this, and given that the current mode of operation is
documented very clearly, and a COPYING file has forever been installed
in the default mode, it would be confusing to many users if automake
would stop doing this now.

> 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?

No, I don't see why the GPLv2+ (the license of Automake 1.10.1) should
forbid such a change.  FWIW, you could make 'foreign' the default.
However, if that causes your packages to not be bootstrapped identically
on other distros, that typically hurts your most important users: those
that are also developers, and re-bootstrap the package on their system.

> 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
> it?

Changing the automake sources should be a one-line patch.
Getting this patch into FSF Automake sources will probably
be hard (i.e., I'd guess RMS will likely disapprove of it).


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