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Re: Question about automatic generation of GPLv3 COPYING file

From: Brian Cameron
Subject: Re: Question about automatic generation of GPLv3 COPYING file
Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2008 02:05:41 -0500
User-agent: Thunderbird (X11/20080825)


I will discuss the issue with the Automake maintainer.  I have never
used Automake myself, so I don't know the issues.

Thank you for looking into this.  I think that your opinion would be
valuable in figuring out the best behavior for automake.

In summary, the issue is that since automake wants to enforce GNU
Coding Standards, it creates a COPYING file in the module source code with a license if the COPYING file is missing. Until recently that
default license was GPLv2, but recent versions of automake now use
the GPLv3 license.

This has caused some confusion for some modules (such as the GNOME
gconf-editor, gnome-settings-daemon, gnome-media-apps, and gphoto
modules).  These programs are licensed under GPLv2 (or later).  But
since these modules didn't have a COPYING file, now they have a GPLv3
COPYING file due to this default automake behavior.  So now there is
some confusion about whether these modules are really GPLv2 or GPLv3.

I believe the license change of the above mentioned modules was made
without the maintainers being aware that automake was automatically
changing the license in their COPYING file, and I don't believe the
module authors approved the change.  Bugs have been filed so that the
authors can fix the problems.  Just as an example of some of the
confusion caused by this feature.

One fact I can see is that this is just a matter of defaults, and
doesn't stop users from doing whatever they want.  Please don't

I apologize.  I probably did overstate the problem.  I do have some
concerns about people who might want to use automake being unaware of
the GNU Coding Standards and ending up with an undesired license.  It
seems that licenses should be established by the authors rather than
as an artifact of build tools being used.

Making Automake have different defaults on different platforms is
clearly a bad idea.  If you are annoyed about one consistent default,
inconsistent defaults would be far more annoying.

Sun has not yet approved the GPLv3 license, so this is a particular
issue for Sun.  I am not sure this is anybody's problem other than
Sun's, but it probably doesn't make sense for Sun to ship a version of
automake that can create a default license that isn't yet approved.  So
perhaps Sun will just not be able to update to the latest versions of
automake, or will need to change the default behavior to not generate
the COPYING file if that is possible.  Further this means that Sun can't
ship the latest versions of modules that have, by accident, been updated
with a GPLv3 COPYING file.  At least not until the maintainers address
the issue and add a COPYING file with the intended GPLv2 license.

There are high hopes that Sun will soon approve the GPLv3 license, so
hopefully this problem will soon go away.

However, some other change might be an improvement.

It seems that if automake wants to enforce GNU Coding Standards by
default, a better solution would be for automake to not run unless
the file exists.  automake has a --foreign option which doesn't
create a COPYING file, so users who really don't want to follow
the GNU Coding Standards could just use that option.  That seems a
better behavior than automake picking a license for you.

But, I'm happy to defer to whatever you and the automake maintainers
think is the best thing to do.  You know more about the implications
of these sorts of issues than I do.


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