[sword-devel] Question about Public Domain

Chris Little chrislit at crosswire.org
Tue Mar 17 19:49:27 MST 2009

Jonathan Morgan wrote:
> It is not backward, it is a pure statement of facts, which you can
> find quite clearly in the GPL v2 FAQ
> <http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/gpl-2.0-faq.html#GPLModuleLicense>.

You need to look at the question immediately following the one you link. 
I'll quote:
Q: If a library is released under the GPL (not the LGPL), does that mean 
that any program which uses it has to be under the GPL?
A: Yes, because the program as it is actually run includes the library.

That couldn't be any more clear. Putting it into concrete terms, Sword 
is a library. Sword is under the GPL. And front end to Sword is a 
"program which uses it". Thus, any front end to Sword must be under the GPL.

> If I can add a module to a library (or a "plugin" for that matter)
> which is not GPL licensed but GPL compatible, of course I can create
> an entire frontend that is GPL compatible but not GPL licensed.

You may add a module to a library that is GPL compatible, but not GPL 
licensed, to a GPL work. But the reverse is not permissible: You may not 
add a GPL work to a non GPL (be it GPL compatible or not) work. That's 
simply not permitted by the license.

> Fundamentally, the GPL cannot require you to do anything more than are
> in its terms of license, which is that changes are distributed in
> accordance with the license.  You have complete and sole ownership of
> those changes or of that "derivative work", but if you distribute it
> they must be distributed in a way that satisfies the terms of the GPL.

No, you have complete and sole ownership of those changes *only*. The 
complete, derivative work is owned jointly between you and the author of 
the original work from which yours is a derivative. For information 
about derivative works (including definitions, rights, & limitations) 
you'll want to consult the Copyright Act (US Code Title 17). This 
pertains since the GPL is couched in terms of copyright.

>  As I have complete ownership of those changes, I can release them
> under any terms I like that do not conflict with the GPL.  I can grant
> any additional permissions I like (such as releasing under a MIT
> license or into the public domain).  This doesn't require legalese, it
> just requires a knowledge of ownership and what I can do with things
> that I own.

You have sole ownership of additions, provided that they are not 
derivative works and do not in any way depend on the pre-existence of 
Sword (in this case).

If you write a front end to Sword and include a subroutine that converts 
  between roman numerals and latin digits, the front end is a work 
derivative of Sword and must be licensed under the GPL. At your option, 
you could certainly extract the roman numeral subroutine and release 
that separately under any license--that portion has no dependence on 
Sword and was not derived from it.

Works derivative of Sword include any works that link to Sword via any 
means (direct static linking or runtime linking, including via non-C 

> Oh, BTW, BPBible does not link with the header files, though I think
> it is still reasonable to call it a derivative work under the terms of
> the GPL.

Under copyright law, it is a derivative work.

The whole GPL discussion is one that pops up about once a year on 
sword-devel, and it's really just a distraction from real work. If you 
have further questions about the GPL, you can contact the FSF at 
licensing at fsf.org. They can confirm my statements.


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