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SubjectRe: Reiserfs licencing - possible GPL conflict?
On Mon, 8 Nov 1999, Mike A. Harris wrote:

> I just downloaded the latest 2.2.13 reiserfs patch for linux, and just
> read the file:
>
> /usr/src/linux/fs/reiserfs/README

> ---- Reiserfs licence ------------------------------------------
> Reiserfs is hereby licensed according to the Gnu Public License,
> but with the following special terms: you may not integrate it
> into any kernel (or if not added to a kernel, into any software
> system) which is not also a GPL kernel (software system) without
> obtaining from Hans Reiser an exception to this license.

There is no GPL conflict here. It's Hans' code, so he may choose
its licence. Since this licence is trivially GPL compatible, there
is not problem with including it with Linux.

> Along with that exception you will probably also obtain support and
> customization services, all of it for a fee. In the event that you
> (or a court) do not accept this interpretation of the GPL, you may
> choose to not use Reiserfs. I (Hans Reiser) retain all rights to
> license it as I desire in ways other than this license.

This is called being copyright holder.

> The text above from the reiserfs readme file states "Gnu public
> licence". Strictly speaking - legally - no such licence exists to my
> knowledge. A court of law would probably not equate "GNU public
> licence" to be the same as "GNU General Public Licence", and as such I
> would like to see this clarified if possible.

Of course it would. Pedantic correctness is even better, but courts of
law are not, in general, sufficiently stupid that they would actually
fail to protect reiserfs on the basis of this.

> The GPL is referenced later in the statement, which makes me believe
> that reiserfs is in fact intended to be under the GPL licence.
> However, the first paragraph goes on to mention what appear to be
> "further restrictions" which are explicitly prohibited by the GPL
> licence.

No. The GPL disallows _downstream_ recipients from imposing further
restrictions. Since Hans' (and others? Who owns Chris' code?) is the
copyright holder, he may apply whatever terms he chooses to the code.

Look at it not as the more common "GPL, but we'll sell you exceptions"
but as "Modified GPL". In this case, the difference is small, but enough
to cause your concern and thus, perhaps, worthy of clarification.

> Further inspection seems to show that the "restrictions" are not
> really so - even though worded as such, because any GPL work must
> remain GPL anyways. So basically the "following special terms" are
> not necessary to begin with because the GNU GPL allready explicitly
> forbids inclusion in a non GPL work.

No it doesn't. In practical terms yes, that is its effect, however,
there are many cases where it is possible to link GPL code with code
under another licence, provided that _the union of restrictions from
both licences is no larger than those imposed by the GPL_.

> One other thing: Hans, et al. are perfectly free to licence their
> code under any number of different licencing schemes, as stated more
> or less in the above blurb from the readme. This is perfectly ok, and
> doesn't in any way muck with GPL issues.
>
> What is certainly unclear however is WHAT the EXACT licencing of this
> filesystem code is, and not in writing that is open to interpretation.

reiserfs is not under the GPL. It is under a licence slightly more
restrictive than the GPL (one couldn't link it with a kernel under the
free-BSD licence, or the MIT licence, where GPL software in general is
compatible).

Actually, this has potential bad interactions with the kernel - if
reiserfs is linked with the kernel then _as a whole_ the kernel's licence
become more restrictive than the GPLs, and thus reiserfs can no longer
be linked with it. I think that perhaps Hans, Linus and some lawyers
could do to discuss this further.

> If the reiserfs code and licencing were modified using the
> guidelines given directly in the GPL licence document, it would
> make things much more understandable and "unambiguous".

> Further licencing of reiserfs code could be included in a "LICENCE"
> file of sorts. Something like:
>
> [LICENCE] This software is hereby licenced under the GNU General
> Public Licence version 2 or later. Please see the file "COPYING"
> which should have accompanied this software distribution for details
> of that licence.
>
> Further licencing options are available for commercial and/or other
> interests directly from the author at: <email address>

The issue here is that this is in no way the intent of Hans' licence.
Otherwise, some unscrupulous company could link it with FreeBSD, turn the
prouct into a NetApp filer-style appliance (say) and give back only the
FreeBSD linkage. Which the FreeBSD people would have little use for
anyway, since they don't like GPL code in their core.

It seems that tyou have spotted a problem - not with Hans' licence (which
he is entitled to choose) but with its potential linkage with the Linux
kernel.

Personally, I think that Hans' licence unifies the intent of the GPL with
some fairly practical modern additions, and would have no particular
problem seeing the whole of the kernel under these conditions.

Matthew.


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