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SubjectRe: GPL V3 and Linux - Dead Copyright Holders

On Fri, 27 Jan 2006, Linus Torvalds wrote:
> This is basic copyright law, btw, and has nothing to do with the GPL per
> se. If you don't have a license, you don't have any copyright AT ALL.

This is really important, btw.

Yes, when we speak colloquially we talk about the fact that Linux is
licensed "under the GPL", but that is _not_ how anybody actually has ever
gotten a license legally. The ONLY way anybody has ever legally licensed
Linux is either with the original very strict copyright _or_ thanks to the
COPYING file. Nothing else really matters.

So the version of the GPL has always been explicit. At no point has the
kernel been distributed without a specific version being clearly mentioned
in the ONLY PLACE that gave you rights to copy the kernel in the first
place. So either you knew it was GPLv2, or you didn't have the right to
copy it in the first place.

In other words, Linux has _never_ been licensed under anything but the GPL
v2, and nobody has _ever_ gotten a legal Linux source distribution with
anything but a complete copy of GPLv2 license file.

So when I say that the additions at the top of the COPYING file are
nothing but clarifications, I'm not just making that up. Anybody who
claims that any Linux kernel I've ever made has ever been licensed under
anything else than those exact two licenses is just not correct.

And Alan, I know we've had this discussion before. You've claimed before
that my clarifications are somehow "changing" the license, and I've told
you before that no, they don't change the license, they just clarify
things that people keep on gettign wrong, or keep on being nervous about.

So people can argue all they want about this. But unless you get a real
legal opinion (not just any random shyster - a real judge making a
statement, or a respected professional who states his firm legal opinion
in no uncertain terms), I don't think you have a legal leg to stand on.

But no, IANAL. I'd be willing to bet real money that a real lawyer would
back me up on this, though.



PS. Just out of historical interest, the only other copyright license ever
distributed with the kernel was this one:

"This kernel is (C) 1991 Linus Torvalds, but all or part of it may be
redistributed provided you do the following:

- Full source must be available (and free), if not with the
distribution then at least on asking for it.

- Copyright notices must be intact. (In fact, if you distribute
only parts of it you may have to add copyrights, as there aren't
(C)'s in all files.) Small partial excerpts may be copied
without bothering with copyrights.

- You may not distibute this for a fee, not even "handling"

Mail me at "" if you have any questions."

and that one was only valid between kernel versions 0.01 and 0.12 or
something like that.
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