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SubjectRe: WTF? Re: [PATCH] License cleanup: add SPDX GPL-2.0 license identifier to files with no license
On Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 8:28 PM, Christoph Hellwig <> wrote:
> On Tue, Nov 07, 2017 at 02:15:26PM -0500, Theodore Ts'o wrote:
>> On Tue, Nov 07, 2017 at 06:46:58PM +0000, Alan Cox wrote:
>> > > Given that it had no license text on it at all, it "defaults" to GPLv2,
>> > > so the GPLv2 SPDX identifier was added to it.
>> > >
>> > > No copyright was changed, nothing at all happened except we explicitly
>> > > list the license of the file, instead of it being "implicit" before.
>> >
>> > Well if Christoph owns the copyright (if there is one) and he has stated
>> > he believes it is too trivial to copyright then it needs an SPDX tag that
>> > indicates the rightsholder has stated it's too trivial to copyright and
>> > (by estoppel) revoked any right they might have to pursue a claim.
>> If Cristoph has revoked any right to pursue a claim, then he's also
>> legally given up the right to complain if, say, Bradley Kuhn starting
>> distributing a version with a GPLv3 permission statement --- or if Greg
>> K-H adds a GPLv2 SPDX identifier. :-)
> First Christoph really appreciateѕ spelling his name right.
> Second Christoph really appreciates talking to him when trying to slap
> on licensing bits on his code. I'm not evil, but I'd really like to
> understand what you are doing and why, and I might be fairly agreeable
> if that makes sense.
> Doing batch annotations of code where you do not the know any of
> the history of is a receipt for a desaster if we want to use that
> information anywhere.
> So Greg, please explain WTF you are trying to do and talk to the
> people who wrote the code you are "annotating".


I am not speaking for Greg but let me highlight some issues and
benefits as I chipped in a bit to help:

Some data points in the 4.14.rc7 kernel:
- there are 64,742 distinct license statements
... in 114,597 blocks of text
... in 42,602 files
- license statements represent 480,455 lines of text
- licenses are worded in 1,015 different ways
- there are about 85 distinct licenses, the bulk being the GPL

NB: All of these tallies were computed with scancode-toolkit [1]

License text lines represent about 14.7% of all source comments.
(using a CLOC to count comment lines)

From an engineering perspective this feels to me as pure madness,
unless everyone in kernel land is in love with legalese!

I like to think of it this way:

Licensing is important but repetitive long boilerplate in patches and
in every file is just a noisy distraction from the code substance.

Imagine if the kernel had 500 versions of a printf() function?
Maintainers would refactor the hell of it to use a few functions.

Replacing the boilerplate with licensing ids is exactly the same:
a sane refactoring to remove duplicated boilerplate.

In the end and ideally there should be no more than one line of
licensing info per file, so no more than 70Kish: so there are
about 400K lines of boilerplate to remove.

The benefits now and later:
- no distraction with licensing boilerplate cr*p in patches and files
- no guessing licensing needed when sending a patch
- anyone can grep the kernel tree for licensing, no extra tool needed
- Greg must feel really good about deleting so much things for once

The downsides:
- folks can no longer express their creativity in licensing texts like
licensing thermal code under the "therms" of the GPL [2]
- legalese lovers need to find another codebase to satisfy their

Note also that beside the kernel, U-Boot has adopted the same
approach for quite a while, and in the application world the Eclipse
Foundation, JavaScript NPMs and Rubygems are some examples
that adopted SPDX license ids to simplify and clarify licensing


Philippe Ombredanne

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