[vorbis] PlusV

Jack Moffitt jack at xiph.org
Thu Oct 18 10:59:12 PDT 2001

> Thats not what I meant. If they publish their
> stuff under GPL, they void their patents, as
> far as I understand the relevant sections of it.

I think you are quite confused.  Patents and copyrights are distinct
forms of intellectual property.  There is nothing within the GPL that
addresses patents, and there are many examples of GPL software that are
still covered by patents (freely licensed and not).  Examples include
GNU Ghostscript and LAME; the former is covered by freely licensed
patents, and the latter by patented which require royalties.

Publishing code openly, even into the public domain, while retaining
patent rights is commonly done, especially in standards organizations
that practice RAND licensing.

> Relevant quote from GPL:
>   Finally, any free program is threatened constantly by software
> patents.  We wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free
> program will individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the
> program proprietary.  To prevent this, we have made it clear that any
> patent must be licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at all.
> If it's published under GPL, it's free to use for

You are quoting the preamble.  This is not a legally binding section of
the license, but more of an abstract for lay-people.  If you actually
read through the GPL and watch for 'patent' you'll come across point 7:

"For example, if a patent
license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Program by
all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then
the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to
refrain entirely from distribution of the Program."

Now this is an interesting clause I haven't read before.  It says that
if the patent isn't royalty free, then you cannot redistribute the
program.  In effect, I think it implies that redistributing a program
covered by non-royalty-free patents is a violation of the GPL.  This
does not say that you _imply_ a royalty-free license when putting code
under the GPL.

It also doesn't stop one from distributing this code, although doing so
seems a violation.  For instance, one reading of this clause who mean
that LAME shouldn't be distributing copies, since there is not a
royalty-free license.  Since both conditions must be satisfied, LAME
should not be distributing this code.

There's a minor complication in this example, in that only binary
versions are really necessary to obtain licenses for, and certainly no
one is going to ask LAME to stop distributing its software.

Freetype is another example.  They have patented code for TrueType
bytecode rendering.  It's under the LGPL (which I'm assuming here has
the similar patent language).  Under this clause, is it a violation to
distribute FreeType? (One may note that this patented code can be
compiled out, and indeed is by default, but Debian is distributing the
patent-covered binaries anyway, as are other distributions).

So, GPLing code that is covered by patents makes no implication of a
patent grant.  I don't see this anywhere within the license.  I believe
if such a clause were in the GPL/LGPL, that many people would not
release code under it, such at Ghostscript and LAME, since neither of
their respective authors has the legal authority to grant such rights.

The clause is simply there (as is stated in the license) to protect the
distribution/distributors of Free Software.

I've copied Richard Stallman on this email, since he's the authority on
this subject.  I'm curious as to what this means for LAME and FreeType.
If the GPL prevents distribution of patent-encumbered Free Software,
then what happens when this rule is not followed?  Does this weaken the
code's freedom?  Does this open up the authors for litigation in the
United States?  Certainly redistributors of binary code are open to
litigation, especially with code like LAME.

So, if they were to release PlusV under the GPL, and not grant a
royalty-free license to GPL users/authors, then what happens to them?
If the GPL is violated by the author, does it still apply?  Or does that
software effectively become fully restricted under the law?


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