GNU General Public License (GPL) 2.0—commentary

The following TMT practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • GNU General Public License (GPL) 2.0—commentary
  • Background
  • Section 0—Preamble
  • Section 1—Redistribution of verbatim copies
  • Section 2—Redistribution of modified copies
  • Section 3—Provision of source code
  • Section 4—Breach of licence results in termination
  • Section 5—Acceptance of licence
  • Section 6—No additional restrictions
  • Section 7—Software patents
  • More...

GNU General Public License (GPL) 2.0—commentary

Although its popularity has declined in recent years in favour of permissive licences such as MIT, a significant amount of software remains licensed under the GPL 2.0—see Practice Note: Free and open source software—Free and open source licences for data on the popularity of top open source licences. It is a controversial and widely-discussed licence, primarily because of the copyleft consequences which are strongly inconsistent with commercial software licensing practices.

Under the GPL 2.0, any work that is distributed or published, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the GPL program or any part of it, must be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of the GPL 2.0. Among other things, this requires enabling recipients to copy, modify, and redistribute the work and requires the licensee to make the source code available.

There is significant debate about the triggering events that bring this provision into play. In particular, the meaning of ‘distribute’ and when, exactly, a piece of software ‘contains or is derived from’ the GPL-covered software.

This Practice Note sets out the text of the GPL 2.0 and highlights key issues.

Note that American spellings are used when quoting US material or referring to a specific licence title. It also uses the term ‘open source’ to refer to all types

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