[Mageia-dev] Fw: GPL-compatibility Question: Distributing Binaries of GPLed Programs Which Link Against Non-Free Code

Shlomi Fish shlomif at shlomifish.org
Fri Nov 16 21:59:16 CET 2012

Hi Aaron,

I am forwarding your reply to the Mageia development mailing list.


	Shlomi Fish

Begin forwarded message:

Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2012 11:55:12 -0500
From: Aaron Williamson <aaronw at softwarefreedom.org>
To: shlomif at shlomifish.org
Subject: Re: Fwd: Re: GPL-compatibility Question: Distributing Binaries of
GPLed Programs Which Link Against Non-Free Code

Hi Shlomi,

Below I've outlined the significant legal issues here. This is not legal advice:
SFLC does not represent Mageia and I have not thoroughly reviewed the code at
issue here to comprehensively understand its copyright and licensing structure.
Rather, I have just identified the key issues based on the facts provided in
your email and a quick visit to Cinelerra's website. Additionally, SFLC is a US
legal services organization, and is not licensed to practice law in France, nor
are we familiar with French copyright law. If you'd like, I'd be happy to refer
you to a lawyer in Paris who is familiar with free software licensing issues.

Our understanding of the linking issue comports with the Free Software
Foundation's position: linking a GPL'd program with a program under another
license results in a combined work based on both programs. The GPL requires that
the resulting work be licensed under the GPL, and that no additional
restrictions (besides those in the GPL) be placed on the work. Because the faac
code is encumbered by the "compliant implementations" restriction, the
combination would violate the GPL.

That said, the linking question usually arises where a downstream user of a
GPL-licensed work wants to link it with proprietary modules. If I understand
your intention correctly, at least with regard to Cinelerra, you would not be
introducing the incompatibility, i.e. Cinelerra already links to faac -- you
would just be packaging and distributing both programs for Mageia. Is that

If that's right, and Cinelerra is responsible for the violation of the license
on its own software, it is difficult to imagine that they'd press the violation,
or that a court would permit them to. Rather, it would seem that they intend the
two programs to be used together and, even if they have not granted an explicit
GPL exception allowing the combination, may have at least granted an implied
license by distributing the combined work themselves.

This analysis, however, assumes that the Cinelerra developers own all the
copyrights in the GPL-licensed code within Cinelerra, and thus have the right to
grant such an exception (implied or otherwise). If they have incorporated GPL'd
code produced by third parties, who never licensed such a combination, into
Cinelerra, then their use of faac can't provide their downstream users with any
sort of comfort regarding the violation. You may wish to contact the Cinelerra
developers and ask them to clarify who owns which portions of their codebase,
and whether they intend for others to link their GPL'd code with faac.


Aaron Williamson
Senior Staff Counsel
Software Freedom Law Center
1995 Broadway, 17th Fl.
New York, NY 10023
(212) 461-1911 direct
(212) 580-0898 fax

On 11/14/2012 06:00 PM, help at softwarefreedom.org wrote:
> -------- Original Message --------
> Subject: Re: GPL-compatibility Question: Distributing Binaries of GPLed
> Programs Which Link Against Non-Free Code
> Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2012 18:07:31 +0200
> From: Shlomi Fish <shlomif at shlomifish.org>
> To: help at softwarefreedom.org
> On Wed, 14 Nov 2012 10:17:00 -0500
> help at softwarefreedom.org wrote:
>> On 11/09/2012 12:23 PM, Shlomi Fish wrote:
>> > Dear Sir or Madam,
>> > 
>> > I am writing you this letter on behalf of Mageia
>> > ( https://www.mageia.org/en/ ), which is a community-developed, operating
>> > system, based on the GNU/Linux system and with a free-and-open-source
>> > (FOSS) core. We would like to ask whether (and how) we can distribute
>> > pre-built packages of a GPLed program (in our case, the video editor
>> > cinelerra) after it was linked to a library with some proprietary and
>> > non-GPLed code (in our case, faac).
>> > 
>> > The longer story is that there has been some demand for including faac
>> > ( http://sourceforge.net/projects/faac/ - the Freeware Advance Audio
>> > Coder), which is both non-free in part and patent encumbered, in our
>> > distribution, and to prepare versions of the appropriate packages for
>> > which it is an optional dependency. These packages, such as cinelerra (
>> > http://cinelerra.org/ - a video editor), are licenced under
>> > the GPL, which restricts which code its distributed binaries may be legally
>> > linked to.
>> > 
>> > So our question is: assuming we package faac as a package, can we still
>> > provide pre-made and binary packages of GPLed programs that use it?
>> > Furthermore, would this require receiving an explicit permission from the
>> > copyright owner of the program under the GPL?
>> > 
>> > We would appreciate any advice that you can give to us on the matter.
>> > 
>> > Sincerely yours,
>> > 
>> > — Shlomi Fish, on behalf of the Mageia development team.
>> > 
>> > 
>> The Software Freedom Law Center has received an email from you sent to
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> Understood

Shlomi Fish       http://www.shlomifish.org/
Escape from GNU Autohell - http://www.shlomifish.org/open-source/anti/autohell/

mplayer 0.9.999.2010.03.11-rc5-adc83b19e793491b1c6ea0fd8b46cd9f32e592fc is
now available for download.
    — Shlomi Fish and d3x.

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