Copyright, GPL, Licensing
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A human readable summary of the GPL?

In my ebook (A Practical Guide to WordPress and the GPL) which will be out within the next 6-8 hours, I’ve included a one page summary of the GPL which I hope will make it easy for people to understand the core concepts of the GPL. That summary outlines the position in relation to copying and distribution, fees, modifications/derivative works, distributing non-source forms, termination, and downstream licensing:


This particular summary follows the flow of the clauses in the GPL and that’s why it flows through the subject headings I’ve just mentioned. One consequence of this common approach to summarising legal documents is that the discussion of a single topic may contain a summary of both a person’s rights and a person’s obligations. For example, the discussion of modifications / derivative works says:

“You may modify the Program or any part of it and distribute the modifications or new work as long as modified files contain notices regarding the existence and date of changes and any work that you distribute or publish that contains or is derived from the Program or any part of it is licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the GPL.”

As you can see, this paragraph says “you are free to do A but if you do you also need to do X”. Rights and obligations. This approach is repeated, where relevant, for each subject.

Last night, in response to some comments on one of my posts by a couple of people, I wondered whether there was a different and perhaps even simpler way to summarise the GPL. I was also thinking about this because the terms of use that my WordPress theme/plugin shop terms of use builder will generate (available as part of my ebook business package) will summarise the GPL and also link to a human readable summary of the GPL for customers that want to read more.

Now, in my normal day job, I’ve done a huge amount of work on open licensing of government copyright works and that has involved very close examination and implementation of the Creative Commons licences. Not surprisingly, then, my mind immediately gravitated towards the ‘human readable deeds’ that Creative Commons produces for its licences. Those deeds take a slightly different approach to summarising the legal terms of the licence. Instead of addressing licence content on a subject by subject basis, which would include rights and potentially obligations per subject, they take a “you can do A, B and C, as long as you do X, Y and Z” approach. In other words, they state all freedoms and then list the obligations. For some people, this may be easier to follow.

With that in mind, last night I whipped up a GPL human readable summary, modelled on the approach taken by Creative Commons. This is what it looks like:


What do you reckon?

(Thanks to Felix E. Guerrero for the First Aid Kit and Key image, which he has licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.)

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