Monthly Archives: September 2008

Is GPL software free as in “free love”?

I was contemplating the other day how to extend AB Commander to make it able to collaborate with several third-party software products. For example, it would be cool to add some support for the 7z files, which are created by the file compressor 7-Zip . It shouldn’t be too difficult, I thought, because 7-Zip is an open source project, I could examine its source code to see how exactly the 7z files are handled, and maybe reuse some of its code in AB Commander?

Not so fast. 7-Zip is licensed under the GPL license, which strictly forbids the re-use of its source code in the non-GPL’d projects. If I want to use some of the GPL’d code in my own software, I need to convert my whole project to the GPL license and open its whole source code, something I don’t want to do.

After thinking some more, I came up with an idea: I’d make a separate module (a plug-in) that would serve as a bridge between my closed-source project and the GPL’d project. I would make the plug-in GPL’d (because it would need to use some of the GPL’d code), and publish its source code.  My closed source project would link to the plug-in, the plug-in would link to the other GPL’d project’s code, and everyone would be happy: the users of AB Commander would get additional software functionality, the plug-in would be GPL’d, and I would keep the source code of AB Commander closed. Pretty smart, huh?

Again, not so fast. Let’s browse through the GPL FAQ, that explains the issues related to linking between proprietary software and the GPL’d software (or, as they put it, “free” software, where “free” is as in “free speech”). For example, the answer to the question Can I release a non-free program that’s designed to load a GPL-covered plug-in? reads “In order to use the GPL-covered plug-ins, the main program must be released under the GPL or a GPL-compatible free software license…

Huh? I could understand the requirement to GPL any code derived from a GPL’d code, it’s their code and they are free to restrict its re-use anyway they want, but to require two separate modules dynamically linking to each other to be covered by GPL if only one of them is GPL’d? It seems like asking a bit too much. Especially considering that GPL programs have no reservations about linking to proprietary software. Just take any software for Windows, GPL or not, it’s linking to the Microsoft’s proprietory system libraries. Looks like the philosophy of the “free software” is it’s OK to take advantage of the evil and dirty proprietory software, as long as it is not trying to link back to take some advantage of the GPL’d software.

Not fair!

Update: Apparently I am not the only one who thinks so:

Another update: Just found the following article with a legal analysis of this very problem, that confirms the “absurdity” of the GPL’s approach to the software plugins: