[rms gnu org: Why you shouldn't use the Library GPL for your next library]

------- Start of forwarded message -------
Date: Sat, 30 Jan 1999 05:25:44 -0500
From: Richard Stallman <rms@gnu.org>
To: info-gnu@gnu.org
Subject: Why you shouldn't use the Library GPL for your next library
Reply-to: rms@gnu.org

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   Why you shouldn't use the Library GPL for your next library
			   -- Richard Stallman

The GNU Project has two principal licenses to use for libraries.  One
is the GNU Library GPL; the other is the ordinary GNU GPL.  The choice
of license makes a big difference: using the Library GPL permits use
of the library in proprietary programs; using the ordinary GPL for a
library makes it available only for free programs.

Which license is best for a given library is a matter of strategy, and
it depends on the details of the situation.  At present, most GNU
libraries are covered by the Library GPL, and that means we are using
only one of these two strategies, neglecting the other.  So we are
now seeking more libraries to release *under the ordinary GPL*.

Proprietary software developers have the advantage of money; free
software developers need to make advantages for each other.  Using the
ordinary GPL for a library gives free software developers an advantage
over proprietary developers: a library that they can use, while
proprietary developers cannot use it.

Using the ordinary GPL is not advantageous for every library.  There
are reasons that can make it better to use the Library GPL in certain
cases.  The most common case is when a free library's features are
readily available for proprietary software through other alternative
libraries.  In that case, the library cannot give free software any
particular advantage, so it is better to use the Library GPL for that

This is why we used the Library GPL for the GNU C library.  After all,
there are plenty of other C libraries; using the GPL for ours would
have driven proprietary software developers to use another--no problem
for them, only for us.

However, when a library provides a significant unique capability, like
GNU Readline, that's a horse of a different color.  The Readline
library implements input editing and history for interactive programs,
and that's a facility not generally available elsewhere.  Releasing it
under the GPL and limiting its use to free programs gives our
community a real boost.  At least one application program is free
software today specifically because that was necessary for using

If we amass a collection of powerful GPL-covered libraries that have
no parallel available to proprietary software, they will provide a
range of useful modules to serve as building blocks in new free
programs.  This will be a significant advantage for further free
software development, and some projects will decide to make software
free in order to use these libraries.  University projects can easily
be influenced; nowadays, as companies begin to consider making
software free, even some commercial projects can be influenced in this

Proprietary software developers, seeking to deny the free competition
an important advantage, will try to convince authors not to contribute
libraries to the GPL-covered collection.  For example, they may appeal
to the ego, promising "more users for this library" if we let them use
the code in proprietary software products.  Popularity is tempting,
and it is easy for a library developer to rationalize the idea that
boosting the popularity of that one library is what the community
needs above all.

But we should not listen to these temptations, because we can achieve
much more if we stand together.  We free software developers should
support one another.  By releasing libraries that are limited to free
software only, we can help each other's free software packages outdo
the proprietary alternatives.  The whole free software movement will
have more popularity, because free software as a whole will stack up
better against the competition.

Since the name "Library GPL" conveys the wrong idea about this
question, we are planning to change the name to "Lesser GPL."
Actually implementing the name change may take some time, but you
don't have to wait--you can release GPL-covered libraries now.
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