GPL Explained: Understanding the General Public License

The General Public License (GPL) is a popularly utilized free software license that ensures users have the liberty to operate, examine, distribute, and make changes to the software.

It is a legal tool that helps protect software from being made proprietary when modified. The GPL license is used by developers to ensure that their code remains free and open-source.

Understanding General Public Licenses can be challenging for those new to the world of software licensing. The GPL license is often confused with other software licenses, such as the MIT License or the Apache License.

However, GPL’s key feature is that it is a copyleft license, which means that any derivative work must also be licensed under the same terms as the original work.

This ensures that the software remains free and open-source, and the end-users have the freedom to use, modify, and distribute the software as they see fit.

What Is General Public License?

What Is General Public License?

The General Public License (GPL) is a free and open-source software license that allows users to use, copy, distribute, and modify software, plugins, or themes freely.

The license was created by Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in 1989 to protect the rights of software users and developers.

Origins of GPL

The GPL was created as a response to the growing trend of proprietary software, which restricted users from accessing and modifying the software they had purchased.

Stallman and the FSF believed that software should be free and accessible to everyone, and that users should have the right to modify and improve it as they saw fit.

The GPL was designed to ensure that these principles were protected and that users would always have access to the source code of the software they were using.

This meant that users could modify and improve the software, and share those improvements with others without fear of legal repercussions.

GPL Versions

The GPL has gone through several revisions over the years, with the most recent version being GPL version 3.

Each revision has been designed to address new issues and challenges facing the free software community and to ensure that the principles of free and open-source software are protected.

One of the key features of the GPL is its copyleft provision, which requires that any software derived from GPL-licensed software must also be licensed under the GPL.

This ensures that the software remains free and open-source and that users always have access to the source code.

Key Features of GPL

Freedom to Run

One of the key features of GPL is the freedom to run the software for any purpose. This means that users have the right to use the software for any purpose they see fit. They can use it for personal or commercial purposes without any restrictions.

Freedom to Study and Modify

Another important feature of GPL is the freedom to study and modify the source code. This means that users have access to the source code and can modify it to suit their needs. They can also study the code to learn how the software works.

Freedom to Redistribute

GPL also gives users the freedom to redistribute the software. This means that users can share the software with others, either for free or for a fee. They can also distribute modified versions of the software, as long as they comply with the terms of the GPL license.

Freedom to Improve

Finally, GPL gives users the freedom to improve the software. This means that users can add new features to the software, fix bugs, and make other improvements. They can then share these improvements with others, either for free or for a fee.

Overall, GPL is a powerful license that gives users a lot of freedom when it comes to using, studying, modifying, and redistributing software. Whether you’re a developer or a user, GPL is a license that you should consider if you want to take advantage of these freedoms.

Related: 20 Best Websites To Download GPL Software

GPL and Open Source Software

GPL and Open Source Software

GPL’s Role in Open Source

The General Public License (GPL) is a widely used free software license that guarantees end-users the four freedoms to run, study, share, and modify the software.

The GPL plays a crucial role in the open-source software movement, which is built on the principles of transparency, collaboration, and community-driven innovation.

The GPL ensures that open-source software remains free and open for users to use, modify, and distribute.

It requires that any derivative works or modifications made to the software must also be licensed under the GPL. This ensures that the software remains open and that the source code is available to anyone who wants to use it.

Open Source vs Proprietary Software

Open-source software is software that is freely available to the public, and the source code is open and available for anyone to view, modify, and distribute.

Proprietary software, on the other hand, is software that is owned by a company or individual and is not freely available to the public. The source code is typically closed and not available for anyone to view, modify, or distribute.

The GPL is a critical component of the open-source software movement because it ensures that open-source software remains open and free for everyone to use and modify.

It ensures that the software is not locked away behind proprietary walls and that the source code is available for anyone who wants to use it.

In summary, the GPL plays a crucial role in the open-source software movement by ensuring that software remains open and free for everyone to use and modify.

It is a critical component of the open-source software ecosystem and is essential for ensuring that software remains transparent, collaborative, and community-driven.

Common Misconceptions About GPL

Common Misconceptions About GPL

GPL and Commercial Use

One of the most common misconceptions about the General Public License (GPL) is that it prohibits commercial use of the software. This is not true.

According to the GNU website, the GPL “does not restrict anyone from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources.”

In other words, you can sell GPL-licensed software as long as you make the source code available to your customers and allow them to modify and redistribute it.

However, there is a catch.

If you distribute GPL-licensed software, you must also distribute it under the same license. This means that anyone who receives the software from you has the same rights to modify and redistribute it that you do.

If you want to distribute the software under a different license, you must obtain permission from all the copyright holders of the software.

GPL and Software Distribution

Another common misconception about the GPL is that it requires all software to be distributed for free. This is also not true.

According to the same GNU website, “you can charge people a fee to get a copy from you. You can’t require people to pay you when they get a copy from someone else.” In other words, you can charge for distributing GPL-licensed software, but you can’t charge for the software itself.

It’s also worth noting that the GPL only applies to the distribution of software. If you use GPL-licensed software to create a product or service, you are not required to release the source code of your product or service.

However, if you distribute the GPL-licensed software as part of your product or service, you must also distribute the source code of the software under the GPL.

In summary, the GPL does not prohibit commercial use of software, but it does require that the source code be made available to anyone who receives the software. Additionally, the GPL allows for charging for distribution of the software, but not for the software itself.

The Impact of GPL

The General Public License (GPL) has had a significant impact on the world of software development. Below are two key areas where GPL has made its mark.

GPL’s Influence on Software Development

The GPL has been instrumental in promoting the open-source software movement. By requiring that any modifications to GPL-licensed software be released under the same license, GPL ensures that the source code remains open and available to the community.

This has encouraged collaboration and innovation among developers, leading to the creation of many popular open-source projects such as Linux, Apache, and MySQL.

Moreover, GPL has helped democratize access to software by making it available to anyone, regardless of their financial resources. This has been especially important in developing countries where proprietary software can be prohibitively expensive.

GPL’s Legal Precedents

GPL has also set important legal precedents. For example, the enforceability of GPL was tested in court in the case of Jacobsen v. Katzer.

In this case, the defendant had used Jacobsen’s open-source Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) software in a commercial product without complying with the GPL’s requirements. The court ruled that the GPL was indeed enforceable and that the defendant had violated its terms.

This ruling has helped establish the legal validity of open-source licenses and has provided a framework for resolving disputes related to their use. It has also helped clarify the responsibilities of developers who use open-source software in their products.

Read Also: GPL vs GLPL

Conclusion

In conclusion, the General Public License (GPL) is a widely used free software license that guarantees end users the four freedoms to run, study, share, and modify the software. The GPL license is used by developers to ensure that their code does not become proprietary when modified.

The GPL license is an open-source license meant for software. If software is licensed under the terms of the GPL, it is free. However, “free” here does not essentially mean freeware—it can also be a paid software. Instead, “free” as per the GPL means freedom.

The GPL license is one of the most popular open-source licenses and has been used by many software projects, including the Linux kernel.

Overall, the GPL license is a powerful tool for ensuring that software remains free and open to all. It is a license that has been used by many developers and software projects, and it continues to be an important part of the open-source software community.