On Apr 5, 2013, at 3:14 PM, Robin Winning wrote:
> I am a contracts manager at software company, and in addition to doing 
> contracts, I now find myself reviewing the licenses associated with the open 
> source packages my company has acquired. I have become quite familiar with 
> the GPL/LGPL/AGPL suite of licenses, as well as the other, permissive 
> licenses: MIT, BSD, etc. Here's my question: quite frequently, the programmer 
> makes the Free Software Foundation the copyright holder, but then attaches a 
> license that is not in the GPL family. Is that a valid combination?

Certainly.  There was a time (before SourceForge, CollabNet, github, Perl's 
CPAN, etc) when the FSF used to host BSD/MIT-ish licensed software like 
ncurses, less, gzip, and others.

Many of them eventually were dual-licensed under the GPL.

> In the case of "ncurses," I was able to research and determine that when they 
> assigned their copyright to the Free Software Foundation, the FSF gave 
> ncurses a special carve-out allowing them to use a permissive license. 
> However, all the rest of the open source packages I have come across that 
> assert "Copyright Free Software Foundation" but are accompanied by non-GPL 
> licenses do not seem to have that sort of special arrangement.

>From "man less":

       less  is  part  of  the GNU project and is free software.  You can 
redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of either (1) the GNU
       General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; or 
(2) the Less License.  See the file README in the less  distribu-
       tion  for more details regarding redistribution.  You should have 
received a copy of the GNU General Public License along with the source
       for less; see the file COPYING.  If not, write to the Free Software 
Foundation, 59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA  02111-1307,  USA.
       You should also have received a copy of the Less License; see the file 
LICENSE.

> Maybe I'm overthinking this, but it seems contradictory to me, and I don't 
> know how to characterize the license in terms of permissive or restrictive. 

Something which is dual-licensed under the GPL and a permissive BSD/MIT-style 
license is permissive.

Regards,
-- 
-Chuck

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