4

Answering a question here put me in a drawback.

In Open Source projects, it's clear that copyright notices shall be retained, especially when they contain copyleft and share alike clauses. However, the question really made me think, more than twice, about whether I can keep other "notice" files within the distribution.

What I need is to put a separate notice, such as security information, project stats, or any important data for that matter, within the project, and restrict its movement/deletion.

I am wanting to know whether I am allowed to do this in a project, no matter what the license. If a specific kind of license is required, what clauses must it contain?

  • 2
    I have a hard time understanding why that information that you list must be kept around in the same place for all time. Once you have put such a restriction in place, that restriction would most likely also apply to you as well as to derived projects, no matter how far removed. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Jul 15 '15 at 5:14
6

None of the existing licenses for software that are Free Software licenses or that are approved by the OSI allow this.

But there is something like what you ask for in the GNU Free Documentation License. This license, which was created for manuals, textbooks, and other written documentation, knows something called Invariant Sections.

The "Invariant Sections" are certain Secondary Sections whose titles are designated, as being those of Invariant Sections, in the notice that says that the Document is released under this License. If a section does not fit the above definition of Secondary then it is not allowed to be designated as Invariant. The Document may contain zero Invariant Sections. If the Document does not identify any Invariant Sections then there are none.

What does this mean? Let's look at an example, the GNU Emacs manual. The license for this manual is:

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with the Invariant Sections being “The GNU Manifesto,” “Distribution” and “GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE,” with the Front-Cover Texts being “A GNU Manual,” and with the Back-Cover Texts as in (a) below. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation License.”

(emphasis by me).

One of the invariant sections is The GNU Manifesto which must be included in all derived works unchanged.

The GNU FDL also knows something called Front-Cover Texts and Back-Cover Texts (see the above quote). These texts are small snippets of text that must be reproduced on the front- or back-cover of the work unchanged.

  • 1
    While you can have unchangeable section in a document licensed under GFDL, there is nothing that will stop someone downstream from you removing the entire document from your distribution, is they for some reason really wanted to remove this text from the their fork of your project. – Free Radical Jul 15 '15 at 7:19
  • 1
    Yes, the GNU FDL only protects the document itself, not its place inside a distribution. – user490 Jul 15 '15 at 7:22
  • 3
    Note that the FDL is not considered a free license by everyone. In particular Debian doesn't, unless the work has no invariant section. – Gilles Jul 20 '15 at 20:52
3

A short answer is "no": You can not restrict users to not move or not delete any part of your project (except copyright notices - the integrity of copyright notices are required by law, and also by most free software licenses).

The GPLv3 (sec. 7: Additional Terms) say that may add some additional terms to your license, and one of these may be:

Requiring preservation of specified reasonable legal notices or author attributions in that material or in the Appropriate Legal Notices displayed by works containing it;

But as this is limited to "legal notices or author attributions" it doesn't let you require preservation of arbitrary materials such as "project stats".

And to make this absolutely clear, the license goes on to say:

If the Program as you received it, or any part of it, contains a notice stating that it is governed by this License along with a term that is a further restriction, you may remove that term.

That is, given that you want to use a recognized (by the FSF or OSI) free software / open source license. Provided you use a license where you grant users the four freedoms that is inherent in free software - you cannot impose any additional restrictions on what the user can do. (You can of course concoct a your own non-free custom license and put whatever you like, including restrictions on what the user may alter or delete, in it.)

For the record, I know of no license that qualify as "free software" under the FSF definition, or "open source" under the OSI defintion, that will allow you to do this.

As pointed out by user490, you can insist on having unchangeable sections in a document that is part of your project if the document is licensed under the GFDL (instead of the GPL). However, this is a documentation license, not a software license, and besides: There is nothing that will stop someone downstream from you removing that particular document - including the "invariant section" - if they for some reason really wanted to remove this text from their fork of your project.

-3

If you're the only copyright holder, then you can release the software on any license you want.

The license text itself, as legal document, is not a subject to copyright (at least in Poland), so you can copy and modify it to suit your needs/vision/etc. This includes putting additional files inside the distribution, restricting users from deleting the license etc.

However if you do this, you can't use names like Free Software Foundation, GNU, General Public License, because your new license is just a derivative, and has nothing to do with GNU or FSF or anything else.


But if you only partially hold the copyright, eg. you're an original author of GPL-ed software and you already accepted patches from other people, then you're restricted by the rules of the license you originally used.

  • 1
    This is false and misleading. Many popular licenses are copyrighted and cannot be modified. – curiousdannii Jul 30 '15 at 6:34
  • License as a whole can be copyrighted. Parts of license (individual legal rules) cannot be copyrighted, since no legal rules as such can be a subject to copyright (however it can vary between countries). License as a whole cannot be modified, but you can make your own license using legal rules borrowed from another one. Read my 3rd paragraph of the answer. – Tomasz Klim Jul 30 '15 at 6:59
  • 2
    You wrote "The license text itself, as legal document, is not a subject to copyright, so you can copy and modify it to suit your needs/vision/etc." That's not true. – curiousdannii Jul 30 '15 at 7:49
  • 1
    It's clear and completely wrong. You can borrow the ideas of any license, but the text of most licenses remain copyrighted. The GPL says so prominently at the top. The creative commons licenses say "The text of the Creative Commons public licenses is dedicated to the public domain under the CC0 Public Domain Dedication." This would not be necessary if the license texts were uncopyrightable! And the wording of individual clauses remain copyrighted too - if you want to borrow them you'll have to reword them. – curiousdannii Jul 30 '15 at 8:10
  • 1
    It depends on country law. For example in Poland no legal text can be copyrighted except as a "whole work" under some name (of course one may write "Copyright" in such text, but it won't be legally binding). I won't argue about USA or other countries, because I'm not sure. – Tomasz Klim Jul 30 '15 at 8:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.