From the Wikipedia article on Linux:

The Linux kernel is licensed explicitly only under version 2 of the GPL, without offering the licensee the option to choose "any later version", which is a common GPL extension. There was a debate over how easily it could be changed to use later GPL versions such as version 3 and whether this is even desirable.

But I've visited the current COPYING file and that doesn't mention it. So, considering the following text in the file:

This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

So, can Linux be released under GPLv3?
(or say I want to know can GNU release linux-libre under GPLv3?)


The kernel's COPYING file starts with the following comment (second paragraph):

Also note that the only valid version of the GPL as far as the kernel is concerned is this particular version of the license (ie v2, not v2.2 or v3.x or whatever), unless explicitly otherwise stated.

Parts of the kernel are licensed with "or later" (e.g. joydev.c), but many files only mention version 2 (e.g. apm-power.c). So the kernel as a whole is licensed under version 2 of the GPL only.

Linus Torvalds is famously unhappy with version 3 of the GPL, so even if it were feasible (which it isn't, given the number of copyright holders), as long as he is "in command" there's little chance the kernel would be licensed under any later version of the GPL.

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    @StephenKitt what's the difference between both COPYING files? – Pandya Jun 25 '16 at 17:50
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    @Pandya the file you linked to is very old (1994), and was updated at some point prior to the git import to the version currently in the source tree. I'm not sure why kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/COPYING was never updated... lkml.org/lkml/2006/1/25/273 gives additional info. – Stephen Kitt Jun 25 '16 at 18:06
  • @StephenKitt the right place to look is here, in the git tree: – Philippe Ombredanne Jun 25 '16 at 22:57
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    @PhilippeOmbredanne it appears the end of your comment got lost somewhere... – Stephen Kitt Jun 27 '16 at 13:28
  • my bad: and anyway you answer had the correct link anyway. Re: kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/COPYING you should post to LKML to suggest an update... This file likely is not under a Git repo and hence was never updated? – Philippe Ombredanne Jun 29 '16 at 14:52

The part of the COPYING file which says this is in the appendix which gives GNU's recommendations for how to apply the license. Just because they recommend that authors use that text and allow their software to be licensed under future versions doesn't mean all authors have to do so! Linus Torvalds decided he would not, and so the kernel is licensed only under the GNU GPL version 2.

  • My question doesn't ask whether we've to do so or not, rather it asks can we do so or not! – Pandya Jun 26 '16 at 4:23
  • @Pandya That's exactly what I've answered! Your question is based on a faulty premise because the license doesn't contain that phrase, only the appendix. – curiousdannii Jun 26 '16 at 6:35
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    @Pandya The excerpt you quote in your question is not part of the terms of GPL license grant, so it has no bearing on the code's license terms. The answer to your question appears to me to be "The text you quoted does not appear in the license terms or license grant by th eauthor, so any conclusions based on the assumption that it is part of the license are unfounded". If pointing out the absence of those terms is not an answer to your question, then we may not understand what your question is; you might need to clarify further. – apsillers Jun 30 '16 at 23:09

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