I have an embedded device that contains software licensed under the GPL version 2.0 'or any later version'. The company that produced it never released any GPL code, and I plan to request it from them. I want to get as much code from them as possible: when requesting GPL code for the software licensed under version 2.0 or later, can I request the code under the GPL version 3.0 so that they have to give me the 'Installation Information', as defined in the GPL version 3.0?

This is regarding the same device as my other questions.

  • 5
    That phrasing is for the license giver. You cannot decide. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Sep 25 at 8:40
  • Couldn't ypu request that code, and - using the "or any later" part, PUBLISH IT UNDER 3.0 YOURSELF. And then you have it with a 3.0 license ? (if getting it with 3.0 is important). Apart from that: they can also freely redistribute the 2.0 licensed part under 3.0, that's the point of that clause. If they do it is another thing. – Hobbamok Sep 25 at 10:22
  • @Hobbamok So then you are compelled to provide installation instructions to yourself? – Federico Poloni Sep 25 at 16:16
  • If you can prove that part of the project was licensed as GPLv3 or GPLv3+ (specifically not GPLv2+) then you can inform them that since they used GPLv3 code, they're required to release the whole thing (including the parts licensed to them under GPLv2+) via GPLv3's requirements. – 3D1T0R Sep 26 at 19:34
  • @FedericoPoloni no, I menat that he could request it under version 2 and then "upgrade" it for himself – Hobbamok Sep 27 at 7:35
up vote 21 down vote accepted

The GPL is an offer made by the original authors to the manufacturer of the device, and it is also an offer made by the manufacturer of the device to you.

The latter offer is no coincidence; it was a result of the company accepting the first offer.

The problem for you is that the company's obligations follow from the first contract, and that offer said "GPL2 or above, at your (i.e. the companies) choice".

The fact that you got offered the same "GPL2 or above" deal therefore means that you have the same choice, when you distribute. It works forwards, not backwards.

  • I don't think that the manufacturer can choose to redistribute under a later version than the one they choose to comply with... that is, if they exercise their option to choose between "version 2" and "any later version" by choosing version 2, they pass along a license for version 2 only, and not "version 2 or any later version" – Ben Voigt Sep 25 at 1:17
  • 3
    @BenVoigt: From a legal viewpoint, the manufacturer obviously cannot agree to version 4 (as it doesn't exist yet), but the understanding is very much that the manufacturer will be able to release the code under GPLv4 as soon as the FSF publishes it. That is the whole stated rationale for the "or later" text. – MSalters Sep 25 at 10:13
  • @BenVoigt if the license said "... can redistribute under any license that starts with the words 'Why this restriction' then the redistributor could ship his stuff with any license that a) exists, and b) starts with 'Why this restriction'. Same goes for "any later version" it means you can redistribute under a different license (but limits which different ones you can use for that) – Hobbamok Sep 25 at 10:19

You can request, but you will almost certainly get a no answer.

If the code says 2.0 or any later version, you are only entitled to code that says 2.0 or later version. Of course you can go and apply the 3.0 version yourself.

If you get modules that say "2.0 version" (typically just the Linux kernel source) than that's what it is. There's no reasonable way to change it and even the place you are requesting it from cannot do so.

Assumption 0 is that the company in question is not the original creator of the software because otherwise all bets are off and the company is under no obligation whatsoever outside of some bait-and-switch schemes not being enforceable (the legal term for the defense against such schemes is "estoppel").

Let's first assume that you received a copy of the software in compliance with the GPL (whichever version). Compliance includes that the licensing has been made explicit to you when you received the software. In that case you'll be given the information of the license you may use. The licensor can pass on what is commonly called a GPLv2+ permission but may also choose any subset of licenses from that open-ended set. If you get a subset, that's all you are allowed to choose from.

There is the legal twist that you receive the copy under the given license, but if you take only pieces of software that are unchanged from the original, you are in breach of the license you are given but the redistributor does not have standing to sue for the licensing violation since he does not have copyright in the unchanged software. He could get the original copyright holder to sue on his behalf for a breach of the licensing restriction he was authorized to perform, but it would be quite unlikely that the original copyright holder can be interested in doing so.

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