The whole of atk1.0-2.4.0 is listed under GNU-GPLv2.0. Can I take certain files out of GNU GPL license code and use it under different license / no license, or is this considered as obfuscation of GNU GPL licensed code?

  • 2
    Taking a portion of work is not obfuscation; it just means you are using a smaller portion. It would be like copying one chapter of a book as opposed to copying 30 chapters out of the same book; both require permission (license) in order to do legally. GPL is the license in this case, so even if you copy one part (e.g. one chapter, a few files, etc.) you need to abide by the rules of that license to use it.
    – Brandin
    Oct 17 '19 at 21:09
  • Of course if you go small enough (e.g. one sentence of a book, one line of code), then in theory you could get to something so small that that one small piece on its own in isolation is no longer copyright protected, or because on its own that one tiny piece has no more creative elements, or because it is not original. But in this case that is not the situation, as you said you are copying a few files, so most likely those files are creative elements and are therefore copyrighted just like the whole package.
    – Brandin
    Oct 17 '19 at 21:11
  • @Brandin The concept of a de minimis contribution, one too small to qualify for copyright protection, is alive and well. However, at least since Salinger v Random House it's been very clear that a sentence can often be quite large enough for its copying to infringe copyright. The court held even subsections of sentences could infringe, if they were part of the expressive heart of the work. I'm not saying that would apply in this case, just cautioning against suggesting that one sentence or line is always too small to qualify.
    – MadHatter
    Oct 18 '19 at 5:19

Insofar as the GNU GPL license allows modification, you may modify a GPL-licensed work to no longer include certain files while retaining other files. However, you may only perform such distribution under the license terms granted by the work's copyright holder(s) -- typically the author(s) -- so you may not offer such a modified form under any terms other than the GPL (unless the copyright holder granted a different license option, either generally or privately to you specifically).

This is certainly not "obfuscation" of the GPL-licensed code, but if you use those files in binary form, you must also offer the corresponding source necessary to rebuild those binaries. Indeed, even if it did constitute obfuscation, outright obfuscation is not even automatically problematic, as long as you also distribute (or offer) a corresponding unobfuscated source form that is the "preferred form for making modifications" from which the obfuscated form was created. As a pratical example, you may offer a minified version of a GPL-licensed web application that loads faster over a network (at the cost of readability and comprehensibility) as long as you also offer the readable unminified version under the GPL to all recipients of the minified code.

If you include those files in a new work with other files, then the entire work may be distributed only if you distribute it as a whole under the GPL. This obligation to license other material under the GPL extends as far as copyright law understands the upstream GPL-licensed work to exist in the same copyrightable work as that other material.

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