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FSF copyright handling: A basis for distribution, licensing and enforcement

Filed under
GNU
Legal

Part of the Free Software Foundation (FSF's) core mission is to advance policies that will promote the progress of free software and freedom. Because copyright handling has been a topic of concern lately, we are taking this opportunity to explain the four purposes behind FSF copyright handling, as well as examine the impact of potential alternatives.

For some GNU packages, the ones that are FSF-copyrighted, we ask contributors for two kinds of legal papers: copyright assignments, and employer copyright disclaimers. We drew up these policies working with lawyers in the 1980s, and they make possible our steady and continuing enforcement of the GNU General Public License (GPL).

These papers serve four different but related legal purposes, all of which help ensure that the GNU Project's goals of freedom for the community are met.

One purpose is to give explicit permission to include the material in that GNU package. That is the most basic need.

The second purpose is to empower the FSF to go to court and say, "That company is infringing our copyright when it tramples the freedom of users, denying them the freedom that our license gives them." The assignment does this by transferring the copyright to the FSF. (This form of support for GNU is one of the original purposes for founding the FSF.)

A third purpose is to make it possible to add additional permission to specific pieces of code. For example, to take code released under GNU GPL version-3-or-later and release it under GNU Lesser GPL version-3-or-later.

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