use of the kernel and licensing

Teske, Devin Devin.Teske at
Sun Mar 31 14:29:33 UTC 2013

On Mar 31, 2013, at 6:39 AM, Joe <fbsd8 at> wrote:

> kpneal at wrote:
>> On Sat, Mar 30, 2013 at 09:22:22AM -0400, Maikoda Sutter wrote:
>>> If I use the kernel as a basis for my own system and modify the kernel
>>> should I still maintain the licensing of the kernel bits, or could release
>>> it under it's own license?
>>> For example: I would like to rewrite the headers to be 100% POSIX compliant
>>> and I do like the BSD license, however I was planning on releasing my whole
>>> system under the Unlicense, I understand that certain headers and code that
>>> I do not modify has to be released under the BSD license as that is the
>>> original license of the code, however for headers or code that I modify can
>>> I release it under the Unlicense (
>>> I do plan on giving credit where it is due and such to the wonderful
>>> developers of FreeBSD and those that wrote the original code because
>>> without you I would not be able to produce so rapidly that which I am
>>> looking to produce I just would like clarification on the extent that I
>>> would have to license things via the BSD license.
>> You cannot yourself change the license on code you do not hold the copyright
>> on. Period.
>> If you make changes and redistribute them then add your copyright notice
>> with license to the files. Do not remove the existing copyright notice(s)
>> and license(s).
>> You hold the copyright for stuff you wrote, but the original copyright
>> stays for the parts that did not come from you. "Parts" means any fraction
>> of a file from the whole file down to small amounts. You are allowed to
>> add restrictions (unless the existing license says you can't), but you are
>> not allowed to loosen the existing restrictions (unless the existing license
>> says you can). Also, it follows from the copyright that your license only
>> applies to the parts copyrighted by you.  The existing licenses are similar
>> in that they apply only to their parts of the file. All licenses must be
>> followed when the file is treated (copied, used, etc) as a whole.
>> Make sure your license isn't incompatible with the license that applies
>> to other parts of the same file. If that happens then how it will turn out
>> in court is anyone's guess. The file may not be usable by the public, or
>> the incompatible license terms added by you may be struck down, or a judge
>> could cook up something else. It can't be predicted in advance so just
>> don't even go there.
>> "Giving credit where it is due" is an important social convention, and I'm
>> glad to see that you aren't planning on doing anything unethical like
>> breaking it. But copyright comes from the law and thus must be obeyed even
>> if you wanted to break purely social conventions.
>> Read up on copyright, and when you do pay close attention to the reliability
>> of the source. The issue has become very political in the past 15 years
>> or so. Don't be badly advised by someone who has their own agenda. Most
>> people, to varying degrees, have their own agenda.
>> Finally, if money is at stake (directly or indirectly) I strongly advise
>> talking to a copyright lawyer in particular. That's just general advice.
>> Taking advice from random people online is not a good idea if any money
>> is involved, but I'd give the same advice to my best friend. The general
>> rule applies here as it does elsewhere: "You get what you pay for."
> Does one have to file legal paper work with the government to be issued a copyright on software?

No, copyrights are more like artists signing their work -- in a standardized way -- but every bit as legally binding.

They are "first come" priority in the court of law and if-ever disputed, often require correlative evidentiary proof to show true ownership (a notarized copy of the work mailed to yourself kept in an unopened envelope perhaps).

> Does any software not having a copyright statement or any license comments included in the source mean that it's public domain?

Be careful here.

The answer to your question is NO.

If a work lacks a license in the source, it may be on the website. If you can't find a license, you must always contact the author(s) before forking something. If you can neither find the license nor the contact info, it's always best to assume it is not for reuse. Even the, if you used code that was from an unknown origin with no license and no author, you should indicate as such in the header of such source files.

Essentially what it boils down to, is that in the court of law (if someone indicts or brings a civil suit) you may have to account for the origin of every line -- so that's why:

1. If a file has an inline license (beerware, gpl, bsd, apple, or even one you make up all your own), it must stay there to mark the origins

2. If a file is lacking an inline license, it is often because the license is too long or unwieldy to embed and it is in a COPYING file distributed with the source code OR in a terms of agreement on the website (in which case you should download it and place it into a COPYING file). In either case, you must package up the same COPYING file or EULA (if allowed; the file/agreement must be read to know if the fork is even permitted).

3. For source files which do not have an inline license and you cannot find a separate license, add a note to the top saying how you acquired the source (feel free to put this in a separate file but it must appear somewhere or be readily available upon simple request to anybody and everybody). Then, if you make modifications to the source (of unknown origin), you then slap on your own license for your modifications.

And as the last reply mentioned, if money is involved -- ask a cooyright lawyer (the same people in the profession of defending works in the court of law if issues arise).


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