question re. kernel licenses

Miles Fidelman mfidelman at
Thu Sep 1 13:46:15 EDT 2016

On 9/1/16 12:27 PM, Greg KH wrote:
> On Thu, Sep 01, 2016 at 12:10:52PM -0400, Miles Fidelman wrote:
>> I know it's released under the GPL, but, for the life of me, I can't
>> find any statement of who is actually granting the licenses (i.e., who
>> holds the copyright), and I can't seem to find any kind of copyright
>> assignment statement that contributors are required to execute.
>> So, how does this all work?
> Also, please read, Documentation/SubmittingPatches, and
> Documentation/development_process/ that might help you out here with the
> more non-legal aspects of your questions.

Quite helpful.  Thank you.

And related precisely to the LEGAL aspects of my query.


"Code is contributed to the Linux kernel under a number of licenses, but all
code must be compatible with version 2 of the GNU General Public License
(GPLv2), which is the license covering the kernel distribution as a whole.
In practice, that means that all code contributions are covered either by
GPLv2 (with, optionally, language allowing distribution under later
versions of the GPL) or the three-clause BSD license.  Any contributions
which are not covered by a compatible license will not be accepted into the

Copyright assignments are not required (or requested) for code contributed
to the kernel.  All code merged into the mainline kernel retains its
original ownership; as a result, the kernel now has thousands of owners.

One implication of this ownership structure is that any attempt to change
the licensing of the kernel is doomed to almost certain failure. There are
few practical scenarios where the agreement of all copyright holders could
be obtained (or their code removed from the kernel).  So, in particular,
there is no prospect of a migration to version 3 of the GPL in the
foreseeable future."


"- The legal issues around the distribution of proprietary kernel modules
   are cloudy at best; quite a few kernel copyright holders believe that
   most binary-only modules are derived products of the kernel and that, as
   a result, their distribution is a violation of the GNU General Public
   license (about which more will be said below).  Your author is not a
   lawyer, and nothing in this document can possibly be considered to be
   legal advice.  The true legal status of closed-source modules can only be
   determined by the courts.  But the uncertainty which haunts those modules
   is there regardless."

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice.
In practice, there is.  .... Yogi Berra

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