If I create from scratch a software tool, but I want to use GMAKE (vs FreeBSD "make") to build my tool from source, does using GMAKE prevent me from license my tool under a BSD license since my tool is built using must use GMAKE vs FreeBSD make?

  • 1
    Using the tool to compile your own application versus using the tool source code in your own application are two completely different things. The GPL is meant to cover the latter. So long as you're not distributing any part of GMAKE itself, there is no problem using it to create your final product. – Breakthrough Dec 13 '11 at 15:38

IANAL (and the GPL has no clear legal precedents on what constitutes a derived product), but you should be able to license your product however you like (at least wrt gmake), provided it's not a derived product of gmake. Unless you, for some reason, link to the gmake source code or something similar, you should be fine, and could ship both source and compiled code.

On the other hand, if you want to ship gmake bundled with your software, you must follow the distribution parts of the GPL. Afaik this includes some notes in your documentation and supplying a copy of the GPL. Any modufications you were to make to gmake would also have to be released under (I believe) the GPL.

  • Eroen, what do you mean "and the GPL has no real legal precedents". GPL has had numerous legal precedents. – Derik Dec 13 '11 at 14:20
  • I was thinking specifically about the boundaries between derived and non-derived products (and linking). As far as I know, all legal verdicts have been pretty clear "copy everything and change stuff / don't tell anyone" cases. I should have been far more clear. – Eroen Dec 13 '11 at 14:32

Unless you are actually using gmake as a part of the final project (as in, its source code, its documentation, or its letterhead), then it is not a derived work, and so you can license it however you want.

Think of it this way, a derived product is a product which takes a substantial portion of its parentage from the product it is derived from. Ice Weasel is derived from Firefox (clearly, as Ice Weasel is little more than a skinning). On the other hand, if a tool is used for a project, even if the very existence of the product is rooted in that tool being able to work, it is not necessarily derived — most of my work (these days) is done on a Mac, that does not mean that Apple owns my software.

A compiler is a tool, not a parent. While you may build something which depends on gmake exclusively, it would still not be derived as someone else could then come along and write gekma (an anagram for gmake) which behaves exactly the same but shares none of the code base (Linux/Unix much?), and your software would work with that too.

Now, if you were to create gmake2 which took gmake and added the ability to, say, automatically turn on the coffee machine while compiling (after all, compiling is work! You might get thirsty!), then that is derived as you are still using gmake as the basis of the project. No matter how many gekma's and kemag's are created, your source code will still include the gmake source (unless you remove it).

For more information, you can also look at derivative work in US law.

  • Your description of the implications from the software being a tool is misleading. It is quite possible to have a tool whose license demands (i.e.) royalties to the tool's copyright holder on the final result after the tool is applied, in which case the final product could not be freely licensed. This, however, is not an issue with GPL'd software or gmake afaik. Neither is it an (developer) issue if distribution happens before the tool is applied. – Eroen Dec 13 '11 at 17:19
  • @Eroen Really? Is that legal in the US? – cwallenpoole Dec 13 '11 at 17:20
  • While I don't live in the US, MPEG does it (albeit by power of patents on methods, which are licensed). – Eroen Dec 13 '11 at 17:22
  • But think of it this way, a compiled program includes a lot of code from libraries shipped with the compiler. It is (in principle) no less fair that the compiler factory recieves royalties on them than that the manufacturer of the required environment or operating system does, especially if it's all delivered as a single package. – Eroen Dec 13 '11 at 17:29
  • @Eroen I think you'll have difficulty getting that interpretation to hold up with US law (which is where gmake was made). – cwallenpoole Dec 13 '11 at 18:16

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.