Re: License of an open source license text

Steve Winslow

Hi Richard,

Thanks for your email. A couple of thoughts, speaking just for myself:

When it comes to the question of "what license applies to a license text," I think this is something that has typically been seen as outside the scope of the SPDX License List. The licenses on the list cover those used for software as well as other types of open collaboration (e.g. open hardware, data, etc). But I don't think the license list has gotten into (or has plans to get into) including identifiers for which licenses apply to licenses themselves.

I'm not sure if I followed the specifics of the Yocto use case you described. I think that in most cases where I've seen folks associating SPDX license identifiers with files, they would generally just use the license that is reflected by the license text itself. So for instance, when seeing a file containing the text of MPL-2.0, in an SPDX document they would note the license for that file as MPL-2.0 -- rather than whatever the license of the MPL-2.0 license text might hypothetically be. I don't know that I'm describing it well, but that's how I'd think of it, since that conveys the information that is really relevant to users of that code.

Looking at REUSE (, it looks to me like they take a different but similar approach, where license files themselves do not have meta-licensing information associated with them. I know there are some REUSE folks on this list so I hope they'll speak up if I'm mischaracterizing this.

Not sure if I've answered your question... but basically I would just recommend associating the license's own identifier with the license text file, since that will be the most comprehensible to folks who are looking to understand the software package's license.

Hope this helps,

On Tue, May 26, 2020 at 3:25 PM Richard Purdie <richard.purdie@...> wrote:

I work on the Yocto Project and we use SDPX identifiers when working
with open source licenses. An issue has come up and it was suggested I
ask about it here.

The question is quite simple:

Which licence are we using when we share just the license text?

The background is more complex:

YP has some software which is under "LGPL-2.1 and GPL-3 and GPL-2"
where one source file is v3, the rest are under other licenses.

When we build that software, multiple binaries result, we group them
into different packages and can be specific about which licences each
binary is under. If no GPLv3 code is in there, it can be under the
other licenses.

We also put the license texts into its own package. Right now that
package is licensed as "LGPL-2.1 and GPL-3 and GPL-2", the same as the
overall license.

The problem is if someone excludes GPL-3 from their images, they can
exclude specific packages but they also exclude the license package
which isn't what they want.

If the license text is under GPL-3 then this is unfortunate but we
could just have to tell people to live with that. If it isn't but is
under a different license (or a subset of it), what license do we put
down for that package? I don't believe there is no SPDX identifier we
can use?

To be clear, we don't want to modify the license itself but want to
list something in the license field of our binary package which says
what its license is.

Another way of putting is what is the license identifier for:

"Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of
this license document, but changing it is not allowed."

(quoted from the GPL)



Steve Winslow
Director of Strategic Programs
The Linux Foundation

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