Changing GPGME's license

Werner Koch wk at
Fri Jul 18 16:41:02 CEST 2003


I recently had some discussion with Marcus and others, whether it
might make sense to change the license of GPGME from the GPL to the
LGPL.  Here are some thoughts:

I general I believe that the GPL is the best tool to protect the
freedom of our software.  This is not limited to programs but also
counts for libraries because they often provide large parts of the
logic.  Therefore the GNU project tries to keep libraries under the
GPL and does only use the LGPL in certain situations.

The drawbacks of the LGPL (from a Free Software POV), is that it makes
it easy for proprietary software to build on existing and well working
Free Software code without granting the user the full freedom back.
The LGPL basically requires that the LGPLed code most be made
available under the LGPL but does not demand anything from the
proprietary software; except the ability to be linkable against
modified GPLed components.  Thus it is easy to include worthy features
in the proprietary code without changing LGPLed code.  As an author of
Free Software I am usually not too keen to see my code proprietorized.

However, as stated by the FSF it sometimes makes sense to put code
under LGPL.  One valid reason would be code with many implementations
(e.g. SSL), where a GPLed implementation is no incentive to be used by
proprietary code.  It is often hard to weight out the advantages and
disadvantages of LGPLing code.

With respect to GPGME, I early decided that it is quite a unique
interface to crypto backends (for applications requiring a C
interface) with no real counterparts neither in the free nor in the
non-free world.  The PGP SDK clearly resembles the functionality of
GPGME up to a certain level, but it is expensive and not widely used
in mass market software.  I have always refused requests to change the
license for the benefit of proprietary MUAs or even Free Software like
Evolution.  So most of the few MUAs with OpenPGP support went the
not-that-elegant way of exec/forking gpg - something GPGME currently
also does but with a clean high level interface on top.

I'd still hold up my reasoning if GPGME would be just one library to
do foo stuff.  But GnuPG (and thus GPGME) is more than just some Free
Software tool for processing data.  Based on PGP, GnuPG is also
important for ensuring the right to communicate privately over
computers without the fear of being spied on.  Especially these days
it is again more and more important to have means to secure ones own

It is realistic to believe that we can't abolish proprietary software
entirely in the next years.  Thus we have to live with proprietary
systems, especially MUAs, for the time being.  I can image that GPGME,
distributed under the LGPL, would be an incentive to some vendors to
add OpenPGP functionality to their products.  From a crypto rights
POV, this seems to be a sound decision.  Another important advantage,
we should not forget about, is that an LGPLed GPGME helps Free
Software which is not compatible to the GPL.

OTOH, my company has put quite some money on the development of GPGME
and is employing Marcus for maintaining it.  We don't make any
revenues from GPGME development and it is questionable whether a new
license will change this at all.  At least proprietary products gain a
lot of benefits from such a change and in-house applications would
also save a substantial amount of money when not using PGP's
SDK. Therefore I think it is fair to ask for a financial compensation
for a license change.




Werner Koch                                      <wk at>
The GnuPG Experts                      
Free Software Foundation Europe	       

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