Linking software, or what's a derivative

The Free Software Foundation Europe is the facilitator of a legal network comprising hundreds of experts from private practice, corporations, universities around the world. One of the Special interest groups has spent almost one year producing a document explaining how differently licensed software programs and libraries can and cannot mixed to make or not to make a derivative of each other.

The result is what we call “the linking document“. It might not be perfect, but it's a valid platform for discussion around a topic that provide headache to many players in the field. To find a comparable discussion, albeit controversial and limited to the GNU licenses,  one should redress to the FSF's FAQ.

Some clarity at last.

Here is the announcement by the FSFE:

FSFE is proud to welcome the release of a new educational document on Free Software licensing. Developed by delegates of the European Legal Network, the document helps software developers and lawyers by making it easier to decide under which licenses they can distribute their work.

‘Software Interactions’ explains in detail when a program that contains source code under the GNU General Public License or other Free Software licenses needs to be distributed under the same license, and when developers can select another license. It includes examples of potential legal or community red lines in the field.

Karsten Gerloff, FSFE's President, says: “While no document can provide definitive answers for such a complex subject, today's release is a unique collaborative effort shaped over more than a year of debate by numerous experts. It represents the first time that linking has been discussed so broadly.”

FSFE is taking the opportunity of this release to establish a long-term home for network educational documents on the FSFE Fellowship blog. This page will expand to include all of the current and future documents released by the network, and is intended to provide a simple way for people to locate and share this material.

‘Software Interactions’ is the second collaborative legal knowledge released by the European Legal Network. The first was the Risk Grid, published in July 2009 in the International Free and Open Source Software Law Review.

FSFE has facilitated the European Legal Network since 2007. From humble beginnings the network has now grown to contain over 240 members from 27 countries and four continents, and is the largest professional legal forum for Free Software in the world. While FSFE does not have editorial control over network discussions and educational documents, we believe it provides great value to the broader Free Software community by ensuring legal experts from commercial, non-commercial and independent entities can share experience and insight.

If you are a legal expert and would like to contribute to future network activities, please contact FSFE at

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