GPL and Author law

Arnoud Galactus Engelfriet galactus at
Mon Jun 24 09:47:59 UTC 2002

Rudy Gevaert wrote:
> You can give away your ability rights, but you always get to keep your
> moral rights.  But what when I release my software under the GPL?

The GPL is based on US copyright, and so (like US copyright law)
pretty much ignores moral rights and the Berne Convention except
where convenient. Section 106A of the US Copyright Act is a
copy of article 6bis Berne Convention, but rarely used in practice.

Anyway. Using his moral rights, the creator of a work has the 
following rights (article 6bis Berne Convention):

* The right to claim authorship of the work. 
* The right to object to any distortion, mutilation or other 
  modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to the 
  work, which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation. 

The GPL requires the inclusion of a copyright notice which includes
the author's name (article 1 GPL). This is usually enough to
satisfy the "claiming authorship" provision. 

The "derogatory action" clause of 6bis BC is a bit more difficult.
This right usually cannot be given up or transferred (otherwise
every publisher would insist authors give it up every time). The
GPL thus by law cannot regulate anything regarding this clause.
Any clause that tries to take away this right is automatically 
null and void. 

This means that recipients of a GPL-licensed program are not 
allowed to modify the program in such a way that it hurts the
honor or reputation of the original author. This has to be
determined on a case-by-case basis, and so it's difficult to
say when this is the case. However, given the nature of
free software and the GPL, it seems unlikely the author could
claim damage to his reputation because of bundling with
Windows software, or because of use of his software in a program
used for (to him) unethical purposes like weapons development
or digital rights management.

You may want to read
or the Dutch version at

Kind regards,


Arnoud Engelfriet, (almost) Dutch patent attorney - Speaking only for myself
Patents, copyright and IPR explained for techies:

More information about the Discussion mailing list