German software licensing law

Ciaran O'Riordan ciaran at
Tue Sep 27 13:24:08 UTC 2005

Rui Miguel Seabra <rms at> writes:
> it would be a shame if two people on one country couldn't make an
> agreement in another language because of the law.
> The law is there to help the existence of justice, so it would be
> terribly unfair if there had to be a portuguese GPL for me to legally
> use most free software out there.

There's confusion in this thread, and I think it started with the term
"licensing agreements" being used in the initial question.

IANAL, but I don't think "licensing agreements" exist in law.  Legal
agreements exist, they're called contracts.  Licenses exist, they're called
licenses and they are one-way grants of rights.

Being clear about this matters because the GPL is a license (only).  It is
not an agreement, and it's not a contract.

At a guess, I'd say most countries allow licenses in any language, and I'd
say some/many countries allow contracts only in an official language of the

Contracts bind people - like private laws (they're limited by constitutions,
details of contract law, and judges).  Allowing people to bind themselves
without understanding what they're binding themselves too would probably be
unjust.  (I stuck in "probably" because exploring that would be off topic.)

Licenses don't bind people, so they're not as dangerous.  Licenses grant you
exceptions to the laws that already bind you.  For example, the GPL grants
you exceptions to copyright law (copyright law says "you can't copy", the
GPL says "you are exempt from that - so you can copy - IF you also pass on
these freedoms...".  (The "IF" isn't a binding, it's a condition on a

Can someone correct me if I'm wrong?

CiarĂ¡n O'Riordan, ___________________/        Join the Fellowship of FSFE to _/ support the campaigns against software
___________________________________/      patents and IPRED2

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