Cygwin license

Charles Wilson
Thu Mar 18 11:36:00 GMT 1999

Bernard Dautrevaux wrote:

> But a good plan is having Cygwin get some Kbucks (I've heard 8K$? is
> that true) to allow "produce proprietary applications based on the
> cygwin DLL"?... This seems a bit hard to defend:
> Either you are strongly supporting open source and do NOT want anybody
> producing proprietary code based on cygwin and then you should stop
> selling licenses to cygwin that allow that; either you think this is not
> immoral and then you should not CHARGE a fee for that...
> It seems having cygwin GPLed has only one objective: subvert the open
> source concept by getting people test and enhance a piece of code that
> is in fact proprietary Cygnus software that generates revenues to Cygnus
> by selling licenses to use a GPLed product.
> Excuse me if I'm a bit confused, but the situation is confusing...

No no no. Think "free speech" (libre) not "free beer" (gratis). The GPL was
NOT invented to allow people to get software without paying for it. The
purpose of the GPL is to insure that anyone who uses the code, can obtain
and modify the source code in perpetuity. Therefore, if I download libre
software, and modify it, I am legally bound to allow others also to
download my modified source so that they can modify it as well. If I
provide binary (GPL'ed) software, I am legally bound also to provide the
source, to preserve my users' freedom.

As to the Cygnus case - they own the software. They are perfectly within
their rights to allow people to use it under two different licenses. One
(the GPL) preserves all users' freedoms by requiring source distribution.
Therefore, if I use the cygwin stuff under the GPL, and write (or port)
code to run under cygwin, I *must* release my code under the GPL; this
preserves everyone's freedom to obtain, and modify, the source.

On the other hand, if I want to write and distribute closed-source software
using the cygwin stuff (regardless of whether I charge money for it or not)
I can't do that under the GPL. Therefore, Cygnus offers another license.
Now, why would I want to distribute closed source software? Probably
because I want to charge money for it - therefore, my likely reason for
creating non-libre software is because it's also non-gratis. If I am going
to make money from software built on cygwin, using Cygnus's non-GPL
license, why shouldn't Cygnus get some of that money since they made it
possible? Thus, it's perfectly reasonable for Cygnus to charge for the
non-GPL license.

Okay, so Cygnus can make money by distributing software under two different
licenses. Why should we (libre software developers) "test and enhance"
their "proprietary" software? Because ONE of those licenses is the GPL -
and that insures that our contributions will always be libre - and since
the libre cygwin is available gratis now, it will always be available
gratis as long as someone sets aside the web space for it. If Cygnus ever
decided to withdraw the GPL license, cygwin would still be libre -
open-source developers would just fork the development, and continue
developing the GPL'ed cygwin somewhere other than
But if that happened, Cygnus would not be able to use the GPL'ed
enhancements in their non-GPL version, so they'd just be shooting
themselves in the foot. The current arrangement seems (IMHO) to be the best
of both worlds - we get software that's both libre and gratis, and Cygnus
gets to make money from the same software under a non-libre, non-gratis


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