I was thinking about the or later part that is often used in licensing software. When reading https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-3.0.html, I've found this:

The Free Software Foundation may publish revised and/or new versions of the GNU General Public License from time to time. Such new versions will be similar in spirit to the present version, but may differ in detail to address new problems or concerns.

However, nowhere in the text of the license is specified what is "The Free Software Foundation". The wording would be satisfied if I registered entity called "The Free Software Foundation" in Uruguay or somewhere and released something called GPLv4.

Would that actually be legal? Reading the text of the license, it should be enough, but since I have no legal background I'm not sure.


3 Answers 3


In practice, it is abundantly clear to which entity the “Free Software Foundation” refers, even if the FSF were to change its name, even if there are unaffiliated organizations with the same name.

Version 3 of the GPL also contains a link to the FSF website, making it clear which organization this referred to in 2007 when the license text was published. If there are doubts about the identity of the FSF in the future, it will be possible to trace the identity back to the 2007 FSF e.g. through public filings that the FSF is required to make available as a non-profit.

Previous versions of the GPL contained an address for the FSF, which similarly disambiguates the identity of this entity at the time of writing.

The FSF also holds a trademark for the brand "Free Software Foundation" in the US and EU, preventing an unaffiliated organization from using this name in an international context. Of course this doesn't affect an organization in Uruguay, but it's very clear that such an Uruguyan entity is not the FSF that wrote the GPL.

The interesting questions is what happens if the FSF is dissolved. Can it assign its responsibilities and rights as the GPL license steward to someone else? I assume it can, and that the subsequent license steward would be able to produce sufficient documentation to substantiate this claim. If not, those are likely to be some interesting court cases.


Take a look at the very first line of the GPL text to which you linked:

Copyright © 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc. https://fsf.org/

There really isn't any ambiguity over which "Free Software Foundation" entity the license refers to, given that they're the copyright holders of the license itself.


GPL v3 is protected by copyright. Nobody but the copyright holder has any right to create a work derived from GPL v3. Mostly this happens so that people can’t create a license that looks superficially like GPL v3 and has some nasty bits hidden in some places.

I’m not sure if it would be legal to create a license that has nothing to do with GPL licenses at all, and call it GPL v4. It might be fraud if you try to hold me to the terms, or a trademark violation.

If FSF gets dissolved or sold, someone will end up with the assets, including the copyright of the GPL v3 license, and we are back to the start.

“The free software foundation may…” is only setting out which one of many legal things the FSF may choose to do in the future they say they may actually be doing, and likely isn’t legally binding.

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