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.


1 Answer 1


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.

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