Linux code contributions cannot be rescinded: Stallman

Linux developers who contribute code to the kernel cannot rescind those contributions, according to the software programmer who devised the GNU General Public Licence version 2.0, the licence under which the kernel is released.

Richard Stallman, the head of the Free Software Foundation and founder of the GNU Project, told iTWire in response to queries that contributors to a GPLv2-covered program could not ask for their code to be removed.

"That's because they are bound by the GPLv2 themselves. I checked this with a lawyer," said Stallman, who started the free software movement in 1984.

There have been claims made by many people, including journalists, that if any kernel developers are penalised under the new code of conduct for the kernel project — which was put in place when Linux creator Linus Torvalds decided to take a break to fix his behavioural issues — then they would ask for their code to be removed from the kernel.

Some had even gone so far as to wrongly interpret messages on mailing lists in order to make these claims in articles with headings like, "Linux devs threaten to pull contributions" when nothing of the sort has taken place.

Stallman asked: "But what if they could? What would they achieve by doing so? They would cause harm to the whole free software community.

"The anonymous person who suggests that Linux contributors do this is urging them to [use a] set of nuclear weapons in pique over an internal matter of the development team for Linux. What a shame that would be."

A guide on copyleft by the Software Freedom Conservancy, an organisation that helps promote, develop improve and defend free and open source software, makes some salient points about the irrevocability of the GPLv2.

A link provided to this guide by Linux Weekly News, says in part: "Thus, anyone downstream of the contributor (which is anyone using the contributor’s code), has an irrevocable licence from the contributor. A contributor may claim to revoke their grant, and subsequently sue for copyright infringement, but a court would likely find the revocation was ineffective and the downstream user had a valid license defence to a claim of infringement.

"Nevertheless, for purposes of argument, we will assume that for some reason the GPLv2 is not enforceable against the contributor, or that the irrevocable license can be revoked. In that case, the application of promissory estoppel will likely mean that the contributor still cannot enforce their copyright against downstream users."