License Approval

This page describes what constitutes an allowed or not-allowed license for Fedora.

Overview

In order to meet the goal of creating a complete, general purpose operating system exclusively from free and open source software, all software and other content made available by Feodora must be under licenses determined to be allowed in Fedora, with only limited, conditional exceptions.

Fedora applies different license approval criteria for different categories of material. The strictest standards apply to code (corresponding to the general allowed status), while somewhat relaxed standards apply to other categories: documentation, content, fonts, and firmware.

The Fedora legal documentation includes lists of allowed and not-allowed licenses for Fedora. Those lists are generated from the data maintained in the Fedora License Data repository.

If a license is listed in the allowed list, then it is allowed in Fedora for the relevant category, i.e., allowed (for all categories), allowed for fonts, etc.) as described below.

If a license is listed in the not-allowed list, then it has already been reviewed and determined to be not-allowed in Fedora. If you think Fedora should make an exception to the designation of a license as not-allowed (for example, a time-limited or package-specific tolerance of the license), you can raise this in an issue in (preferably) the Fedora License Data repository or on the Fedora legal mailing list.

If a license that covers something in Fedora, or in a package that has been proposed for inclusion in Fedora Linux, is not listed on the allowed and not-allowed lists, then it must be reviewed. Please follow the license review process.

Whether a license is allowed or not allowed for Fedora is ultimately determined by the Fedora Council. Today, this decision is normally delegated to members of the Red Hat legal team who are specialists in free software / open source licensing and who are very familiar with and supportive of Fedora’s mission and foundations.

Fedora has a uniform set of licensing standards that apply not only to Fedora Linux packages but also to material that is not part of a Fedora Linux package but has been created or built for Fedora by Fedora contributors. One example is this Fedora legal documentation. Another example is Copr repositories. In this documentation we sometimes refer specifically to "Fedora Linux" but context may make clear that we intend to cover non-packaged Fedora material as well.

Allowed Licenses

A license is allowed if Fedora determines that the license is a free software / open source license. At a high level, the inquiry involves determining whether the license provides software freedom, and (equivalently) making sure that the license does not place burdens on users' exercise of its permissions that are inconsistent with evolving community norms and traditions around what is acceptable in a free software / open source license. See below for more on the history of Fedora licensing policy.

A license that is allowed can be used for anything in Fedora, not just code.

Allowed for Documentation

Fedora may designate a license as allowed for documentation if it meets the criteria for allowed licenses and it is specifically designed for documentation.

In addition, Fedora classifies the following licenses as allowed for documentation even though they do not meet the criteria for allowed licenses:

  • Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License and its predecessor versions

  • Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License and its predecessor versions

  • The GNU Free Documentation License version 2.1 and its predecessor versions

The Open Publication License v1.0, which was historically classified as "good" for documentation provided that no Section VI "license options" are elected, is now classified as not-allowed, but a usage note states that it is permitted if no "options" are elected.

Allowed for Content

“Content” means any material that is not code, documentation, fonts or firmware. Here are some examples of content:

  • graphic image files

  • audio files

  • nonfunctional data sets

  • AppStream metainfo.xml files

Fedora may designate a license as allowed for content if it meets the criteria for allowed licenses with the following exceptions:

  • The license may restrict or prohibit modification

  • The license may say that it does not cover patents or grant any patent licenses

CC0, which has a clause that says that it does not license or otherwise "affect" patent rights, is no longer allowed for code in Fedora, but it continues to be allowed for content.

Allowed for Fonts

Fedora may designate a license as allowed for fonts if it meets the criteria for allowed licenses with the following exception:

  • The license may contain a nominal prohibition on resale or distribution in isolation

A good example of what we mean by a "nominal prohibition on resale or distribution in isolation" is found in the following condition in the SIL Open Font License 1.1:

Neither the Font Software nor any of its individual components, in Original or Modified Versions, may be sold by itself.

This prohibition would not be acceptable in a license applicable to code.

The prohibition in the SIL OFL is "nominal" because in FOSS legal culture it has occasionally been asserted that one can get around it (and similar provisions in certain other licenses) by bundling a trivial 'Hello world' program with the fonts (and there is actually some reason to believe the authors of the SIL OFL intended this). If we were to encounter a license that had such a provision but we believed a 'Hello world' solution was not even arguably viable, we might not consider the license allowable for fonts.

Allowed for Firmware

Some applications, drivers, and hardware require binary firmware images to boot Fedora Linux or function properly. Fedora permits inclusion of these files as long as they meet the following license and technical requirements:

License requirements for firmware

Fedora may designate a license as allowed for firmware if it meets the criteria for allowed licenses with the following exceptions:

  • The license may prohibit modification, reverse engineering, disassembly or decompilation

  • The license may require that the firmware be used only in conjunction with specified hardware

  • The license may require that the firmware be redistributed only as incorporated in the redistributor’s product (or as a maintenance update for existing end users of the redistributor’s product)

    • This may be limited further to those products of the redistributor that support or contain the hardware associated with the licensed firmware

  • The license may require a redistributor to pass on or impose conditions on users that are no more restrictive than those authorized by Fedora itself with respect to firmware licenses, as described here

Technical firmware requirements

While these technical requirements for firmware have nothing to do with licensing, they are included here for convenience.

  • The files must be non-executable within the Fedora Linux context (note: this means that the files cannot run on their own, not that they are just chmod -x)

  • The files must not be libraries, within the Fedora Linux context

  • The files must be standalone, not embedded in executable or library code (within the Fedora Linux context)

  • The files must be necessary for the functionality of open source code being included in Fedora Linux or to enable Fedora Linux to boot on a specific device, where no other reliable and supported mechanisms exist

Not-allowed Licenses

Any license that does not meet the criteria above for allowed licenses (including allowed for a specific category) is not-allowed.

In extremely rare cases we may have reason to designate a license as not-allowed even though it might meet the criteria for the relevant category. One such case involved a license that was based on the Apache License 2.0 and which was named "Modified Apache License 2.0", (apparently) without permission from the Apache Software Foundation, which has said that derivatives of the Apache License cannot have "Apache" in their name.

Changes in License Status

While Fedora aims for stability in its license classifications, they have never been set in stone. Fedora’s treatment of a particular license or license type may change as community standards and expectations around acceptable licensing evolve or as new issues and concerns come to light. This is most likely to involve an allowed license being reclassified as not-allowed. When this sort of reclassification is done, we will try to minimize disruption, including by making use of appropriate usage exceptions for licenses no longer classified as allowed. A good example is the reclassification of CC0 as being allowed only for content.

Background to Fedora licensing policy

Over several decades, norms concerning acceptable standards for software (and other content) licensing developed out of communities associated with free software and open source projects. Fedora builds upon and contributes to the development of this community tradition. Most of the philosophical and practical groundwork for Fedora’s policies on licensing was developed over many years by Tom 'spot' Callaway, often working in collaboration with members of Red Hat’s legal team.

The two most influential efforts to distill FOSS licensing norms are the Free Software Foundation’s maintenance and interpretation of the Free Software Definition, and the Open Source Initiative’s maintenance and interpretation of the Open Source Definition. For much of its earlier history, Fedora tended to regard the FSF’s interpretation as highly authoritative, while viewing the OSI’s license review decisions with greater skepticism. However, even at the high point of that period of skepticism, Fedora treated the OSD and OSI decisions as one source of persuasive authority. Fedora has also sometimes taken into account the decisions of other major community Linux distributions and other important community efforts to define and apply software freedom-related legal norms. Fedora’s license approval decisions are both principled and pragmatic.

Out of necessity, Fedora has passed judgment on many licenses never considered by the FSF or the OSI. In a small number of cases, Fedora has disagreed with decisions of the FSF and OSI regarding whether particular licenses are FOSS. Over time, Fedora has built up an informal body of interpretation and policymaking regarding free/open licensing which has itself influenced the larger FOSS community outside of Fedora.