Re: Copyright of Modified Ispell Code

Subject: Re: Copyright of Modified Ispell Code
From: Aaron Lehmann (
Date: Thu Jul 05 2001 - 22:45:16 CDT

On Thu, Jul 05, 2001 at 11:20:32PM -0400, Kevin Atkinson wrote:
> Thanks to work from the OpenOffice team, Pspell is on the verge of being
> able to work correctly on Win32. For this reason I would like to take
> your Ispell code and make a Pspell module out of it. This will allow
> Projects such as yourself and OpenOffice to only use Pspell, which is how
> it was truly intended to be used, as a Portable wrapper to multiple spell
> checkers.

> Unfortunately it is not clear what the copyright of the modified
> Ispell code is.

It seems pretty clear to me. The files in src/other/spell/xp/ have the
"original Ispell license".

> If it is under the GPL this will probably mean that programs like
> OpenOffice or Mozilla will *not* be able to use it.

Understood WRT Mozilla, but isn't OpenOffice under the GPL? And last I
heard, Mozilla was transitioning to the GPL too. (And why does Mozilla
need a spellchecker anyway, it's a web browser for !@#$'s sake.)

> Therefore, the best thing, in my view, would be to release under the same
> copyright of the original Ispell code which is BSD.

The problem with this that the original Ispell license (classic BSD)
is *NOT* compatible with the GPL. It has an advertising clause, even
in the version included with AbiWord:

 * 4. All advertising materials mentioning features or use of this * software
 * must display the following acknowledgment:
 * This product includes software developed by Geoff Kuenning and
 * other unpaid contributors.

Since you included URL's to, I'm sure you're familiar with
this problem, which is detailed well at Richard seems (for once) too
modest to point out that the advertising clause is incompatible with
the GPL (which prohibutes additional restrictions), but it is.

> However if you are not willing to do that LGPL will also work.
> Or, if that will not work than perhaps you can release it under the GPL
> but with the exception that other non-GPL compatible programs may use it.
> This can either mean any programs (included non-free ones) or only
> programs which are considered "free software" by the FSF (see
> or are Open Source by OSI
> definition (see
> So what will it be. I really hope that you are willing to release it
> under a license which will allow other programs such as OpenOffice and
> Mozilla to use it.

It isn't our choice. It's actually illegal to distribute a build of
AbiWord that contains ispell since the licenses are not compatible.
And needless to say, we can't just change the license of ispell unless
we include the same GPL-incompatible advertising clause in the new

As for pspell, if it dlopen()'s the ispell module, the legality is
questionable but quite possibly okay.

And for AbiWord, I recomend removing ispell from the source tree and
relying solely on pspell. We can let the pspell guys figure out the
licensing issues (hopefully) and then we can use pspell as a universal
interface to either ispell or aspell. The alternative is to add an
"exception" to our use of the GPL, saying the copyright holders give
explicit permission to link AbiWord with ispell. Somebody would have
to contact over 100 copyright holders and hope they all agree. Oh
yeah, and we would have to put in stupid clauses if we ever mentioned
in any "advertising" that AbiWord had spell checking support.

( Of course, we could try to convince the copyright holders of ispell
to change the license. I count over 250 contributors to ispell, and
some of them are bound to disagree. Plus, their email addresses aren't
included. Forget it. )

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