GNU Free Documentation License

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The GNU Free Documentation License (often GNU Free Documentation License called; original English name GNU Free Documentation License ; abbreviations GNU FDL , GFDL ) is a copyleft - license , the documentation software is meant for freedom granted, but also for other free content is used. The license is issued by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), the umbrella organization of the GNU project .

The license is only available in English; the current version 1.3 was published in November 2008.

Like all other free licenses, the license threatened to become invalid in Germany as a result of a legislative proposal submitted by the Federal Ministry of Justice on March 22, 2000 to modernize copyright law . However , on June 26, 2001, the Institute for Legal Issues in Free and Open Source Software submitted an expanding provision, better known today as the Linux Clause , which ensured the usability of free licenses in Germany.


"GNU" is a recursive acronym . It stands for "GNU is not Unix". Unix is an older, unfree operating system. Instead, the software project GNU should become a variant that grants freedom.

Intended purpose

If an author or rights holder (licensor) places a work under this license, he is offering everyone extensive rights of use for this work: The license permits the reproduction, distribution and modification of the work, also for commercial purposes. In return, the licensee undertakes to comply with the license conditions. Among other things, these stipulate the obligation to name the author or authors and oblige the licensee to place derivative works under the same license ( copyleft principle). Anyone who does not adhere to the license conditions automatically loses the rights granted by the license.


The GNU license for freedom granted documentary was originally created to documents such as manuals were written as part of the GNU project, to ask how the software itself and thus in accordance with the spirit of the movement for under a similar license free software the announcement and to guarantee transfer of rights for every person. The counterpart of the GNU license for free documentation in the software area is the GNU General Public License (GPL).

The first draft with version number 0.9 was presented by Richard Stallman on September 12, 1999 in the newsgroup gnu.misc.discuss for discussion. The first version appeared in March 2000 with the version number 1.1. After version 1.2 from November 2002, the current version 1.3 appeared in November 2008. It allows the operators of so-called Massive Multiauthor Collaboration Sites - public wikis with editing options for everyone are mentioned as an example - to relicense content that was published before certain deadlines under Creative Commons Share Alike licenses.

Use in Wikipedia

All Wikipedia texts and the texts of most of Wikipedia's sister projects are licensed under the GNU license for freedom of documentation. Due to problems with the GFDL and the widespread use of the Creative Commons licenses that were published later, many users wanted to switch to the Creative Commons license CC-BY-SA , which is similar to the GFDL . However, since this would only work with the consent of all authors, the Wikimedia Foundation , Creative Commons and the FSF agreed to allow a license change via a detour. For this purpose, the new version 1.3 of the GFDL was published on November 3, 2008, which is intended to enable a project-wide migration to CC-BY-SA without the express consent of the authors. Since the documents in the projects are always licensed with the Clause Version 1.2 or later , a switch from GFDL 1.2 to GFDL 1.3 and thus a switch to CC-BY-SA 3.0 is possible without having to ask all authors for consent.


It is criticized that the license is too complicated compared to other, later created licenses for freedom-granting content and that it is only available in an English-language version - there are only unofficial, non-legally binding translations .

The GFDL also allows the author to forbid the modification of certain sections (so-called "invariant sections") if these contain further information about the authors or publishers. Critics complain that this runs counter to the idea of ​​software freedom. In the past, for example, this led to the GFDL being considered unfree by the Debian project for a while. Bruce Perens , for example, saw the GFDL even outside of the “free software ethos”.

In March 2006, however, this critical assessment was limited by the Debian project to documents with invariant sections .

The fact that the effectiveness of the GFDL in Germany (in contrast to the GPL ) has not yet been confirmed in a trial by a German court is cited by some critics as a disadvantage of the GFDL. Proponents interpret this as proof of the effectiveness of the GFDL, since possible plaintiffs are deterred from being effective under German law by speculatively low prospects of success.

The exclusion of liability clause in the GFDL is also criticized; in German law, for example, intent ( Section 276 (3) BGB) cannot be effectively excluded from liability by contract.


Web links

Unofficial translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Opinion of ifrOSS on the proposals for a regulation of copyright contract law. (PDF; 45 kB) (No longer available online.) Institute for Legal Issues in Free and Open Source Software, archived from the original on June 30, 2007 ; Retrieved March 29, 2009 .
  2. in the sense of a lack of freedom, see non-free software (
  3. ^ Richard Stallman: GNU Free Documentation License Version 0.9. DRAFT . September 12, 1999 ( Google Groups [accessed August 6, 2008] message in newsgroup gnu.misc.discuss).
  4. Manoj Srivastava: Draft Debian Position Statement about the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). 2006, accessed on September 25, 2007 : “ It is not possible to borrow text from a GFDL'd manual and incorporate it in any free software program whatsoever. This is not a mere license incompatibility. It's not just that the GFDL is incompatible with this or that free software license: it's that it is fundamentally incompatible with any free software license whatsoever. So if you write a new program, and you have no commitments at all about what license you want to use, saving only that it be a free license, you cannot include GFDL'd text. The GNU FDL, as it stands today, does not meet the Debian Free Software Guidelines. There are significant problems with the license, as detailed above; and, as such, we cannot accept works licensed under the GNU FDL into our distribution. "
  5. ^ Nathanael Nerode: Why You Shouldn't Use the GNU FDL., September 24, 2003, archived from the original October 9, 2003 ; Retrieved November 7, 2011 .
  6. Bruce Perens : stepping in between Debian and FSF., September 2, 2003, accessed March 20, 2016 : “ FSF, a Free Software organization, isn't being entirely true to the the Free Software ethos while it is promoting a license that allows invariant sections to be applied to anything but the license text and attribution. FSF is not Creative Commons: the documentation that FSF handles is an essential component of FSF's Free Software, and should be treated as such. In that light, the GFDL isn't consistent with the ethos that FSF has promoted for 19 years. "
  7. Anthony Towns: General Conclusion: Why the GNU Free Documentation License is not suitable for Debian-Main. In: Debian. March 12, 2006, accessed August 6, 2008 .