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The GNU General Public License ("GNU GPL" or simply "GPL") is a copyright license for free software created by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation.
The GPL was originally created by Stallman for the GNU project which was an attempt to develop a free operating system as well the associated utilities, as a complete alternative to proprietary software. Stallman developed the GPL because early versions of GNU project utilities had a separate, and mutually incompatible license, for each program, which meant that the programs could not share code.
Although the GPL is used by the Free Software Foundation itself for software for which it holds the copyright, the license is also extremely widely used for other software, including, for example, the Linux kernel.
The original version (version 1) of the GPL was released in January 1989, and version 2, which is the main version in use today, was released in 1991. An offshoot of version 2, the LGPL followed, this version being principally intended for software libraries. A revised version of the license, version 3 of the GPL, was released in July 2007, although not without controversy, and some software is gradually being released under it.
The GPL is a copyleft license: it only allows distribution of the unmodified work, or derivative works, provided the people to whom licensee's distribute are granted the same rights to further modify and/or distribute the software. Additionally, distributors are also required to make the source code available, and a variety of options are provided for doing so.
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