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I mean that ex.: CentOS, and Scientific-Linux are the "exact copies" of Redhat Linux. If Redhat would say one day: "I don't allow Redhat clones from now on, I will modify the licence", then what would happen to all the Redhat based distros? I mean the ones that are really just "clones" of Redhat?

How does this "Redhat clone" thing work? Redhat makes Redhat 6 downloadable freely? And then some people compile the Redhat 6 sources (with a few modifications), and presto, the "Redhat clone" is ready? Or how do they get the source codes of Redhat 6?

There were precedents like: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Hat_Enterprise_Linux#Rebuilds

"Unusually, Red Hat took steps to obfuscate their changes to the Linux kernel for 6.0 by not publicly providing the patch files for their changes in the source tarball, and only releasing the finished product in source form."

So the Q: If Redhat would change the licence of RHEL, all the Redhat clone distros would permanently die? (just in theory, hopefully something like this would never occur)

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Not really worth an answer, so it's a comment. I work for a large bank. We're slowly shifting all our Unix servers from HP-UX to RHEL6. The decision is motivated by a strong support contract signed with the Red Hat people, despite the availability of clones or totally gratis Debians. My point is, Red Hat's customers don't buy the product as much as the service and the quality. Red Hat knows it, and doesn't mind people cloning their product. Quite the contrary, they benefit from mutual development. All this of course, is my opinion and I don't have facts to back it up. –  rahmu Jan 18 '12 at 0:07
@rahmu: Your comment is somewhat misleading. Red hat has no choice, they must release source code to comply with the GPL. Now, that doesn't mean it has to be a bad business decision, many could argue it has given advantages. More specifically, Whether GPL code is released is about copyright compliance, it is not a strategic business decision. Of course, I'm assuming a business desires to remain legal in most countries. –  TechZilla Jan 18 '12 at 0:32
@TechZilla: No, not all of the software in RHEL is under GPL; quite to the contrary, by now probably it is a minority. Important pieces of RHEL were developed by Red Hat (or outright bought) and then released (mostly under GPL). And the whole packaging and collection is owned by Red Hat. So legally they just could close up most of it. But that would be suicide, RHEL depends upstream on Fedora and the whole collection of packages. Piss them off, you are out of business in a couple of years. –  vonbrand Jan 19 '13 at 23:03
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up vote 12 down vote accepted

Short answer, they legally can't do that.

Most of the code in RedHat, like all Linux distros, is GPL-licensed, including the kernel and most (all?) of the core utilities. They can't release it under anything but the GPL, and so long as they distribute the binary they have to distribute the source. That also means they can't prevent anyone from cloning it (besides the trademarks, of course). That is one of the big points behind the GPL.

The "precedent" you specified in no way constitutes not releasing source under the GPL and has absolutely no impact on clones. They just didn't release the patches individually, they did release the entire (patched) kernel, making anyone who wanted their patches (in this case directed at Oracle, it seems) put in a little extra work to do the diff themselves and sort out which code changes go with which fix.

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ok, I calmed down a little, thank you for pointing that one out! –  LanceBaynes Jan 17 '12 at 19:09
@Kevin: I also believe RedHat intended to make the life of clones more difficult. I would assume they wanted to specifically irritate Oracle, but CentOS was the party really impacted. Oracle has the dough, they can throw "resources" at the problem. CentOS with just volunteers, took much longer to finally get out that 6.0 release. I'm very glad they did, and I always support community work. It just goes to show, what most people in the community already knew. If businesses want to make clones/forks/reuse more difficult, they can do the bare legal minimum of "releasing". –  TechZilla Jan 18 '12 at 0:40
It's not that simple. Much of Red Hat is not GPLed, so they could very well not ship source for that (including very minor things like Apache, or X). Also, GPL asks to give source only to whom gets binaries from you. Sure, they can distribute further, but that is quite inconvenient for third parties. They very well could close off a swath of the distribution (and just not distribute under GPL the many pieces they own), but doing so would be slow, painful suicide. –  vonbrand Jan 23 '13 at 13:23
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