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I just switched from a CentOS 8.3 installation to Debian 10. Once I had my code development setup in place again I gathered the license details and noticed a significant difference in licenses for seamingly common packages.

Commands used to extract these licenses:

CentOS 8.3: rpm -qa --qf "%{name}-%{version}: %{license}\n"
Debian 10: dpkg-licenses  (https://github.com/daald/dpkg-licenses)

Examples of differences:

CentOS 8.3: accountsservice-0.6.50: GPLv3+
Debian 10: accountsservice-0.6.45-2: GPL-2+ GPL-3+
   
CentOS 8.3: binutils-2.30: GPLv3+
Debian 10: binutils-2.31.1-16: GFDL GPL LGPL
 
CentOS 8.3: bluez-5.52: GPLv2+
Debian 10: bluez-5.50-1.2~deb10u1: Apache-2.0 BSD-2-clause Expat GPL-2 GPL-2+ LGPL-2.1+

CentOS 8.3: bzip2-1.0.6: BSD
Debian 10: bzip2-1.0.6-9.2~deb10u1: BSD-variant GPL-2

CentOS 8.3: gnupg2-2.2.20: GPLv3+
Debian 10: gnupg2-2.2.12-1+deb10u1: BSD-3-clause CC0-1.0 Expat GPL-3+ GPL-3+ or BSD-3-clause LGPL-2.1+ LGPL-3+ permissive RFC-Reference TinySCHEME

CentOS 8.3: gzip-1.9: GPLv3+ and GFDL
Debian 10: gzip-1.9-3: GPL

CentOS 8.3: iptables-1.8.4: GPLv2 and Artistic 2.0 and ISC
Debian 10: iptables-1.8.2-4: Artistic-2 custom GPL-2 GPL-2+

CentOS 8.3: lsof-4.93.2: zlib and Sendmail and LGPLv2+
Debian 10: lsof-4.91+dfsg-1: BSD-4-clause GPL-2+ LGPL-2+ Purdue sendmail

CentOS 8.3: openssh-server-8.0p1: BSD
Debian 10: openssh-server-1:7.9p1-10+deb10u2: Beer-ware BSD-2-clause BSD-3-clause Expat-with-advertising-restriction Mazieres-BSD-style OpenSSH Powell-BSD-style public-domain

CentOS 8.3: python3-idna-2.5: BSD and Python and Unicode
Debian 10: python3-idna-2.6-1: BSD-3-clause PSF-2 Unicode

Can somebody explain why there are big difference in the licenses for seemingly identical software packages that you would expect to originate from a common source?

I just picked a number of examples. There are also packages with identical licenses. My expectation is that these licenses are fairly stable over time.

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    Have you searched for the upstream source for any of these to see what the licence really is? My first thought is that the differences dont look so "major". Specific versions of licences are stable, but major licences like GPL have multiple variants which do evolve into different versions. The differences here look like differences in naming the licence variant/version rather than claiming a wholly different licence. Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 19:07
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    ....At first appearance Debian has been more careful and precise. Cantos appears to have simply named the high level suit of licences without so much detail. Take the last one ... cantos appears to have named the same licences, but just used more friendly, less precise names Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 19:13

1 Answer 1

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It appears that RPM only contains partial license list. According to Fedora docs it only contains licenses to the binary parts. Debian seems to be more thorough and mention things per-file (if needed). Here is excerpt from /usr/share/doc/gnupg/copyright (which is read by dpkg-licenses)

Files: *
Copyright: 1992, 1995-2020, Free Software Foundation, Inc
License: GPL-3+

Files: agent/command.c
 agent/command-ssh.c
 agent/gpg-agent.c
 common/homedir.c
 common/sysutils.c
 g10/mainproc.c
Copyright: 1998-2007, 2009, 2012, Free Software Foundation, Inc
  2013, Werner Koch
License: GPL-3+

Files: autogen.sh
Copyright: 2003, g10 Code GmbH
License: permissive

Files: common/gc-opt-flags.h
 common/i18n.h
 tools/clean-sat.c
 tools/no-libgcrypt.c
Copyright: 1998-2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc
License: permissive

Files: common/localename.c
Copyright: 1985, 1989-1993, 1995-2003, 2007, 2008 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
License: LGPL-2.1+

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