GIMP Patterns and the GPL License

I hadn’t necessarily seen much elaboration on this subject, so I was hoping I could get some clarification from people who have a decent understanding of how this would work.

I’ve used some GIMP patterns in some images. For some time, I had wondered what the license of the default GIMP patterns were, so I looked into it. After some time of searching the Internet without getting a lot of helpful results, I decided to just look into the GIMP source code and see what the legal stuff in there said about it. According to the LICENSE file I read, all files except some are under the GPL. Since the pattern images didn’t seem to be listed as one of the exceptions, I had come to the conclusion that those are also under the GPL. I had sort of been wondering how the GPL license on the patterns would affect the license of images which used said patterns. One on hand, the patterns are similar to brushes in that usage of them in an image is not the same as distributing the brushes and patterns themselves, and generally speaking I think at least for standard GIMP brushes the license of the brush source would not really affect the license of the image, but on the other hand, the patterns are different from the brushes in that they revolve more around the usage of a detailed image, and displaying said detailed image in one’s own image would be using those details, regardless of whether or not they are distributing the source image. I had considered that, even if the GPL license of patterns did have an affect on user output using them, there would be some usages of GIMP patterns in images that might be able to qualify as fair use, but generally speaking I am not sure about how things would be affected in all situations.

So basically, my question is: If someone’s image made in GIMP makes use of default patterns, how would the license of the default patterns affect the license of the user’s image? IF someone used a GPL-licensed pattern in their image, would they have to license their image under the GPL as well?

This question could also be asked about certain default brushes in GIMP, such as the pepper, fire, and chalk brushes.

I hope I didn’t post this in the wrong place. If I did, could someone move it to where it’s more appropriate?

@Unnamed_GIMP_User Works for me. By the way, welcome to the forum!


Back to the GPL licence.

It says:

The output from running a covered work is covered by this License only if the output, given its content, constitutes a covered work.

And the definition of “covered work” is:

A “covered work” means either the unmodified Program or a work based on the Program.

which I read some other program that is a derivative of the licensed program.

So the images you produce with Gimp aren’t covered by the GPL because they are not a program.

On the other hand I don’t see anything in the GPL that put restrictions on what you can do with the output of the program, and the Gimp site states:

Can I use GIMP commercially?
Yes, you can. GIMP is free software, it doesn’t put restrictions on the kind of work you produce with it.

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But for patterns, the GIMP program uses .pat image files to create the patterns, and thus in a certain sense the patterned parts of an image using GIMP patterns would be derived from those. Does the license of the .pat files affect the copyright of user-created images using patterns based on said files?

Could I get some more input? I don’t want to get annoying or anything, but I really kind of need to have some more information on this. Sort of important.

I pinged the GIMP team, but they weren’t around. I’ll try again to see if there’s some clarification.

My guess is the patterns themselves are released under the same stipulations as the rest of the software in terms of licensing. I think much the same way that brush files are free for use.

I’ll ask again. Perhaps @Jehan might have an idea?

Okay. Thanks for the help.

The output image is 100% owned by the user with absolutely no requirement to state either the ingredients nor the recipe. The user may apply any desired legal terms and conditions to the output without being bound by the terms and conditions of the GIMP software and pattern files.

Even if the .pats are licensed GPL, your image is very much your own derivative output. This is because you are not providing any copies of the work which is covered by the software’s license.

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So: very clearly current GIMP team intent is 100% that all the data such as pattern or brushes (which are indeed used inside other artworks) should be CC-0 or equivalent (i.e. that we are not going to ask for authorship or for you to license your work a special way just because you used some of the default pattern). Since 2015, we even had a FAQ entry specifically to tell that we don’t intend to put any restriction on people’s work (@Ofnuts already posted this link).

And without even knowing them, I’m pretty sure this must have been the intent of any past GIMP developer and data contributor. I am guessing such data licensing was simply overlooked back then because nobody really questioned such data usage 25 years ago (also the CC0 license for instance, created specifically for such licensing need, didn’t exist back then).

This being said, I’m not them and I don’t know them (as I said), so it’s better if there is a licensing document specific for these data. It looks like most of these data come from this commit back in 1998! And the commit description tells that these data comes themselves from gimp-data-min which — I am guessing — is very likely an old repository which does not exist anymore.

Anyway even in this oldest commit whose history we still have, there is no licensing information, so it’s hard to give a final say here.

I would say that if anyone really decided to — say — sue you or request anything because of a possible licensing infringement, they would be absolutely ridiculous and shameless. They contributed their stuff more than 25 years ago to GIMP, dozens and dozens of millions of people have likely used these all countless times across the years, all over the world, then they would come and ask you something (like relicensing your artwork in GPL because you use a pattern somewhere)? Now some people in this world are indeed ridiculous and shameless. Also I’m not a lawyer. So well…
Personally I am also doubting any judge would anyway accept any such claim from anyone contributing to a FLOSS project which clearly wanted to give people the right to make any work they wanted (and also how far can you claim any kind of “work derivation” from someone just using a finally quite basic pattern you would have created?). Yet once again, I’m neither a lawyer nor a judge.

What I take from this discussion as a conclusion is that we should indeed be clearer on the data used in GIMP, and in particular brushes and patterns (the types of data used in artworks themselves). From now on, we will ask a clear CC0 licensing for any new data under the data/ folder.

I just made a commit to add a note about this in our LICENSE file. This doesn’t apply to the past files, but will clearly apply to any new data file.

P.S.: you were right to bring this up. The question was often asked about GIMP code itself (i.e. would code licensing “leak” into artworks licensing? Answer is: no), not that much about the data, as far as I recall. From now on, we’ll be even clearer on this part. Thanks @Unnamed_GIMP_User !


Makes sense. A number of the patterns look like they came from around that time.
Anyways, thanks for your input. Good to hear something from a GIMP developer on the matter.

You’re welcome. Glad to be of help.