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CEA CNRS INRIA Logiciel Libre
Latest version 2.1
Publisher CEA, CNRS, & INRIA
Published 21 June 2013
DFSG compatible Yes
FSF approved Yes
OSI approved Yes (2.1 only)
GPL compatible Yes
Copyleft Yes
Linking from code with a different license No

CeCILL (from CEA CNRS INRIA Logiciel Libre) is a free software license adapted to both international and French legal matters, in the spirit of and retaining compatibility with the GNU General Public License.

It was jointly developed by a number of French agencies: the Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique (Atomic Energy Commission), the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (National Centre for Scientific Research) and the Institut national de recherche en informatique et en automatique (National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control). It was announced on 5 July 2004 in a joint press communication of the CEA, CNRS and INRIA.

It has gained support of the main French Linux User Group and the Minister of Public Function, and is now under examination to be adopted at the European level.

CeCILL version 2[edit]

Version 2 has been developed after consultations with the French-speaking Linux and Free Software Users' Association, the Association pour la Promotion et la Recherche en Informatique Libre, and the Free Software Foundation; it was released on 21 May 2005. According to CeCILL FAQ there are no major differences in spirit, though there are in terms.

The most notable difference in CeCILL v2 is the fact that the English text was approved not as a draft translation (as in CeCILL v1) but as an authentic text, in addition to the French version which is equally authentic (this makes the CeCILL license much easier to enforce internationally, as the cost of producing an authentic translation in any international court will be lower with the help of a second authentic reference text, if such courts require an authentic translation to an official national language before any ruling). Many courts in the world can rule directly based on an authentic English text already approved by all parties, without requiring an additional translation (the approbation of a translation by a third party is costly: even if a translation is approved in one litigation case, it can't be used directly in a different further case without prior mutual agreement on a common translated text).

The second difference is that the reference to the GNU GPL v2, with which CeCILL v2 is now fully compatible, is explicitly defined precisely using its exact title and the exact name of the Free Software Foundation, to avoid all possible variations of the terms of the GPL v2. Some additional definitions were added to more precisely define the terms with less ambiguity. With these changes, CeCILL is now fully enforceable according to WIPO rules, and according to the French law in courts, without the legal problems that are still remaining in the GPLv2 outside USA. In other words, CeCILL really enforces the GPLv2 license internationally by fixing ambiguities, without losing its compatibility.

Version 2.1 has been released in June 2013.

International protection and approbation of the CeCILL licenses[edit]

Note that CeCILL v1 already allowed replacing a CeCILL v1 license by CeCILL v2, so all software previously licensed with CeCILL v1 in 2004 can be licensed with CeCILL v2, with legal terms enforceable as authentic not only in French but in English too.

The fact that it is protected by reputed public research centers (in France the INRIA, a founding member of the international W3 consortium, and the CEA working on atomic energy) which use them to publish their own open-source and free software, and by critical governmental organizations (which are also working in domains like military and defense systems) also gives much more security than using the GPL alone, as the license is supported officially by a government which is a full member of WIPO, and by an enforceable law. This also means that all international treaties related to the protection of intellectual rights do apply to CeCILL-licensed products, and so they are enforceable by law in all countries that signed any of the international treaties protected by WIPO. However, this also leaves open the possibility that the French government will make a future version of the CeCILL unfree and restricted.

The CeCILL license is approved as a "Free Software" license by the FSF with which the CeCILL project founders have worked. Since version 2.1, CeCILL is also approved by the Open Source Initiative as an "Open Source" license.[1]

Other CeCILL licenses[edit]

The CeCILL project also adds two other licenses:

  • CeCILL-B, which is fully compatible with BSD-like licenses (BSD, X11, MIT) which have a strong attribution requirement (which goes much further than a simple copyright notice), a requirement normally not allowed by the GPL itself (which describes it as an advertising requirement), and so this license may be incompatible with the original CeCILL license, if BSD-like components are integrated, unless the software uses a dual-licensing scheme and conforms to the licensing terms of all embedded components.
  • CeCILL-C, for "component" software, which is fully compatible with the FSF's LGPL license.

These two licenses are also defined to make BSD-like and FSF's LGPL licenses enforceable internationally under WIPO rules.

Origins and general applicability[edit]

Although the three CeCILL licenses were developed and used for strategic French research systems (in the domain of defense, space launching systems, medical research, meteorology/climatology, and various domains of fundamental or applied physics), they are made to be usable also by the general public or any other commercial or non-profit organization, including from other governments, simply because these software component need and use (or are integrated with) component software or systems which were initially released with an open-source or free license, and they are operated by organizations that also have a commercial status.

Without these licenses, such systems could not have been built and used, and protected legally against various international patent claims. Due to the huge cost of these French strategic systems, a very strong licensing scheme was absolutely necessary to help protecting these investments against illegitimate claims by other commercial third parties, and one of the first needs was to make the well-known open-source and free licenses fully compatible and protected under the French law and the many international treaties ratified by France.

Jurisdiction and international courts[edit]

The explicit reference to the French law and a French court in the CeCILL licenses does not limit users, who can still choose a jurisdiction of their choice by mutual agreement to solve any litigation they may experience. The explicit reference to a French court will be used only if mutual agreement is not possible; this immediately solves the problem of competence of laws (something that the GPL does not solve in a clean way, except when all parties in a litigation are in the USA). For example, if a litigation occurs between a licensor and a licensee which are both in the USA, they may select a US jurisdiction to solve it (but if parties are in different states in the USA and can't agree with a competent court in a US state, they can will find a competent US federal court, or if this even fails, the final court will be in Paris).

The cost of juridic procedures in France are often much lower than the same procedures in US, but the duration of such procedures may be quite long (so it is still in the interest of all parties to select a competent court for all their litigation, before the default French court is involved). However, the decisions of a French Commerce Court are enforceable internationally in all WIPO members according to international treaties.

In many cases the duration (and high cost) of legal procedures is the result of being unable to find a competent jurisdiction and to prove its competence (something that the GPLv2 fails to specify, which means that parties to a current GPLv2 license must always first find a mutual agreement, or must always be able to prove the competence of a court before any decision can be ruled and applied, and this is an inherent risk of the current GPLv2 whose consequent long term costs have not been evaluated).


  1. ^ "Cea Cnrs Inria Logiciel Libre License, version 2.1 (CECILL-2.1)". Open Source Initiative. Retrieved 2 September 2013. 

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