Intellectual property is something way too many people like to talk about without actually understanding the nuances of the laws supporting them. While I could easily go on and on about these misconceptions, I'll focus primarily on those that relate to free software and open source, of which there are plenty. Some of the more prominent ones include incorrectly claiming what is and what is not a GNU Public License (GPL) violation and the notion that companies should "just" go and open source their stuff. The latter is in my opinion almost hilarious in its naivety, but we will cover the former first.
Simplistically, the GPL states that anyone who receives a distribution of a piece of software is entitled to get a copy of the source code and any software that is derived from code under the GPL also falls under the GPL. It does not require the source code be provided free of charge, nor does it require the source code be made available to people who do not get the software destributed to them. GPLv2 also did not disallow methods that would block actual usage of the provided source code, such as requiring binaries to be signed to be run, though GPLv3 explicitly disallows it. GPLv3 also added a patent clause stating that anyone who releases GPLv3 code also grants a perpetual usage license to any patent they own whose processes are used in their supplied code. That particular clause has also pretty much killed any chance of GPLv3 adoption at many major corporations. The GPLv3 is however of only minor consideration internally, as opposition by the majority of the developers makes it unlikely ReactOS would ever move to it and several key developers have stated plainly that they will never grant permission to relicense their code under GPLv3.
The point of interest today however is the viral nature of the GPL, or rather, when it actually applies. As stated above, derived works automatically inherit the GPL, unless the derived work is by the original author of the code and he chooses to relicense. The thing that many people misunderstand however is what constitutes a derived work. Many people have in the past made claims on the forum that including such and such application or utility or library is automatically not possible because the code in question is under a different license or might be completely proprietary and therefore conflicts with the GPL. That automatic assumption is however incorrect, primarily due to the way that 'derivation' is sometimes equated with 'linking' by free software advocates. Programmers generally know that applications are rarely standalone. Most of them link in libraries so as to reuse functionality. The reasoning then goes that linking in code under the GPL constitutes creating a derivative work. This reasoning is a bit fuzzy and untested in court, but is sufficiently accepted by the majority of the free software community that many projects have explicit linking exceptions in place. Otherwise, using the GCC compiler and its implementation of the C++ standard library would automatically extend whatever version of the GPL that version was under to your own code if you distributed the resulting executables, which would basically kill GCC as a viable compiler for commercial use. Then there is the Lesser GPL (LGPL), which has this linking exception built in automatically.
There are two things to keep in mind with respect to ReactOS and bundling of programs, drivers, and libraries. First and foremost, the majority of those applications were written for Windows to begin with and built using Visual Studio and Microsoft's supplied libraries, meaning they never linked against ReactOS code to begin with. Second, many of the libraries that applications do interact with in ReactOS come from the WINE Project, which uses the LGPL for their code, so even for applications that do link against those libraries, they are already covered by the linking exception and thus the GPL does not automatically extend to them. These two factors combined means distribution of ReactOS with applications and drivers that are not under the GPL is a non-issue legally on ReactOS' side. The only legal impediment to doing so is whether the other software allows for redistribution at all. Other impediments are for the most part ideological.
Next time we'll explore a bit more about the consequences of choosing the GPL versus something like the BSD or Apache licenses.