View Full Version : Open Source Licenses

Mario F.
10-10-2006, 05:29 AM

Anyone else feels that we are just perhaps starting to put too much weight into legal issues concerning the use and distribution of Open Source code? It's even more disheartening if we consider the above list is only a list of "common open source licenses" (sic).

Technically if I develop a software from scratch and intend to distribute it in an Open Source model, I'm free to either use a common license mechanism (like one of the above) or create my own. It feels that the trend is towards the latter though. The weight of the CPL is decreasing every passing day and corporate based Open Source licenses seem to want to inundate the market. Everyone wants their own license mechanism to essentially distribute Open Source software under restrictions to the CPL.

Now, I'm actually advocating that Open Source should be CPL only with maybe one or two variants. Some of these so called Open Source licenses really do not fully comply with the rules (http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php), which essentially makes them not Open Source, while others are nothing more than the CPL with the corporate moniker inserted here and there, making them redundant and confusing.

The Open Source world is becoming a mesh of license mechanisms in my opinion. It is distracting everyone from the mission behind the following quote from the OSI:

The basic idea behind open source is very simple: When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing.

It is true that the objective is for this to be integrated into the highly competitive commercial world. However Open Source is at its core a mechanism to give away free technology while expecting earnings to be made from associated endeavours (RedHat having been one of the first to explore it). But by manipulating the concept to further limit access to the code and its distribution (some of Microsoft's so-called Open Source models being a blatant example (http://www.microsoft.com/resources/sharedsource/licensingbasics/limitedpermissivelicense.mspx)), Open Source is becoming more a marketing mechanism where there is really little cooperative work towards the improvement of the software and more a hooking mechanism to further force the license client to that particular technology. Open Source related gains, the easy way.

Each and one of us is of course entitled to grant whatever rights they wish. However, I'm starting to think that the Open Source description was left too vague and is now not anymore a single concept, but a confusing mesh of interpretations.

Or was it ever intended to be? Care to debate?

10-10-2006, 06:02 AM
Nope, you aren't wrong in that the licensing of open source software is becomming a marketing buzz, and the choice of license used is becoming a political statement.

I personally tend to favour the orginal license, the BSD license.
it is the least restrictive of all I have looked at.
the Free software Foundation's GNU Org GNU-GPL [ Richard Stallman's group } have gone to an extremist stand about commercialisation and proprietary code, which is not beneficial to open source software.
Microsoft is a priprietary software house, thier "community" licenses are a joke for open source software, nor would I ever make use of code under thier licenses.
Apache's license isn't bad, but it's not one I would choose to use for my own code.

I have looked at the projects reqesting help on savannah [ gnu.org's version of sourceforge ] and because of the issues created by V3 of the GNU-GPL I can't actually support any of them, even though a number are orth support on every other basis.

10-10-2006, 10:42 AM
I've only read half of your post but I think I should point out that the CPL has been replaced with the EPL. IBM (creator of the CPL) has moved their open source efforts to the EPL (Think of it as CPL v3.0)

That's the Eclipse Public License.

Mario F.
10-10-2006, 12:10 PM
Yes. Thanks for reading half of the post. But that is not my point. The CPL as is, seems to me the best legal enbodiment of the Open Source initiative. Not unnecessarily restrictive and yet not too "open" either so that it becomes less appealing to the corporate world.

10-10-2006, 01:54 PM
Ok. I have to confess that I have been naive enought to think Open Source License (in whatever form) was extremely simple indeed up till now. Whilst I do think that, nowadays, there's a movement by the corporate sector to rid us of their nightmare :), I have to say that the principles (don't steal, distribute and make available your "improvements to the code) should be kept to; all other legalities can be discarded because I have about as much attention towards legal documents as a goldfish watching a brick sink in water.
Whilst this might seem like oversimplification, my retort would be "need this really get complicated?". I mean it is supposed to be free so long as you pay it back into the community. what more could anyone want??

10-10-2006, 02:32 PM
Well, you wouldn't want someone to be able to take your code and say, "I wrote this!" or worse "I wrote this, and you'll have to pay $* for it." Would you? Or perhaps they could take your code and sue you for copying their code, when in fact you wrote it in the first place!

But on the other hand, you would (wouldn't you?) want someone to be able to change your code, if they found a problem with it and wanted to add a feature. So you can't just withhold the source for your program. You have to release it so that people can modify it, but you have to attach some restrictions, too.

10-10-2006, 03:51 PM
I am an advocate of OSS, and I also think a programmer should keep some rights over their code. Some of the best OSS projects keep all the code in one location, allow you to download it, and if you find something you can fix, you submit a patch and get credit for your addition to the code, but at the same time, the author still has control over the code.

This works wonderfully untill the author for some reason, takes a break. I personally intend to do any software I release this way.

10-10-2006, 06:01 PM
Well, you wouldn't want someone to be able to take your code and say, "I wrote this!" or worse "I wrote this, and you'll have to pay $* for it." Would you? Or perhaps they could take your code and sue you for copying their code, when in fact you wrote it in the first place!.

This is the purpose of copyright. a "poor mans" copyright is simply putting a copyright notice in the file, and creating a copy of the code BEFORE making it available. such copy being snail mailed so the post date is prior to the release of code. mail it to whomever, including yourself, but best if you mail it to a lawyer to hold sealed until such time as you need to go to court. then the lawyer can state he had that copy in his possesion on such and such a date, which predates the conflict before the court.

Mario F.
10-10-2006, 07:29 PM
And that is opening an whole new can of worms.

Open Source is in fact a form of copyright. Copyright laws by default do not allow redistribution. Open Source initiatives are still protected under copyright, however their copyright licenses allow for distribution while forcing the redistributor to certain conditions ranging from an almost free-for-all mechanism like the BSD license where autorship is basically the only protected thing, to limiting the license of redistributed material like the GPL.

I say it's an whole can of worms because one way or another Open Source is affecting business worldwide. Many Open Source licenses (particularly corporate ones) clearly state that any conflicts can only be dealt with in the country of origin courts. This is so because many countries do not recognize certain claims of autorship or do not have the appropriate legislation to handle Open Source material conflicts. This is more damaging if we think such conflicts end up being resolved at the light of formal copyright laws (which in many countries can mean under the right (or wrong) conditions if you distribute your material you are waving your copyright protection). By limiting the resolution of conflicts to the country of origin, there is some comfort your rights will be protected under the same law that allowed you to write your license.

10-10-2006, 08:53 PM
The author of the code retains the copyright independant of the license that it's released under unless he/she assigns it to someone else (often an organization or company).