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Main » Programming » The Copyleft Bust Up: loopholes, licenses, and realpolitik
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Posted on 18-11-05, 05:35
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I was pretty fascinated by this article about the recent "extreme copyleft" licences from companies like Redis and Mongo. It's pretty long, so here's my summary:

Back in the day, using a piece of software meant running it on your computer, or combining it with software you wrote, so other people could run it on their computers. The GNU General Public Licence was designed around those use-cases, but although software freedom activists liked it, nobody else did. Permissive-licence fans felt it was too restrictive, and businesses felt it prevented them from making money.

Later, a new way to use software became popular: you could run software on your computer and provide a service to other people. The software freedom activists hated that, since it meant the other people couldn't run the software on their own computers, so they came up with the Affero GPL. Software freedom activists liked that, big businesses that *used* software hated it (because it made the software difficult for them to build on), but small businesses that *sold* software to big businesses loved it, since they could sell the big business a licence exemption.

Most recently, another new way to use software has become popular: you could run software on *somebody else's* computer and provide a service to yourself. The software freedom activists are fine with that, because there's no technical restriction preventing you from running that software on your own computer and being in control of your destiny. The small businesses hate it, because the big businesses actually making money are the cloud providers, and they aren't building on top of the software, so they don't need to buy license exemptions.

So now there's a divide: the software freedom activists are perfectly happy with the current state of affairs, but the companies that actually derive economic value from copyleft are bitterly frustrated. And so those companies are trying to come up with a third main branch of open-source licence: permissive to build on and integrate, but restrictive to use as-is. The permissive licence fans will predictably hate it for being too big and complex, the software freedom activists will hate it for restricting the wrong things, but the term "open source" is now sufficiently economically important that those groups don't get much say in whether this new thing will be officially "open source" or not...

The ending of the words is ALMSIVI.
Posted on 18-11-05, 14:33
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Software licenses must die.

I have nothing else to add to yet another "software licensing" thread, so I'm moving out.

Licensed Pirate® since 2006, 100% Buttcoin™-free
Posted on 18-11-05, 14:44

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I could almost imagine xkcd making a Venn diagram of this or something. Or they might already have, I just haven't seen it yet.

I still have no idea what I'm talking about.
Posted on 18-11-05, 15:23
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I find it strange that there aren't any prominent non/anti-commercial licenses. I want things I write to be used by individuals, not companies. I don't like that the licensing discussion is driven entirely by big businesses and/or goofballs like RMS who want me to sacrifice my rights for the good of the "user" (be that an individual or a soulless corp).

That is, I'm not familiar with any non-custom licenses that let me put my source out there and let other people build on it and use it without a.) inviting companies to roll up and sell it as soon as they smell a market or b.) get harassed (literally!) by the aforementioned goofballs for being nonfREEEEEEEE.

I want to have my cake and eat it, too, I guess. I just don't understand why "freedom to put a price on other people's work" is considered not just *a* key freedom, but *the* key freedom...
Posted on 18-11-05, 23:20
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Posted by hunterk
I find it strange that there aren't any prominent non/anti-commercial licenses. I want things I write to be used by individuals, not companies. I don't like that the licensing discussion is driven entirely by big businesses and/or goofballs like RMS who want me to sacrifice my rights for the good of the "user" (be that an individual or a soulless corp).

That is, I'm not familiar with any non-custom licenses that let me put my source out there and let other people build on it and use it without a.) inviting companies to roll up and sell it as soon as they smell a market or b.) get harassed (literally!) by the aforementioned goofballs for being nonfREEEEEEEE.

I want to have my cake and eat it, too, I guess. I just don't understand why "freedom to put a price on other people's work" is considered not just *a* key freedom, but *the* key freedom...

Creative Commons non-commercial will fulfill point A.
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/deed.en_US

Point B will never be fulfilled by a non-commercial license because it is a restriction on end users, so the aforementioned goofballs will always oppose it.
They hate non-commercial licenses even more than they hate non-redistributable closed-source licenses, so you are worse than Microsoft because you corrupt the purity of their holy movement.

...

Of course, some of them also just hate anything that isn't GPL, so you really can't win.

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Posted on 18-11-06, 01:45
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>CC noncomm

Yeah, I use that for my blog, and it works well for text, but it lacks some of the provisions of a good copyleft code license, like requiring anyone who distributes binaries to also provide the source for those binaries (i.e., to prevent closed-source changes).

Maybe I just need to make my own license, with blackjack and hookers...
Posted on 18-11-06, 02:04
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Ah. Oh well.
If nothing else, the Blackjack/Hookers License will provide an interesting new name in the licensing debate.

--- In UTF-16, where available. ---
Posted on 18-11-06, 02:28
Large Ham

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I'd use it.
Posted on 18-11-06, 08:06 (revision 1)

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Cue me pointing out that all standard FREE SOFTWARE COMPLIANT font licenses have weak noncommercial clauses.
Posted on 18-11-09, 05:25
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Posted by hunterk
I find it strange that there aren't any prominent non/anti-commercial licenses. I want things I write to be used by individuals, not companies. I don't like that the licensing discussion is driven entirely by big businesses and/or goofballs like RMS who want me to sacrifice my rights for the good of the "user" (be that an individual or a soulless corp).

The thing is, copyright law defines things like "derivative work" and "copying", so a licence can just say "derivative works allowed" or "copying disallowed", and everybody can figure out exactly what that means. Copyright law doesn't define "commercial use", so it's not practical to say "no commercial use" unless you go on to define exactly what that means.

Different people define commercial use differently. For example, some people don't care as long as you don't use their software to build or operate weapons; other people expect to be compensated for their work even if it's being used by a non-profit charity. If a company charges people money for a thing you made, that probably counts as commercial use, but what if a company uses a thing you made to make advertising? Or just gives away the thing you made *as* advertising? Is it commercial use if a company uses your thing in any capacity whatsoever? If so, presumably a stockmarket-traded company counts, but what about a privately-owned company? A cooperative? A sole trader? A kid's lemonade stand? What if your thing is being used by an individual to help them get a job or a pay-raise or other commercial advantage, even if it's not being used by a company directly?

Basically, the big reason there's no prominent non/anti-commercial licenses is not ideological, it's practical.

That is, I'm not familiar with any non-custom licenses that let me put my source out there and let other people build on it and use it without a.) inviting companies to roll up and sell it as soon as they smell a market or b.) get harassed (literally!) by the aforementioned goofballs for being nonfREEEEEEEE.

Traditionally the GPL has been pretty effective "commercial repellent", although the article linked in the OP suggests it's not effective enough for many people. Hassling people isn't cool, though. :(

Posted by CaptainJistuce
Creative Commons non-commercial will fulfill point A.

hunterk said "I want things I write to be used by individuals, not companies", and the CC FAQ says "if you are a for-profit entity, your use of an NC-licensed work does not necessarily mean you have violated the term", so it's not really what he's looking for.

Posted by wareya
Cue me pointing out that all standard FREE SOFTWARE COMPLIANT font licenses have weak noncommercial clauses.

The Open Font Licence FAQ says it's OK to sell an OFL font "as long some other font or software is also on the disk, so the OFL font is not sold by itself". So you can't sell an OFL-licensed font, but you can sell two?

The ending of the words is ALMSIVI.
Posted on 18-11-09, 14:42 (revision 4)
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Posted by Screwtape
Basically, the big reason there's no prominent non/anti-commercial licenses is not ideological, it's practical.
Yeah, I've always heard people say snes9x/MAME's noncomm licenses were unenforceable for this reason. I guess if I write my own license, I'll just need to be clear and circumspect about it, which, obviously, is the hard part.
Posted by Screwtape
Traditionally the GPL has been pretty effective "commercial repellent", although the article linked in the OP suggests it's not effective enough for many people.
When I got into copyleft back in the late 90s / early aughts, it was indeed pretty commercial-repellent and it was casually thrown around that GPL effectively ensures free-as-in-beer (which I liked!), but times have changed quite a bit and now GPL seems to mean "free labor". I suppose the line between communal ownership and slavery is not as clear-cut as I had thought.
Posted by Screwtape
Hassling people isn't cool, though. :(
ikr? There are apparently roaming squads of FOSS enthusiasts who trawl through github for anything that's not licensed in a way they like and they "encourage" the project to relicense. I assume it's similar to the master/slave-rename squad, but that's another discussion that I'm not particularly invested in.
Posted by Screwtape
the CC FAQ says "if you are a for-profit entity, your use of an NC-licensed work does not necessarily mean you have violated the term", so it's not really what he's looking for.
While I would prefer it to be more broad than that in a perfect world, pragmatically speaking, if there were an established, respected license that still allowed some edge-case, incidental commercial activity, I'd be okay with it.
Posted by Screwtape
"as long some other font or software is also on the disk, so the OFL font is not sold by itself". So you can't sell an OFL-licensed font, but you can sell two?
oh lawd, that is a weak clause.
Posted on 18-11-09, 14:52 (revision 1)

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Posted by Screwtape

Posted by wareya
Cue me pointing out that all standard FREE SOFTWARE COMPLIANT font licenses have weak noncommercial clauses.

The Open Font Licence FAQ says it's OK to sell an OFL font "as long some other font or software is also on the disk, so the OFL font is not sold by itself". So you can't sell an OFL-licensed font, but you can sell two?

The effect of the clause is that you cannot resell the font as-is in a font bundle or anything, but you're allowed to bundle it in software and games that use it to dynamically render text, just as you can sell print materials that you make with any font you have usage rights to. This is also, metaphorically, how emulators should work: you should be able to, as the publisher of some game, take the right emulator off the shelf and bundle your game with it, and sell the result, but not be able to sell the emulator as-is on phones with the expectation that players bring (pirate) their own games.
Posted on 18-11-10, 06:39
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Posted by hunterk
When I got into copyleft back in the late 90s / early aughts, it was indeed pretty commercial-repellent and it was casually thrown around that GPL effectively ensures free-as-in-beer (which I liked!), but times have changed quite a bit and now GPL seems to mean "free labor". I suppose the line between communal ownership and slavery is not as clear-cut as I had thought.

Back when the GPL was first written, when you had a problem, you'd write a program to solve it and run it on a computer. As long as you had a computer and were allowed to make and modify programs, you could solve problems.

These days, when you have a problem, you spin up hundreds of computers in AWS, each running hundreds of programs. Being able to make and modify a single program doesn't help anyone solve any problems, so companies do not mind being bound by the GPL in that situation—they're not going to lose out, or have to give up anything of consequence. The GPL works when everybody has a computer and needs software to unlock it. These days, only a few people have computers (Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure) and no amount of software licensing trickery is going to help restore user freedom if nobody can run the software,

There are apparently roaming squads of FOSS enthusiasts who trawl through github for anything that's not licensed in a way they like and they "encourage" the project to relicense.

I mean, I can understand people being averse to unusual licenses. If I'm looking at a library I'd like to use and I see "MIT" or "GPL" or "Apache 2.0", I know what I'm signing myself up for, and I only have to worry about whether the code does what I want. If I see some other licence, I have to read through it and decide for myself (in my uneducated, non-lawyerly opinion) whether or not it allows whatever things I might want to do... or I just roll my eyes and move on to the next candidate. It's always possible that the person who chose that licence didn't fully understand the implications of their choice on the rest of the community, and from that point of view it might be helpful to explain to them what's going on... but man, I'm pretty sure crusading is *always* counter-productive.

The ending of the words is ALMSIVI.
Posted on 18-11-11, 01:28
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eyyyy, FSF just advertised for Commons Clause. Maybe I'll start using GPL+Commons Clause...
Posted on 18-11-11, 04:13 (revision 1)
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Posted by hunterk
eyyyy, FSF just advertised for Commons Clause. Maybe I'll start using GPL+Commons Clause...
I particularly like how gnu.org is complaining that the clause "twists the definitions of commons and sell".
Surely after years of twisting the definitions of words like free, they'd be comfortable with the idea.

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Posted on 18-11-11, 16:04
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I don't like the name "Commons Clause" either, but admittedly only because of the acronym collision with Creative Commons.
Posted on 18-11-11, 16:10
Ceci n'est pas une random title!

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You'd better watch out, you'd better not cry
You'd better not pout, I'm tellin' you why
Commons Clause is comin' to town~
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