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Warning to Debian Developers regarding BitKeeper



It has come to the attention of several Debian developers that any of us
may be exposed to tort claims from BitMover, Inc., the company that
produces BitKeeper, the software that is in wide usage as a
revision-control system among Linux kernel developers.

Specifically, the BitKeeper license states the following:

        (d) Notwithstanding any other terms in this License, this
             License is not available to You if You and/or your
             employer develop, produce, sell, and/or resell a
             product which contains substantially similar capabil-
             ities of the BitKeeper Software, or, in the reason-
             able opinion of BitMover, competes with the BitKeeper
             Software.

Note the broad sweep of these terms.

If:

1) you

OR

2) the company you work for

A) develops

OR

B) produces

OR

C) sells

OR

D) resells

*) anything containing functionality substantially similar to BitKeeper

OR

**) anything which, in the "reasonable" opinion of BitMover, competes
with BitKeeper

...you have no license to use the BitKeeper software.  To use the
software legally under any conjunction of the above circumstances, you
will have to pay BitMover for a license.

Take special note that:

* The license on the "anything" containing substantially similar
  capabilities to BitKeeper *does not matter*.  In other words, if you
  or employer develops, produces, sells, or resells anything containing,
  say Subversion or CVS, you have no gratis license to use BitKeeper.

* BitMover reserves the right to express its "reasonable opinion" about
  what does and does not compete with BitKeeper.  The burden is on *you*
  to persuade them in *each* and *every* case that the work you do
  doesn't "compete" with BitKeeper.  Alternatively, you could take
  BitMover to court and seek something like a declaratory judgement.

Specifically, this problem has been seen to affect Ben Collins, former
DPL and GNU C Library maintainer, who just happens to work on both the
Subversion project -- a freely-licensed revision control system designed
to supplant CVS -- and the Linux 1394 ("FireWire") Project.

Because the Debian Project distributes revision control tools like RCS,
CVS, and Subversion (and Arch in the near future, if we don't already),
and because we are a large organization with many members who likely
have many different employers, I felt ethically obliged to bring this
issue to the Project's attention.

Until and unless BitMover changes the license on BitKeeper to eliminate
this onerous clause, the wisest course of action may be to refrain from
using BitKeeper altogether.  You may also want to bring this problem to
the attention of your employer, if you think it is likely that your
organization may be affected.

To read more about this issue, see your favorite archive of the
linux-kernel mailing list.  For example:

http://www.uwsg.indiana.edu/hypermail/linux/kernel/0210.0/1496.html

I express no opinion as to whether to the requirements of the BitKeeper
license are legitimate, valid, or enforceable in any particular
jurisdiction.  If you are concerned about this issue, please retain
counsel.

-- 
G. Branden Robinson                |    A celibate clergy is an especially
Debian GNU/Linux                   |    good idea, because it tends to
branden@debian.org                 |    suppress any hereditary propensity
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |    toward fanaticism.    -- Carl Sagan

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