Copyright notices - mailing authors
It's been a while since this subject has been raised here.
It is sometimes useful to mail authors of programs with "non-free"
copyrights to ask them to relax the copyright. This is generally
especially fruitful when the original copyright is very unclear or
badly-phrased, as this usually means the author hasn't thought about
the problem very much.
Below you'll find a couple of example messages I've sent to some
upstream authors on this subject.
Amongst them is a tabular summary of the "features" of a few
commonly-used copyright notices.
I think I was going to upload this message to ftp.debian.org. If I
haven't done so already will someone shout and I'll do so.
I've edited them a little - especially the latter, which was
originally addressed to the Debian package maintainer and is now
addressed to the author of an original program we may wish to include.
If you want to ask someone to clarify or change their copyright the
first letter is probably a reasonable one - CC it to debian-devel or
to Ian M. If they seem to be floundering and ask your advice or
something similar you could send them the second message, which is a
summary of the effects of various `standard' licences.
Subject: #### copyright and Debian GNU/Linux
I'm writing to ask your permission to include #### in the Debian
As you may be aware, Linux is the free Unix-clone kernel written by
Linus Torvalds, which he releases under the GNU GPL. Systems running
Linux include GPL'd, BSD-copyright and other (usually free) software.
For more information see the newsgroup comp.os.linux.announce, FTP to
sunsite.unc.edu and look in /pub/Linux/docs, or email me.
Debian Linux is a distribution of the Linux kernel and libraries and
associated software which is up to date, well put together and
reasonably complete. It is the brainchild of Ian Murdock
<email@example.com>: please contact him if you have any questions;
alternatively I can email you a copy of the Debian Manifesto.
Debian Linux is of course be available for anonymous FTP from the
usual Linux sites and their mirrors. It is organised as a base system
with a large number (around 300 at the moment) of optional packages.
We made our public beta release of version 0.93R6 in November, and are
now working on our 1.0 distribution.
I had hoped to build an #### package for Debian. However the
copyright notice leaves me in some doubt as to whether we may include
it, because we wish to ensure that the Debian Linux distribution as a
whole can be copied and redistributed freely - for example, there are
several companies which sell CD-ROM and floppy disk distributions of
Linux and related software.
The ####filename#### file in ####software-version#### says:
It's not entirely clear to me whether this would allow (for example)
the kind of CD-ROM distribution I mentioned above. It would be a
shame to make ####'s functionality available only to that portion of
the Linux community who have the time, resources and inclination to
configure, compile and install their own copy.
I'd therefore be very grateful if you could confirm ####optionally (on
your own behalf and on behalf of ####institution####, who is also
listed in the copyright notice) that we may go ahead, and that by
extension it will be OK for people to distribute the #### binary-only
kit I will create and the corresponding pre-configured source tree as
part of Debian Linux - potentially for profit on the part of some of
If you do give the go-ahead you may wish to send me a clarification,
addendum or modification to add to the source and binary packages'
copyright notices - I'd be most happy to include it.
If you have any more questions please don't hesitate to contact me.
Subject: Copyright explanations
Here is a small summary of the effects of the GPL (or LGPL), the UCB
BSD notice, Larry Wall's Artistic Licence and of place works in the
public domain, as I interpret them. I may be wrong - I have no legal
training, so I'd be grateful if people would like to comment on,
correct or clarify what I've said.
It's worth pointing out (especially considering the flamewars there
have occasionally been on this subject in the Linux community) that
putting the GPL on something is not the same as assigning the
copyright to the FSF (which I'd strongly advise against doing).
* The GPL strongly requires people to distribute source as well as
binaries, and not to impose further restrictions on distribution (this
ensures that the original author can use any extensions, but they may
have to release the combined work under the GPL). It also ensures
credit is given and denies warranty liability. Parts of GPL'd source
code may be used in other programs, provided they too are GPL'd.
* The BSD licence merely ensures due credit is given and denies
warranty liability. It doesn't prevent people who get something under
the BSD licence from subsequently distributing under a more
restrictive licence (eg, straight commercial, GPL, whatever). It
doesn't ensure that the original author can use and distribute any
modifications or extensions.
* The Artistic Licence allows people to modify and extend the program;
however it prevents people incorporating parts of it in their own
program. It ensures that any modifications can be taken up by the
copyright holder. It strongly prevents "passing off" a modified
version of the program as the original. It ensures source
distribution, but not as strictly as the GPL.
* Placing something in the public domain relinquishes all your special
rights to the work, and says that anyone may do anything with it.
This includes making modifications and/or selling it. People don't
have to let you use their modifications, and they don't have to give
due credit. The warranty status of this is not quite clear and may
depend on legislation.
How about a table ?
GPL Artistic BSD PD None
Allowed to distribute source code. yes yes yes yes no
Work may be distributed for profit.  yes yes yes yes no
Source code must be offered or pointed to offer/
when distributing binary-only package.  give point no no 
Ensures permission to redistribute.  yes yes no no 
Work may be licensed for profit.  no no yes yes no
Modifications available to author. yes yes no no 
Due credit must be given. yes yes yes no 
Prevent `passing off' of modified works. yes strongly no no 
People may use your code in their works. yes no yes yes no
Protection against warranty claims. yes yes yes no? 
People may extend the work. yes yes yes yes no
 `None' means if you distribute your work without a notice giving
people permission to do things, or with no copyright notice at all.
 The difference I'm drawing between `distribution' and `licensing'
is that if you are allowed to distribute something you're not
necessarily allowed to prevent others from passing it on further down
the distribution chain. When I say `may be licensed for profit' I
mean that a distributor may prevent people further down the
distribution chain from redistributing.
 If you use the GPL people who use your code will have their
program `GPL-infected', as it's termed. This means that if they
distribute their work at all they'll also have to do so under the GPL.
Conversely, it's possible that someone could modify your program, and
put their modifications under the GPL, which would mean that noone,
not even you, would be allowed to distribute the modified program
except under the GPL.
 If you don't put a permission notice on your work noone may do
anything with it, not even make verbatim copies and give them to their
friends. This is almost certainly not what you want.
 I don't know of any widely-used copyright permission notice,
licence or copyright status that prevents for-profit distribution,
apart from not giving permission at all.
 In order to place a work in the public domain you have to say so
explicitly, e.g. `I hereby place this program in the public domain.'
 The GPL forces commercial distributors to at least offer in
writing to provide the source code on request for distribution costs
only. Non-commercial distributors may alternatively pass on such an
offer they got instead. The Artistic Licence only requires people to
provide "instructions ... on where to get [the source code]".
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