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Should the ASP loophole be fixed? (Re: The Affero license)

> Rob Lanphier <robla@real.com> writes:
> > So, does this group think the ASP loophole is worth closing, and if so,
> > what is the right way to close it?  If not, why not?

On Fri, 7 Mar 2003, Florian Weimer wrote:
> In my daily work, I adapt a lot of free software and use it in an
> ASP-like environment.  If the licenses closed the ASP loophole in a
> way that forced me to publish *all* these changes (and AFAIK that's
> one of the things which people are considering), then I could not use
> this software

> Forced publication of in-house development considerably increases the
> cost of running software.  Furthermore, I believe that it's of no
> one's business what's going on on my computers, even if I use these
> computers to offer some service.

I wholeheartedly agree with both of these points.  Of course, that's part 
of the goal of these licenses - to prevent the program from being used in 
a closed way.

As recently as a year ago, I was firmly of the belief that the "asp 
loophole" (though I called it the "server loophole" IIRC) was a pretty 
large hole in the virality of the GPL.  I still believe it is, but I'm no 
longer sure it needs to or can be fixed without compromising the utility 
of a lot (perhaps most) software.  This is enough for me to consider 
non-free a license that attempts to do so.

There are two competing parts to a viral copyright license.

1) freedom for the recipient of the software.  This is the actual utility
of free software - it can be modified to fit the needs of the
recipient.  Without this ability, there would be no reason to prefer free 
software over identical proprietary software.

2) restrictions on that freedom.  This is fundamentally the duty to allow
n-stage recipients the same freedoms as the first one enjoys, but other 
restrictions have been added by various licences, with varying degrees 
of success:
 a) the duty to allow n-stage recipients the same freedoms.
 b) the duty to add notices to documentation/advertising.
 c) the duty to add notices to interactive startup.
 d) the duty to give #1 rights to more than just downstream recipients.
 e) the duty to rename files.
 f) the duty to be noncommercial.
 g) the duty not to compete with the original author (cf. bitkeeper).
 h) the duty not to use the sofware for <insert cause here>.
 i-zzz) others too numerous to mention.

This is clearly a balancing act.  There are those who cannot or will not 
abide #2 in order to enjoy #1, for any given software package.  Those 
people simply don't accept the license, and are limited to the rights they 
intrinsicly have (which may include modification in some cases, but almost 
never will include distribution).

Software with a stronger #2 element is clearly less free that that with a 
weaker #2 element.  However, since the #2 element is a benefit to both the 
software author and to the community at large, a certain amount of it is 
allowed (and encouraged).

Item 2d is the point of contention WRT the "ASP loophole".  D-l has
rejected licenses (rightly so) that try to extend #1 to the original
author, and to the world at large.  The question is whether "users" (or
perhaps "viewers of a performance") is an acceptible extension of the 2d

My opinion is that it's a reasonable thing for a software author to want
to do, but it is too restrictive for me to consider free.  The vast
majority of rejected almost-free licenses fit into this category for me.

I'd far rather live with the loophole and accept that some people will
make money by running a program with unpublished changes.  
Mark Rafn    dagon@dagon.net    <http://www.dagon.net/>  

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