[Date Prev][Date Next] [Thread Prev][Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: LPPL and non-discrimination

Jonathan Fine <jfine@activetex.org> writes:

> I think that there may have been a misunderstanding,
> caused by an ambiguity in the term "free software".
> (Now there's a surprise.)
> Once it has been clarified, I think that there will
> be more agreement.
> So let's try.
> 1.  Software is executables, source files, etc.

You're going to get yourself into trouble if you go much further here:
defining software both accurately and precisely is very, very hard.

> 2.  The copyright holder can license the software
> to third parties.
> 3.  Licensed software is free, according to the
> Debian Guidelines, if:
> a)  the license meets the Debian Free Software
> Guidelines.
> b)  the software is available as unobfuscated
> source, and not encumbered by patents or the like.

(b) is reducible to (a).  That is, anything which complies with the
DFSG will be modifiable and redistributable, so it must exist in a
clear, modifiable format without legal encumbrance.

> 4.  The copyright holder can license software under
> both free and proprietary licenses, if he/she wishes
> to.
> So ABC Software can if they wish release the software
> they have written under a license that is Debian Free
> (call it DFL) and a proprietary license also (call it
> ABC-PL).
> Typically, the ABC-PL will cost money, and will allow
> creation of non-free derived works.

Typically, the ABC-DFL will also allow creation of non-free derived
works.  For example, the BSD and MIT/X11 licenses both allow creation
of non-free derived works by any party.  The prohibition against
creating non-free derived works is not a characteristic of free
licenses, but of copyleft licenses.  Most copyleft licenses happen to
be free licenses as well.

> So far, I think we have agreement.

With some exceptions and clarifications, yes.

> My concern is with the Debian Free License, and the
> non-dsicrimination guideline.

I think you might understand more if you broadened your concern to
look at Debian's process of accepting software (from ITP to upload) as
a whole, and the role debian-legal and the DFSG play in that process.

> Suppose ABC Software takes a DFL and from it creates
> a new license (call it ABC-DFL) by adding the clause:
>>   If the licensee is ABC Software Inc then the licensee
>>   may freely incorporate this work into its proprietary
>>   software.
> My question is this:  Does this ABC-DFL license meet the
> Debian Free Software Guidelines?

Yes.  Maybe.

If this is the MIT/X11 license, for example, the addition of your
candidate paragraph does not make it non-free.  Indeed, for almost
every non-copyleft license, this paragraph may be freely added: it
imposes no restriction on anybody other than ABC Software.

If DFL is a copyleft license, though, this is probably non-free.  It
imposes a cost to distribute modifications.

This is very hard to talk about, because licenses aren't modular: each
restriction or grant of permission ties into all the others.  I don't
think you can use an abstract "DFL" for this sort of conversation.
This seems like a weighty proposition now, but for any particular
example plugged in for DFL (CAL, GPL, MPL, BSD, etc), the question is
either a very clear "Free", a very clear "Non-Free, for reasons other
than discrimination" or a very clear "That's nonsense."

> This is a question, of course, about the working of the
> non-discrimination guideline.

Partly... but when similar licenses have been proposed in the past,
they've been rejected for failure to permit free distribution of
modifications, not for unfair discrimination.  I don't think you're going
to be able to put together an example where bias towards the copyright
holder involves the discrimination clause.  The discrimination clause
is more commonly used to prohibit software which is licensed as, for
example, "MIT/X11, but only if you do no work involving a nuclear
power plant" or "Free for non-commercial use only."


Brian T. Sniffen bts@alum.mit.edu http://www.evenmere.org/~bts/

Reply to: