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Re: Web application licenses

Glenn Maynard wrote:
> On Thu, Aug 12, 2004 at 10:32:56AM -0700, Josh Triplett wrote:
>>True.  The question becomes: is it too onerous?
>>After all, people have said the GPL is onerous.  Consider the reference
>>card scenario.  Either you distribute source at the same time (which is
>>extremely onerous for a reference card) or you use the "offer valid for
>>three years" approach (which is not considered the Free option in the GPL).
> Well, the measure of my personal opinion is whether I'd cease using and/or
> modifying a work because of a requirement.  I don't expect Debian to comply
> with that, but I hope it's a relevant data point.  If Apache required me to
> distribute source if I used it as a server, I'd immediately stop using it and
> I'd never consider contributing to it, because I don't want to have to serve
> a local mirror of the Apache source in order to use it.

As you said, that's not a criteria Debian can use; you need to quantify
exactly what fails your "I'd cease using and/or modifying a work"
critera.  If anything that requires you to provide source for the server
software you use to those who interact with that server would fail it,
then no license that attempted to cover providing source to users of a
service would ever fulfill your criteria.  I personally think that
requirement is reasonable.

>>>"Point them to ftp.debian.org" no longer works if I had to modify a couple
>>>lines of code to get the thing to compile, so I don't think that avoids
>>>the fact that the above is overburdensome.  It's also risky; if ftp.debian.org
>>>goes down, I may be in violation of the license indefinitely, unless I happen
>>>to notice.  Also, ftp.debian.org doesn't keep source for all old packages
>>>around; if I don't upgrade my testing machine, my binary won't match the
>>>source on that server, and I'll be in violation.
>>snapshot.debian.net then.  And don't forget that you are allowed to
>>recoup your costs of performing source distribution.
> (That doesn't address first couple points.  I don't want to expose myself
> to liability based on Debian's servers remaining where they are.)
> I don't think Debian's archives are relevant, because they no longer help
> when I've made simple modifications.  It makes the case of using the software
> unmodified easier, but the case of using it modified is just as important,
> and there won't always be a free third-party mirror available--the existance
> or lack of an FTP server can't sanely change whether a license is free or not.
> I think that, for this discussion, we should assume every piece of relevant
> software is modified, since that's the hardest case to get right.  If you
> can get that case to work, unmodified use should be easy.

Agreed; if the license is not free for modified use (where you need to
distribute the modified version yourself), it is not free.

However, you didn't respond to the fact that you are allowed to
recoup your costs; does that affect your argument that a requirement to
distribute source is excessively burdensome?

>>>In practice, none of this, when applied to binary distribution (GPL), has ever
>>>been a serious problem for me: binaries and source tend to be of a similar
>>>magnitude in size--making a 5-meg source available with a 5-meg binary is
>>>generally not a big jump.  Making a 6-meg source available with a 10k
>>>source file, however, is different by several orders of magnitude.  I
>>>would not use Apache if it was under this type of license; it fails my
>>>personal "pain in the ass" test.
>>I can think of many cases where the source is larger or more onerous to
>>distribute than the binary.  Consider the case where the binary is in an
>>embedded system. Also consider the case when the "binary" is a printed
>>book, or a reference card, or a printed handout.
> I don't think requiring distribution of source that's 600 times the size
> of the actual data being served by the daemon is reasonable at all.

What if you are distributing a book, or a handout, or a flyer, or a
reference card, and you suddenly have to either include a CD of source
with every copy, or include an offer to provide source?  That could
certainly be considered onerous, and yet it is considered to be Free.

I can also easily imagine scenarios for the GPL where the source is far
larger than the binary; the kernel source is 30-40MB compressed, and
kernels can be compiled to fit on a single floppy.  The same is true for
the build trees of most embedded systems; the source is far larger than
the actual space on the device.

The requirement to provide source under the GPL does some cases prevents
people from distributing their modifications, since they have the
resources to host the binaries but not the much larger source.
Nevertheless, we do not consider the GPL non-free.

> All of this aside, this still looks like a use restriction.  Are there
> any functional use restrictions which we currently allow?

The BSD advertising clause (although there are many who would like to
change that, myself probably included).  That's probably irrelevant in
this case.

Personally, I don't think this is a use restriction, because I think
using software to provide services to others goes beyond your own use,
since it involves others; those others deserve freedom as well.

I believe that the point of Free Software is to give the users of
software freedom over that software.  The GPL achieves this, for the
most part; it does so by assuming that in  order to use software, you
must have a copy of it, so someone must have distributed it to you, and
therefore the GPL can achieve freedom for users by placing requirements
on distributors to provide source code and grant all the freedoms of the
GPL.  However, this assumption is not always true; it is quite possible
to use software without having a copy of it.

- Josh Triplett

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