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Re: Taking a position on anti-patent licenses (was ' Re: Bug#289856: mdnsresponder: Wrong license')

Steve Langasek wrote:
> On Sun, Jan 23, 2005 at 08:42:07PM +1300, Nick Phillips wrote:
>>On Sat, Jan 22, 2005 at 10:19:39PM +0000, MJ Ray wrote:
>>>Marco d'Itri <md@Linux.IT> wrote:
>>>>mjr@dsl.pipex.com wrote:
>>>>>Do you really want to argue that software under licences which try to
>>>>>affect other pieces of unrelated software meets the DFSG?
>>>>Yes, because I do not believe that it is a "restriction on other
>>>A licence essentially saying "you can copy if you don't enforce your
>>>patents infringed by me" doesn't restrict other software? Is your
>>>position coloured by a desire to defeat software patents at any cost?
>>>I don't think it's worth sacrificing free software in order to try to
>>>kill swpat.
>>Not at any cost. Not sacrificing free software. But still working to defeat
>>software patents. What's wrong with that?
>>I don't have a strong position on the desirability or otherwise of the
>>license clauses which are now cropping up trying to defeat software patents.
>>I'm inclined to think that they could be a good thing, if written very
>>carefully indeed.

I would agree with that.

>>But either way, I think that it would be a good idea for the project to
>>have a thorough discussion of the issue, and come to a position, rather
>>than treating them piecemeal as we have been to date.
> I think that's a discussion that belongs on -project.

Fine by me, but please keep the CC to -legal; while this is a
"non-technical topic related to the Debian Project", it is also a
"Discussion about legality issues such as copyrights, patents etc.".
Furthermore, it should be exposed to a wider audience.

>>So. The proposition to discuss would appear to be along the lines of:
>>    Debian accepts that it may in certain circumstances be desirable
>>    (or at least acceptable) for software licenses to limit certain
>>    freedoms in order better to protect Free Software as a whole. A
>>    current example of this would be the GPL, and the conditions it
>>    places on distribution of derived works -- basically that they
>>    must be distributed with source, under the terms of the GPL.
>>    In the light of the threat that software patents pose to Free
>>    Software, we believe that it is likewise acceptable for software
>>    licenses to place conditions on the use of software patents
>>    against Free Software authors and distributors.
> I think this is too broad of a statement to actually build a consensus
> around.  Which is to say, I don't agree with it because it doesn't specify
> which "conditions" it's acceptable to place on the use of software patents.
> Saying "yes, restrictions are ok" opens the flood gates for people assuming
> that all kinds of abusive restrictions are acceptable.

I agree that this proposition is not specific enough about the types of
conditions that we consider acceptable.  I would propose the following
addition to the above text, which I believe specifies a set of
acceptable conditions that many on -legal agree with:

Requiring that distributors of a piece of software refrain from making
accusations of patent infringement regarding the software itself is
consistent with the goal of upholding the freedoms of users over that
software.  As such, we consider license condititions acceptable that
terminate a licensee's rights to the software if that licensee raises a
patent lawsuit claiming that the software in question infringes their

However, many software licenses choose to go further than that,
requiring that distributors refrain entirely from engaging in patent
lawsuits against any authors of the software, regardless of whether
those lawsuits are related to the software or not.  We do not support
the practice of patenting software, but we find it unacceptable for
licenses to place requirements which pertain to other, independent
works.  We believe this policy is consistent with the principles behing
in Debian Free Software Guideline 9, "License Must Not Contaminate Other

What do others think of this proposal?

- Josh Triplett

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