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Re: Affero General Public License

"Benj. Mako Hill" <mako@debian.org> writes:
> <quote who="Jeremy Hankins" date="Wed, Feb 08, 2006 at 11:35:55AM -0500">

>> Isn't this exactly what the Affero bit and GPLv3(7d) do?  They also
>> "bring copyright into the interactions between [ASP software] and
>> [...]  users".
> No. They provide a narrowly defined restriction on modification --
> something uncontroversially within the exclusive rights of copyright
> holders today. The fact that it's being done to preserve freedom is no
> different than earlier copyleft. Both merely piggyback on what we
> already have.

Others have already made the point that the AGPL is not a narrowly
defined restriction -- that it's actually quite significant and
ill-defined under certain circumstances.

But the question of whether this is a use restriction or a modification
restriction is an interesting one.  I believe that it is an attempt to
accomplish a restriction on use via a restriction on modification.  The
intent behind both the AGPL and GPLv3(7d) is fairly easy to summarize:
don't offer this software as a service to others unless you also offer
the source.  Unfortunately, offering the software as a service to others
is neither copying nor modification.  So any attempt to put this
restriction naturally into a license will be a use restriction (or
possibly a public performance restriction).

One thing that has come up multiple times on d-l is that when license
writers move away from describing what they want done and instead start
dictating the method for doing something complications start springing
up like weeds.[1]  Invariably only a very little bit of thought is
needed to come up with loopholes or collateral damage -- and usually

That is what the AGPL does, and what GPLv3(7d) seems to encourage others
to do.  It's something that might conceivably be possible, but Very
Hard.  That's why I very much doubt that it is possible to implement
this restriction as a restriction on modification without a lot of
unintended consequences.  If it's to be done at all, I think it best to
simply go ahead and make it a use restriction (or possibly public
performance); the end result will be much cleaner and simpler.

I'm not recommending that by any means.  Your point about pushing the
edges of copyright is important.  But if the choice is between
(relatively) simple, clean and clear wording on use, or messy wording
with lots of corner cases and unintended consequences on modification,
I'll vote for the former.

>> I have serious doubts that it can be done in a way that is both weak
>> enough to pass DFSG muster and avoid practical problems, and strong
>> enough to satisfy those who are concerned about this loophole.
> Clearly, the first half is up to us. Some people arguing against this
> license seem to think that *any* attempts puts us on the wrong side of
> the spirit of the DFSG.

I think many people (including myself) think that any attempt will *in
fact* put the license on the wrong side of the DFSG.  I'd be happy to be
proven wrong.  When this issue came up on d-l in the past (about the
AGPL and the APSL) I spent some time trying to think about how it might
be done.  At this point I'm fairly certain that it can't be done as a
restriction on modification.

>> In the end, I think that those who are concerned about the ASP
>> loophole are missing something fundamental about how the free
>> software community works.  They fail to appreciate how much it is
>> dependant on the good will and respect with which we treat each
>> other, and the social pressures we are able to bring to bear on
>> offenders against the communities values.  Without that dynamic,
>> free software would not work.  With it, I don't believe that the ASP
>> loophole is a problem.
> If that were the case, we shouldn't need copyleft either IMHO.

I don't think that we do need it today in the same way we needed it a
couple of decades ago.  But that's another issue, and I'd be happy
to talk about it off list if you want.

[1] This, incidently, is the beauty of the "preferred form for
modification" definition of source.  It gets around all the messy
details of what is and is not source code and addresses the central
issue itself: being able to modify the work.

Jeremy Hankins <nowan@nowan.org>
PGP fingerprint: 748F 4D16 538E 75D6 8333  9E10 D212 B5ED 37D0 0A03

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