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Re: geotrans license: asking for advice

On Thu, 9 Oct 2008 19:20:11 +0200 Roberto Lumbreras wrote:

> Hi...

Hi!  :)

> I have packaged a nice software called geotrans (ITP #468918):
> http://earth-info.nga.mil/GandG/geotrans/
> The problem is that the license says:
> "NGA hereby grants to each user of the software a license to use and
> distribute the software, and develop derivative works."
> Unfortunately, this doesn't explicitly permit the distribution of
> derivative works, so it is non-free and ftp-masters rejected my first upload.

I agree that this lack of explicit permission to distribute derivative
works is a show-stopper.

> I've asked the authors to clarify this, and I recently got a mail saying:
> > Please find an updated "Terms of Use" for GEOTRANS. Our position is that
> > derivative works may be distributed, if they adhere to these "Terms." A
> > new version (GEOTRANS 2.4.2) will be made available shortly.

Their position is that "derivative works may be distributed", but
nonetheless they didn't make the license any more explicit on this
point, it seems!
This is unfortunate, since relying on an e-mail message that could have
been written without review and approval by NGA legal department (or
whoever has the authority to decide licensing matters there) does not
seem to be safe enough, IMHO.

> I have asked them again to clarify these points:
> > Could you please change that sentence to: "NGA hereby grants to each user
> > of the software a license to use and distribute the software,  develop and
> > distribute derivative works." ?

Did they reply to your request?
Are they going to clarify the license terms?

> >
> > In point 2 it is clear that credit must be given to the software and that the
> > name of "geotrans" can not be used in derivative works. But... fixing a bug
> > in the source, or changing something is a derivative work?

I think that someone could argue that fixing a bug is creating a
derivative work...  Name-change clauses are always tricky, even though
they are considered acceptable due to DFSG#4.

> >
> > I had modified geotrans sources to adapt them to the Debian Operating
> > System, that changes are only to compile (makefile changes) and build
> > geotrans (missing import directives for my compiler) from the source, and
> > some small changes to make the help work in Debian (netscape changed to
> > x-www-browser and the directory where help files are). I have also modified
> > the geotrans icon so it has a transparent background.
> >
> > All of that changes I understand they are not derivative works, so the name of
> > "geotrans" can be used in the Debian distribution of geotrans. Do you agree?

Maybe, in order to be on the safe side, you could change the name
upfront, so that you never have to worry again about how much you are
digressing from upstream.

> What should I do? What do you think?

My own personal opinion [1] is that a good plan consists of the
following steps:

 * persuade upstream to clarify the license terms on the derivative
distribution permission [2]
 * change the name of the package when it's (almost) painless, that is
to say: now [3]

[1] my usual disclaimers apply: IANAL, TINLA, IANADD, TINASOTODP

[2] please note that persuading upstream to adopt a widely known and
accepted DFSG-meeting license (such as the Expat/MIT license:
http://www.jclark.com/xml/copying.txt) would be far better, if possible

[3] unless you manage to get the license changed to the Expat, of
course (see note [2])

 On some search engines, searching for my nickname AND
 "nano-documents" may lead you to my website...  
..................................................... Francesco Poli .
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