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Re: The "Evil Cookie Producer" case

On Mon, 07 Mar 2011 at 11:04:11 +0100, Bruno Lowagie wrote:
> This is what the end consumer wants,
> and this is what 1T3XT wants, regardless of the opinion of any other
> party in-between.

I think there's an important distinction between "I believe that it's
beneficial for everyone that this is done", "this is sufficiently important
that someone should cause it to be legally binding", and "this is sufficiently
important that I, personally, need to enforce it via my copyright license".

I'd like it if nobody forked my Free Software and everyone sent me patches for
their changes, but there seems to be a general consensus (which I agree with)
that enforcing this via a license is too high a price to pay for this good
behaviour - the right to fork is also valuable. So, I can request it, but if
I try to enforce it we consider that to be a non-Free restriction.

A couple of relevant things to think about: suppose I fork iText (and call it

* Do you intend your extra term to force me to put iText in the producer line,
  which is arguably not true any more since I'm using a modified version
  with exciting new bugs?

* Or, do you intend your extra term to force me to put smcvText, or
  "smcvText (based on iText)", in the producer line?

* If I don't do either (or if I choose the wrong one!), presumably when you
  found out you'd ask me to fix that. If I refused, would you sue me? If the
  answer is "no" then it doesn't seem as though you'd have gained anything by
  adding the term to the license; there's no point jumping through hoops to
  make something enforcable if you're not going to enforce it.

I don't think your extra term complies with AGPL 7(b) as it claims, because
7(b) requires preservation of legal notices/attributions in "material you add
to a covered work" or in "the Appropriate Legal Notices displayed by works
containing it" - you can force people to keep your attribution in iText's
Help -> About or --version output or equivalent, but I don't think this
applies to iText's *output* (unless its output contains enough of a copy of
iText that all PDFs produced by it are *also* covered by the AGPL, but I think
that'd imply a lot of practical problems anyway). So, you've effectively
created an AGPL-like, but incompatible, license.

Because of your modified license, I can't combine iText with code from
another GPL'd or AGPL'd work. Is that an acceptable price to pay? We strongly
discourage the use of non-standard licenses because of practical problems like
these. A non-standard license can be DFSG-compliant but still a bad idea
(look at OpenSSL and all the practical problems that's caused).

In this particular situation I'd suggest making the extra term a non-binding
request, something like:

    The author of this software requests that you retain the iText producer
    line in every PDF that is created or manipulated using iText.

or even:

    The author of this software requests [...etc...] to facilitate debugging
    of any post-processing issues and [... other reasons? ...]

or even just insert similar wording as a comment in the source code, next to
the code that adds the producer line. Anyone who's not being deliberately
awkward will probably comply with your request, particularly if the reasons
are as compelling as you imply, and if they *are* being deliberately awkward,
perhaps they don't deserve your help :-)


Rather off-topic, but back to your cookie analogy: I don't think using
copyright law or private contracts as a way to enforce "may contains nuts"
labelling would be appropriate either. The reason that those labels are
legally mandated (in many countries) is that society has decided that the
burden of labelling products is an acceptable price to pay for not having
people who're allergic to nuts accidentally eating them and dying. If it's
important enough to be enforced (and IMO it is), then it's important enough to
be enforced for everyone, not just users of your particular brand of
cookie-making machines. Enforcing society's consensus on everyone, so
individuals don't have to, is what governments are for...

In the "desert island" situation, attempting to create unrelated laws via
copyright seems rather futile; if there's nobody who can enforce safety
labelling, probably nobody's enforcing copyright either.

(I hope your analogy is exaggerated and nobody actually has an
anaphylactic-shock reaction to iText output :-)


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