[svlug] SW Licensing was:(RANT: Ubuntu is Evil)

Chris Miller lordsauronthegreat at gmail.com
Mon Jan 18 18:40:02 PST 2010

On Jan 18, 2010, at 5:40 PM, Rick Moen wrote:

> Quoting Chris Miller (lordsauronthegreat at gmail.com):
>> I simply refuse to participate in a shouting match.  It's unbecoming
>> of myself, this list, and communication in general.
> I have a better idea:  How about discussing software licensing?

OK.  Where we last left off on the last bit that was at least comprehensible to me was whether or not GPL libraries can be used in proprietary software.

The system library exception is rather ambiguous in and of itself.  But for non-system libraries, the way I read the FAQ, they cannot be used in proprietary software.

The GPL itself defines a system library as thus:

| The “System Libraries” of an executable work include anything,
| other than the work as a whole, that (a) is included in the normal
| form of packaging a Major Component, but which is not part of
| that Major Component, and (b) serves only to enable use of the
| work with that Major Component, or to implement a Standard
| Interface for which an implementation is available to the public
| in source code form. A “Major Component”, in this context, means
| a major essential component (kernel, window system, and so on)
| of the specific operating system (if any) on which the executable
| work runs, or a compiler used to produce the work, or an object
| code interpreter used to run it.

So, the system library would apply to (AFAICT) software which comes with the operating system, eg. the kernel, windowing system, etc. which I assume to extend to such things as standard C/C++ library implementation, networking stuff, and graphics libraries.

So, a system library would not extend to such things as image manipulation libraries (like imagemagik), database libraries (such as Perl's dbd), or even such silly things as my library set which includes such things as pre-chewed cartesian coordinate structures ('cuz I got tired of defining them for every project).

The way I imagine it, if someone made, for instance, an Open-Source physics library, kind of like this (http://code.google.com/p/chipmunk-physics), and it were GPL (chipmunk is MIT, but suspend reality for a little moment and pretend it were GPL,) they would ideally like it to be used in lots of places, both open and closed source.  I know Scott wants it to be used in lots of places (and it is, which is awesome).  If it were GPL, you couldn't use it in a proprietary piece of software (true, false?)

Now for a moment consider Scott.  He's just a programmer, not a lawyer.  Imagine for a moment that he knows that licensing is somehow important, but doesn't want to be bothered with it because he'd rather go work on spring-physics in the next version.  So, knowing that the GPL is "popular," he puts the preamble to the GPL in all the source files and thereby makes it a GPL project.

Whoa, that's my biggest fear!  Scott doesn't care too much if Lucas Arts uses the library - if they did he'd be flattered and like that, a lot, but if they didn't it's not going to crush all his hopes and dreams, either!  Maybe if they improve it, they'll backport something!  If not, whatever.  It was their work to extend it, they can do what they want.  But because of the GPL, Lucas Arts won't use it.  Lucas Arts is built on selling software licenses, and if something is GPL, there's nothing to stop their customers from giving out their software willy-nilly.  That's not good business sense.  If Scott had used BSD or MIT licenses, they might have used his library!

If Chipmunk could pass off as a system library, that'd be a completely different story!  Lucas Arts could use the software in their proprietary application, but any improvements they make to Chipmunk would need to be open-source.

Overall I think it's Really Important that there are ways to commercialize software.  Personally, I'd love to code all day long for open source, but there's this pesky thing called money that I have to earn.  I think there's a kind of symbiosis that goes on between open and closed source software ecosystems.  Just like me: I write closed-source software for my employer.  When I'm off the clock, I like to write FOSS stuff.  If we didn't have some kind of copyright, some kind of software monopoly system, I fear that too many FOSS coders would be out of a job and unable to continue to contribute to FOSS.  Personally, I'm not trained for anything beyond computer science.  Retraining would take time and, quite frankly, I like writing software.  I don't want to have to change careers.

Are there alternate models?  To me licensing and software business models are almost inextricably intertwined, as one serves the other.

> That's assuming you have something to say beyond "I think it's horrible
> that I cannot proprietise other programmers' property against their
> wishes, and want to complain about that."

The truly ironic thing is that I could care less about proprietarizing other people's stuff myself.  I'm just not the business type.  I really think that the more open-source software that gets put into proprietary situations, the more likely those corporations are to contribute back - which is why I care about what other people do with their property.

I honestly question that all the many GPL bits of software were made GPL by actual understanding of the license, and not because "RMS and LT use it, so it must be cool!"  The anti-proprietary undertones in the GPL seem contrary to the overall disposition of most of the FOSS-coders I've ever met.  Which makes me wonder: is it a bandwagon effect, or is it actually something that people have consciously decided to do?

And honestly, how can you expect any lazy programmer to not complain about something?  It's like asking a hot stove not to burn you when you touch it!  ;-)

Registered Linux Addict #431495
For Faith and Family! | John 3:16!

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