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Getting Through the FOSS License Minefield 96

Posted by timothy
from the well-it's-more-like-a-small-blackberry-thicket dept.
dotancohen writes "Here's an exercise: Write a GPLed server for solving Freecell that the graphical game would communicate with using TCP/IP or a different IPC mechanism. Easy, right? Except for that pesky licensing bit. Our own Shlomi Fish gives an overview of the various options in picking up a licence for one's FOSS project, and tries to give some guidelines choosing one."
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Getting Through the FOSS License Minefield

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  • Boiling it Down (Score:4, Informative)

    by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:34AM (#29186483)

    The final paragraph is a pretty good summary of the author's viewpoint:

    Finally I'd rather have a proprietary derived work than no derived program at all, or that instead someone will duplicate my effort in creating a BSD-style or a proprietary replacement for my work.

    The author doesn't trust regional variations in the treatment of the public domain. The author doesn't really care about Free Software, much less Open Source software. And as such, his opinion is to use a license that enforces the general understanding of the public domain.

  • by minsk (805035) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:48AM (#29186687)

    Not a lawyer. IMO.

    Problem being that without a license, nobody else is permitted to distribute your software. Depending on your and their local laws, they might not be allowed to copy or run it. And if the software causes any damages, you're quite likely liable for them. So, to protect both yourself and the recipient, always specify an explicit license.

    The other part is that licenses need not be complicated. The Simplified BSD [freebsd.org] and MIT [opensource.org] licenses are about as trivial as it gets: keep this label, and don't sue me bro. The GNU GPL [gnu.org] is much longer, because it's approaching a harder problem: making sure that people who extend your software don't limit their users.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:23AM (#29187205)

    BSD/PD: sample reference implementation. maximize use

    LGPL: programs intended to be used as libraries. maximize use ensuring that goodies in the lib get back to your project.

    GPL: complete standalone applications. ensure one can't fork closed source version with improvements.

    GPL2/GPL3: same thing.

    GPL "or any later version": stupid. Nobody signs any latter version contracts.

    of course, some companies fight GPL by hiring people to write BSD versions of existing (L)GPL stuff but the thing is that if it wasn't for linux we'd have:

    - FreeBSD: operational but poor
    - BSDI: closed source fork of BSD with cool stuff added

  • by IBBoard (1128019) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:43AM (#29187519) Homepage

    Exactly. I recently changed some of my code from LGPL to Affero GPL because they could be used as a back-end to a web service as well as being the back-end for an app. I'd started with LGPL because I didn't want to force a license on people, but then I changed my mind because the on-going freedom of the code was more important than what license people used. What would be ideal would have been to have had a "LGPL/GPL but allowed to link with anything else as long as it is open source", but since that isn't possible then not letting non-GPLed apps link to my library is the only option. C'est la vie.

    I think the article is summed up in one of his later headings: "Why I Prefer the MIT X11 Licence". Basically the whole thing is a "why you should use X11 and anything else is bad" article.

  • by Dionysus (12737) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:50AM (#29187625) Homepage

    ...and what "GPL" libraries would those be EXACTLY?

    GNU SASL [fsf.org], Lib Gtop [fsf.org]. Of course, the classic one is ReadLine [fsf.org].

    Now that's wasn't too hard was it?

  • by kinnell (607819) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:55AM (#29187693)
    The trouble comes when you're mixing and matching software with different licenses. GPL might seem like the shangri-la of open source licensing, but it's actually very restrictive. This is not to say that it's bad - it's very good for encouraging people to share their code, and preventing abuse of said code by comercial interests, but then you try and embed some other non-gpl code in your project and find yourself in a legal minefield. That's why the LGPL was written - if only the GPL existed, GNU/* would be missing a lot of really good software.
  • by tepples (727027) <<tepples> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:07AM (#29187915) Homepage Journal

    LAME was used in many cases for playing MP3 music.

    Like oggenc, LAME (license: LGPL, which is GPL with an exception) is an encoder, not a decoder. It does not run on the console; MP3 player software does. This makes LAME a development tool, which console makers allow to be GPL.

    If you don't think your license allows you to use FreeCell on the other end of a pipe, how about WRITING YOUR OWN Solitaire???

    What you say applies to FreeCell, but it does not apply to games that use external data. For example, if I wanted to make a game that solves levels in a platformer, I can't make my own version of the platformer that uses the same levels.

  • by minsk (805035) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:58PM (#29189733)

    There would be more, but the companies taken to court over GPL violations keep deciding to comply and settle.

    Which should tell you something :)

  • Sleepycat (Score:3, Informative)

    by tepples (727027) <<tepples> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @01:07PM (#29189899) Homepage Journal

    What would be ideal would have been to have had a "LGPL/GPL but allowed to link with anything else as long as it is open source"

    Then use the GPL, with the Sleepycat license [wikipedia.org] as a GPL linking exception [wikipedia.org].

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