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Getting Through the FOSS License Minefield 96

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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  • by TofuMatt ( 1105351 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:15AM (#29186209) Homepage

    You write a piece of software, and you license it. Making something GPL might be a pain for other users who aren't interested in that license, but them's the ropes, right? It's not like GPLing your software will lead to its demise (see: Linux, WordPress, etc.).

  • Uh? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:21AM (#29186299)

    Isn't FOSS supposed to help with all that legal mumbo-jumbo?

    Believe it or not, too many options are a bad thing.

  • by IBitOBear ( 410965 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:23AM (#29186317) Homepage Journal

    GPL if you want to make people play nice.

    BSD if you don't care if people play nice.

    if GPL then GPL3 if you think corporate interests may be sniffing around later.

    Something else if you are building upon something that is licensed some other way.

    And gee, I didn't hear an explosion anywhere.

  • What's the Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:28AM (#29186377) Homepage Journal

    I only skimmed the article, but I don't understand the problem proposed by using a GPL licensed freecell solver that communicates over IP. Is he complaining that it's not "viral" enough in this case? Because this case carries no restrictions. In fact, the user, end user or server administrator, doesn't even have to agree to the terms of the GPL in this case!

    This is what he calls a minefield?!


  • WTF ?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tuxgeek ( 872962 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:37AM (#29186527)
    You write an app. To protect your work from being stolen/copied into some proprietary app later, GPL3.
    Done. What's so hard about that?
  • by The Moof ( 859402 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:38AM (#29186543)
    The GPL problem spelled out in TFA is compatibility with other licenses (IE, none). An example he even uses is OpenBSD's past quarrels with the GPL community. Instead of simply using GPL code, the BSD folks have to rebuild the same things and license them under the BSD license. They could use, the GPL'd code if they were willing to re-license the entire project under BSD (which I'm not sure is allowed under the BSD license). Here's the jist of the article:
    1. Don't use closed source
    2. Don't attempt to write your own
    3. Don't use one that isn't clear in international law
    4. Make sure GPL projects can use your licensed code
    5. Make sure non-GPL projects can use your licensed code
  • Re:WTF ?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by N3Roaster ( 888781 ) <> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:41AM (#29186589) Homepage Journal

    It's even easier in this case. The spec says GPL so you don't even need to think about the issues that might compel you to choose one license or another. Client wants GPL, client gets GPL. Copy, paste, done.

  • by minsk ( 805035 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:58AM (#29186843)

    Maybe not definitive, but they stand the vague chance of actually being right :P

    Like, for example, the summary judgment in SCO v Novell which just got tossed out, so a jury will probably need to consider to issue. Leaving the rest of your paragraph a work of creative fiction...

  • by minsk ( 805035 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:00AM (#29186865)

    Make sure non-GPL projects can use your licensed code

    Except, you know, when you don't want non-GPL projects to use it. :)

  • Useless article (Score:3, Insightful)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:03AM (#29186915) Journal

    Here I was expecting something about how license problems impeded the development of the server mentioned in the summary, and instead I just get the latest round in the BSD v. GPL controversy. Yawn.

  • And the point was? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kisa2000 ( 766934 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:11AM (#29187029) Homepage

    The author mentions on one occasion that he read the GPL v2 once and didn't understand it. And then he goes on to write an entire article about choosing the right licence for your FOSS code.

    Thats a little like me telling people that they shouldn't program in Pascal and that C is the best... even though I tried to program in Pascal once but just didn't get it.

    Is it just me?

  • You write a piece of software, and you license it. Making something GPL might be a pain for other users who aren't interested in that license, but them's the ropes, right? It's not like GPLing your software will lead to its demise (see: Linux, WordPress, etc.).

    If it's video game software, GPLing it could limit its market. Some genres aren't traditionally suitable for PCs, and the software development licensing arrangements on game consoles are GPL-incompatible.

  • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:40AM (#29187463) Homepage

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

    Without examples, this is just mindless FUD.

    QT was a great example but that's been fixed.

  • by Fourier ( 60719 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:57AM (#29187747) Journal

    if GPL then GPL v3 *and higher* (don't forget).

    Or not. The "...or higher" language implies a great deal of trust in the FSF. There is risk in making that decision: the FSF could one day release a GPL which offers terms that the developer disagrees with.

    It is entirely reasonable for a risk-averse developer to distribute software under a single well-defined license rather than an unlimited number of undefined licenses.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:05PM (#29187889)

    Go on.

    Tell us.

    If the FSF go all world-domination then release a GPL that says you shall sacrifice your first born to Molech, you just get the code under the version BEFORE the Molech-clause. You then FORK any further development to a new GPL compatible license that *doesn't have* the Molech clause in.

    Job done. People will leave the molech-clause-GPL alone and it will die.

    Now people who trusted BSD will find their code is unusable because the code is patented and the BSD doesn't cover it. So leaving out the patent poison pill is trusting the entire patent office not to screw you over. In EVERY country.

  • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <charleshixsn@ea r t h l i n> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:33PM (#29188435)

    Not specifically. The GPL largely relies on copyright law. There's LOTS of copyright law. Basically, the GPL says "Either you agree to my terms, OR you are allowed to use normal copyright terms." As such, it doesn't need (or have room for) much GPL specific case law.

  • Re:Proprietary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by burnin1965 ( 535071 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:48PM (#29188679) Homepage

    The idea that it is a "minefield" is just inflammatory nonsense.

    I suppose that depends on how you look at it.

    If your considering using open source code to add value to your product rather than invest in the development of your own software and have no desire to contribute back to the open source project that made the code available in the first place because you realize this will only make it easier for a competitor to create a competing product in the market place, then the the open source licensing options are a minefield. That pesky GPL keeps getting in the way.

    Of course that is not how this article was worded, it seems to be making an argument that for an open source developer who does not choose a license that makes it possible to create derivatives of their project as closed source is somehow stepping on a mine. So yes, it appears you are right, just a GPL troll article.

    I wonder sometimes what the motives are behind these articles that profess the importance of avoiding the GPL for your own personal open source projects. I find this one ludicrous as it boils down to "if you license your source code using the GPL then you can't use my source code".

    Well, that works both ways, and with the vast source of GPLed code out there it seems to me that this argument supports the use of the GPL in your open source projects to ensure you have access to that pool.

    And for those who don't want to use the GPL for whatever reason they don't have to, but they really should stop drooling over other peoples GPLed code and it does them no good to continue the endless whining about the GPL. They should spend their time writing their own software and releasing it under whatever license they want instead of writing inane articles about the GPL.

  • Re:Proprietary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Magic5Ball ( 188725 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @01:19PM (#29189189)

    The idea that a "minefield" is effective because of secrecy is just inflammatory nonsense.

    The intent and effect of these loud explosion-causing devices to deter opponents from using a mined area isn't exactly subtle.

    The article, the concept of a legal minefield, and the actual area denial strategy of laying mines, is that careful planning is required to how to navigate the known unknowns if the potential reward of doing so is sufficient. The article points out some issues with various non-proprietary licenses, and advocates using a particular one of those because risk/reward ratio is adequately balanced.

    In response to Hatta, which license has fewer risks or untested unknowns? A) GPL; B) MIT; C) "You may not redistribute this in any way."; D) public domain.

  • by tixxit ( 1107127 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @01:38PM (#29189429)
    In this case, I believe he is referring Slashdot story [] posted earlier this year where a company used GPL'd software (ScummVM) in a kids game []. Basically, the shit hit the fan once the lawyers at Atari found out that the Wii SDK licensing agreement explicitly prohibits open source software licenses, like the GPL.

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson