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Dispelling BSD License Misconceptions 202

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the deflating-the-demons dept.
AlanS2002 writes "Groklaw is hosting an article by Brendan Scott which looks at the misconceptions surrounding the BSD license. From the article: 'We observe that there exists a broad misconception that the BSD permits the licensing of BSD code and modifications of BSD code under closed source licenses. In this paper we put forward an argument to the effect that the terms of the BSD require BSD code and modifications to BSD code to be licensed under the terms of the BSD license. We look at some possible consequences and observe that this licensing requirement could have serious impacts on the unwary.'"
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Dispelling BSD License Misconceptions

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  • by Watson Ladd (955755) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:06PM (#17617040)
    The MIT license looks like it explictly permits relicensing. Would someone more qualified in the legal art then me care to comment?
  • It's Funny. Laugh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nuzak (959558) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:19PM (#17617206) Journal
    This novel interpretation of the BSD license requires various syntax games with the license text that simply aren't supported by common sense interpretation. And yes, while common sense may not be the output of much of any area of law, contract law included, it's still got a lot of weight as input.

    It's not a viral license, no matter how much anyone wants to twist their personal interpretation of it. All in all, it's pretty funny, telling the licensors how they actually intended a different outcome than what they, well, intended.
  • Re:Good news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Undertaker43017 (586306) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:23PM (#17617252)
    Would that signal the start of the Armageddon? Since surely releasing Windows source code upon humanity would constitute a plague of some sort.
  • Re:Fascinating (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Timesprout (579035) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:24PM (#17617260)
    Its not facinating, its more license genital tugging that OSS seems obsessed with. The argument itself is untested, weak and clearly contrary to the spirit of the BSD license which ultimately is quite liberal so even if the assumptions made in the argument were true little would actually change. Reads more like a GPL is the best license in the world scare tactic.
  • by LurkerXXX (667952) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:34PM (#17617386)
    Call a spade a spade. It's not a 'novel interpretation', it's FUD.

    Someone who want all software to be 'open' only in the GPL notion is trying to spread FUD that the truely free BSD license also has the same viral restrictions. Don't buy it, don't spread it. It's FUD.

    To the author of this crap 'interpretation': If you want your software under GPL, then write it that way, but don't try to spread crap about the BSD license.
  • by Secret Rabbit (914973) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:40PM (#17617450) Journal
    Personally, I think that this is just an attempt to make the BSD license somewhat equivalent to the GPL just so that people will use the GPL more. After all, we all know that the GNU Foundation has gotten really active with regards to activism:

    http://linux.slashdot.org/linux/06/12/31/010221.sh tml [slashdot.org]

    And the BSD/MIT licenses are the GPL's nearest competitor according to a poll here at /. (yes, I know that polls here aren't exactly accurate, but it does provide a indicator).

    http://slashdot.org/pollBooth.pl?qid=1364&aid=-1 [slashdot.org]

    All this is is twisted lawyers, writing twisted conclusions based on twisted sophistry. It is nonsense.
  • by twitter (104583) on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:50PM (#17617604) Homepage Journal

    Personally I care more about other people being able to benefit from my code than preventing corporations from using it for profit.

    The problem comes when a company claims "ownership" of your code and then determines who benefits and under what contitions. That's what happens when you don't worry enough to make things right.

    A great example of such a theft is Macsyma [wikipedia.org](tediously detailed article that's nice but misses the point), the grand-daddy of Maple, MathCAD, Mathematica and many other symbolic algebra systems. It was developed, largely at public expense by people who expected the public to be able to have it. Instead, the results were "commercialized" in the 80's. A single copy of the original code [sourceforge.net](much better history, as you would expect from a free software project) survived thanks to the efforts of Bill Schelter [wikipedia.org], a GNU Common Lisp author and one of the first to port GCC to i386. Schelter managed to convince the DOE to let him legally distribute that code ... 20 years after it had been stolen from the public. Since then, development has been speedy and it will not be long before the quality matches or exceeds current commercial packages. The next time you spend a hundred bucks on one of it's commercial derivatives, remember that you might have had a free version a decade ago.

    So, before you freely give your life's effort to others, you might consider what they will really do to other people with it and chose an explicit license that suits your real tastes. The GPL is the most common choice made and there's a reason for that. The same old assholes are up to new tricks, like "trusted computing" that are designed to lock everyone but themselves out of the market. In the future, if they have their way, you will not be able to run your code on commercial hardware. Is that the kind of thing you want to support in any way?

  • by Ded Bob (67043) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:13PM (#17617966) Homepage
    The GPL is the most common choice made and there's a reason for that.

    Maybe I misunderstood the history of Macsyma, but it sounds like the GPL would never have helped since the original code was not public in the first place.

    I believe all government source should be public domain or MIT-licensed for all to use. No particular party should have control of it within the bounds of the government. If a company wants to commercialize it or others want to GPL it, that is fine. Since everyone from companies to individuals pay taxes for its development, everyone should have full access to develop and use it in any way.
  • by GigsVT (208848) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:21PM (#17618104) Journal
    In case you haven't notice, GPL licensed code is way more widely used than BSD licensed code.

    You could equally say that by making the BSD sound GPL like, it's an attempt to show people that the BSD license is just as good as the GPL at protecting the rights of the people receiving the software.
  • *sigh* (Score:4, Insightful)

    by w3woody (44457) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:32PM (#17618284) Homepage
    Look, when I release software under a BSD-like license, my intent as the owner of the work is to do the following:

    (1) Permit people to do whatever they want with the software--including relicensing the software, so long as
    (2) if you use my software, you don't then plaster my name all over it as if I endorce whatever cause or crappy software you're creating, and
    (3) you don't sue my ass if and when the software you downloaded from me breaks.

    Basically, do what you want--just leave me out of it.

    In one sense the article is correct: in imposing a new license you cannot remove the old one. But as the intent of the old license is to cover my ass and keep my name around so people know what sort of a cool dude I am, so long as the new license also covers my ass and keeps my name around so people know what sort of a cool dude I am, I don't see the problem--either from a common-sense perspective or from a legal one.
  • Fundamental error (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nsayer (86181) * <nsayer&kfu,com> on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:57PM (#17618718) Homepage
    My analysis of the paper is that the author confuses what is permitted with what is required.

    Let's take a look:

    Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:
    So long as you include the disclaimer as required, and you don't use the author's name in vain, you can do as you like.

    There is no part of the license that says that you cannot distribute modified forms under more restrictive licensing, provided that you also perform the acts required by the BSD license and require the same of any sub-licensees that distribute. There is no part of the license that says that you cannot distirbute UNmodified forms under more restrictive licensing, but presumably anyone receiving a copy from you under more restrictive licensing could figure out that you obtained it from a source that merely required adherence to the BSD license, throw away the copy you provided and get their own.

    In general, acts that are not specified as prohibited in a contract (in this case the license is a contractural term. You are agreeing to abide by the license in return for being provided value in the form of the code covered by the license) are permitted (modulo exceptions that aren't worthy of mention here). Since sublicensing is not mentioned, it is permitted - provided the original conditions are always met by anyone redistributing and/or using the code.

  • by CDarklock (869868) on Monday January 15, 2007 @04:09PM (#17618866) Homepage Journal
    I see at least one glaring flaw in the reasoning. The author states that redistribution of modified source code is a distribution of source code and hence it must be distributed under those restrictions.

    But redistribution of unrelated source code is also a distribution of source code. Why stop at applying the license to source code written explicitly to extend the licensed code? You could extend it to source code written by anyone using the licensed code, whether their new code interacts with the licensed code or not. In fact, if you interpret the license literally, you could extend the license to any and all source code everywhere - even if the author never agreed to the license. It doesn't say "any distribution of THIS source code", it says "any distribution of source code". That could mean any source code by anyone, anywhere in the world! This license actually out-virals the GPL, by requiring everyone everywhere to release all of their code under the BSD license... even if they don't know it!

    Of course, it would be patently absurd to suggest that the license applies in this way, yet this is precisely the sort of argument the author uses. The ambiguity of the phrase "any distribution of source code" is the focal point of his premise, but it's clear to anyone with half a brain that the license applies only to redistribution of the code that already contains it. The argument is nothing more than an exercise in mental masturbation.

  • by nagora (177841) on Monday January 15, 2007 @05:11PM (#17619772)
    Including an attribution/disclaimer is NOT viral under the generally held meaning of viral. All changes don't have to be given back to the community.

    True, but the BSD license goes further than the disclaimer and attribution: "Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.". That's the viral bit. Viral has nothing to do with giving back to the community, it is simply a question of whether the license can be removed by someone that modifies the code. BSD can't be. End of story. The interesting question here is what the implications are IF the code does find its way into "the community". What effect does that have on any copyright claims?

  • don't be confused (Score:4, Insightful)

    by m.dillon (147925) on Monday January 15, 2007 @06:52PM (#17621374) Homepage
    The BSD license isn't viral, don't get confused. It is the viral nature of the GPL that restricts how you can license your additions.

    If you take and modify a piece of GPLed code (that you did not write in the first place), and you wish to distribute or sell the resulting source and/or binaries, you are required under the GPL to basically licence your additions under the same terms, including making your modifications available in source form. The only way around the requirement is if you contact all the authors that created the original work and get permission from all of them to operate on the source under a different license (that is, for the original authors to re-issue the same source to you under a different license). This is nearly impossible for very large GPLed projects but, of course, very easy for small projects since there are only a handful of original authors. Some projects require that submissions sign over their rights to the project to give the project the ability to change the license it is distributed under (I believe the GCC project does this, for example, and MySQL forked off a proprietary dist using the same method). Baring this permission you can only modify the code under the terms of the license.

    If you take and modify a piece of BSD code you are NOT required under the BSD licence to put your additions under the same terms. You can do whatever you want with your derived work, including selling it without disclosing your modifications. All the BSD license does is prevent you from removing the BSD copyright and licensing lines from the source code, and requires you to identify in documentation that your code was derived from BSD. In particular, this means that you can add whatever conditions you like to the combined (derivative) work, as long as they are not contrary to the original BSD license. That is, you cannot remove the requirement that your documentation contain a copy of the BSD copyright notice and licence. But it certainly does not in any way require that that be the ONLY copyright notice and license pertaining to the derived work.

    Any third party is welcome to take the original BSD code and do whatever they want to it under only the terms of the BSD license. But if they want to take your modified work they have to adhere to both the BSD license and your own.

    Only an idiot would think otherwise. I swear, where these people get their ideas is beyond me.

    It's that simple. Think of the BSD license simply as published pure science... that is the closest parallel to its intent.

    -Matt

  • Re:He's half right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Brandybuck (704397) on Monday January 15, 2007 @10:48PM (#17623972) Homepage Journal
    Please point to the clause that allows you to do this.

    Condition number 1 says redistribution of the source code must retain the license (copyright, conditions, disclaimer). Condition number 2 says that redistribution of binaries must be accompanied by the license.

    You may of course, rudely wrap the BSD license inside of the GPL. Examples would be distributing a package under the GPL even though the software inside it was BSD. You cannot restrict the user from redistributing the package contents under the terms BSD license, so attempting to place GPL restrictions on the package would be rather pointless. But I've seen people try.
  • Re:Arcane (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pyrrhonist (701154) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @01:04AM (#17625070)
    How would you formulate the license of your code in such a way that (a) contains the BSD-license and (b) it only applies to the BSD part of the code and not to the code you wrote yourself, which EULA style. To make it interesting: you're distributing it as a single binary.

    There are different styles, so consult your lawyer. One good example is Apple iTunes which has a file called, "Acknowledgements.rtf", in its main directory which contains the following:

    Portions of this Apple Software may utilize the following copyrighted material, the use of which is hereby acknowledged.

    This is then followed by the text of the OpenSSL license, which is a BSD-type license. The OpenSSL license contains the following text:

    This product includes cryptographic software written by Eric Young (eay@cryptsoft.com). This product includes software written by Tim Hudson (tjh@cryptsoft.com).

    So the attribution file contains a license that contains an attribution. Apparently this is enough for both Apple and OpenSSL to legally license their software under their own licenses while including the work of others. Maybe this is enough for your company too, consult your friendly neighborhood IP lawyer for details...

  • by LizardKing (5245) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @05:38AM (#17626558)

    This seems like FUD to me, not something I would expect from Groklaw.

    Oh come on, this is Groklaw - where any company other than IBM and any license other than the GPL are evil. PJ has done some useful work uncovering the dishonesty of SCO in their dispute with IBM, but whenever she or her contributors comments on other issues they totally balls it up. Rather than asking for an explanation of the BSD license from a FreeBSD, NetBSD or OpenBSD developer, perhaps even from the license authors at the University of California, Groklaw come up with this crap. Quite frankly, I'll be glad when the SCO-IBM case is over and Groklaw becomes an irrelevance.

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