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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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  • Re:Fascinating (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:19PM (#17617194)
    It's interesting. It wouldn't turn out to be the first "too clever by a half license" the Artistic license, for example also turned out to not be clear enough. The worst about this isn't that the license may be wrong; that can be fixed. It's that it shows that they weren't thinking clearly enough about the legal aspects. How many other skeletons may they have? I guess that's what caused the AT&T lawsuit and it's another reason to try to be as careful as the Free Software Foundation.
  • by baadger (764884) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:20PM (#17617216)
    ...personally I'd rather declare any code I produce to belong to the Public Domain or just keep it entirely closed and private. The way law is makes anything else a headache. Seriously, if even lawyers can't agree on anything why does anyone in the Open Source community even bother? Personally I care more about other people being able to benefit from my code than preventing corporations from using it for profit.

    SQLite [sqlite.org] is released to the public domain and it's some damn fine code.
  • Arcane (Score:5, Interesting)

    by radtea (464814) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:24PM (#17617254)

    They seem to be saying this:

    1) The BSD license clause 3 says the FOLLOWING conditions must apply.

    2) They wonder if "apply" means "apply" or something else, like "apple" or "penguin".

    3) They note that one of the FOLLOWING conditions is the warranty.

    4) They wonder if one of the PRECEDING conditions (clause 2) ought to be handled the same way as the the warranty.

    In a narrowly construed legal sense they may have a point.

    In a human being sense, if anyone has ever wondered why we all hate lawyers and think they are wankers, this is pretty much it.

    It is, of course, impossible to create an unambigous document, and yet lawyers pretend to be able to do this, and then make a fortune out of their failures.

    No one, ever, anywhere, has ever had any question as to what the BSD license means. So clearly there is a valid and correct reading that means what everyone knows it to mean. So clearly any reading that completely reverses that meaning must be making a mistake somewhere.

    This post, by the way, can be interpreted as a love sonnet addressed to a musk ox, if you look at it closely enough and make up the meaning of a sufficiently large number of words, and wonder when I say, "it is, of course, impossible to create an unambigous document" if I really mean, "misey were the borogoves, and the momrath outrabe."

  • Re:Fascinating (Score:3, Interesting)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:49PM (#17617588) Homepage Journal
    Does mean we can legally reverse engineer that binary to see what proprietary extensions they have made to the original BSD licensed code however.. and, if we were doing decompilation, the resulting "source code" would be BSD licensed too.
  • Re:Fascinating (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:52PM (#17617654)
    The BSD license doesn't mean that you have to release the source code to any modification/redistributions. It just says that modifications/redistributions (weather that is source, binary or both) have to be released under the BSD license. In that regard I don't think it would have much impact on Apple (I presume you are referring to Mac OS X) or Microsoft (I presume you are talking about their FTP app.

    I think your understanding of the license is basically correct, but you don't seem to be seeing the implications.

    There is one point that has a huge effect on both Microsoft and Apple: redistribution in any form not explicitly allowed by the licence is prohibited. That's standard copyright law. Additionally, you can't add licensing terms that conflict with the original terms. It's unclear to me whether or not you can add any terms at all (e.g., by adding the GPL to it).

    That means one of two possible things: either Apple and Microsoft are in violation of copyright because they are redistributing code that incorporates BSD code under a more restrictive non-BSD license, or the recipient of said code has the rights to the binaries under the BSD license (and can thus freely redistribute the binary!).

    Those are surprising and far-reaching conclusions.

    With respect to Microsoft, it could have a big impact, because they incorporate BSD code into their TCP/IP stack if I'm not mistaken. In the case of OSX, a very large amount of the code is BSD code or incorporates BSD code. In both cases, they relicense the binary code under a far more restrictive (as regards redistribution) license than the BSD license.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 15, 2007 @04:02PM (#17617812)
    Is re-licensing really that important?

    The BSD license means that you can do what you want with the code, as long as you display the license. Plain and simple. So if you modify BSD licensed code (and compile it), the code you didn't write but used is under the BSD license (meaning you can do what you want) and you can license your own code however you want.

    What the article is trying to argue is that you must include the license with the distribution, ignoring that it can be specified that different licenses can be specified for subsections of code. IANAL, but the key word in the sentence that I think they abuse is "redistributions" which I interpret to be "redistributions of the code that this license applies to" rather than "distributions of this code and other code". And I think that the word "redistributions" rather than "distributions" argues my point.

    Even if their definition was the correct one, it still wouldn't matter to most (such as MS), because redistributing the source code is a choice left to the programmer.

    This seems like FUD to me, not something I would expect from Groklaw.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 15, 2007 @05:26PM (#17619098)
    As I stated earlier, it says "redistributions of source code..." not "distributions of source code..." implying that it only applies to something given to you. Thus you have control over your software, but not the software given to you. (Thus not permit redistribution of the whole binary, which sounds like the argument in the Merchant of Venice when Shylock was permitted the pound of flesh, but not a drop of blood and I leave as an open question for people knowledgeable in law and CS as to how it would be resolved)

    As for the NDA, that would depend on how it is written. But if you legally agree not to use product x, even though you're allowed to, you still can't use product x.
  • Re:Fascinating (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Aim Here (765712) on Monday January 15, 2007 @05:29PM (#17619136)
    The argument might be weak and contrary to what most people think about the BSD license, but it's not necessarily untested; there was one instance where the holders of a BSD-licensed copyright argued something similar.

    The email client pine used to be nominally BSD-licensed, until the FSF tried to make a GPLed version. Then Washington University got all sniffy about relicensing, claimed that the BSD license didn't say what everybody thought it said (something about distribution being allowed, and modification being allowed, but distributing modified versions being not allowed)and threatened legal action against the FSF. The FSF backed down before any lawsuit took place (it's probably good politics not to piss off a University), and Washington changed the license so that everybody understood what they meant.

    So the one test case where someone got lawyers involved over the wording of the BSD license went in favour of a nonstandard reading of the license.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 15, 2007 @06:17PM (#17619884)
    Redistributions ... with or without modification, are permitted... This is a throwback to a classic "artist" problem where artists claim that they made a work a certain way, and they want it to stay that way. Since programmers typically don't think of their work as "perfect", changes aren't so taboo, but just to be sure the license explicitly states that modifications are legal.

    Again, it all comes down to redistributions implying code given rather than code written, for the part that you are puzzled on.

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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