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Gentoo/FreeBSD On Hold Due To Licensing Issues 200

Alan Trick writes "Flameeyes (a Gentoo/FreeBSD developer) recently came up with some serious problems among the various *BSD projects who use BSD-4 licensed code (which is all of them). Even other projects like Open Darwin may be affected.

The saga started when he discovered the license problems with libkvm and start-stop-daemon. "libkvm is a userspace interface to FreeBSD kernel, and it's licensed under the original BSD license, BSD-4 if you want, the one with the nasty advertising clause." start-stop-daemon links to libkvm, but it's licensed under the GPL which is incompatible with the advertising clause. The good new is that the University of California/Berkley has given people permission to drop the advertising clause. The bad news is that libkvm has code from many other sources and each of them needs to give their permission for the license to be changed.

At the moment, development on the Gentoo/FreeBSD is on hold and the downloads have been removed from the Gentoo mirrors."
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Gentoo/FreeBSD On Hold Due To Licensing Issues

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  • by iainl ( 136759 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @11:48AM (#17508804)
    Basically, because if you don't give two shits about what the license says, you're better off warezing a copy of Vista and being done with the whole nonsense. It's obeying the license restrictions that makes what you're doing legal.
  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @11:52AM (#17508850)
    Anybody want to explain to me why I (as a user only) should care?

    Um, because if stuff like this doesn't get ironed out, then projects like this never get going, and you (the consumer) don't get the product/service. If you don't care about whether it's there as an option, then, right... you shouldn't care.

    Caring about it, philosophically/academically isn't the same as having the wherewithal to be a nuts-and-bolts part of resolving the problem. But if you pretend that this stuff doesn't in any way matter, then you're betraying a pretty simplistic understanding of how "free" stuff comes to exist in the first place. No question that many arguments in the F/OSS universe are of the "how many angels can dance on the head of pin" variety. But whether something is, or isn't within the bounds of the licensing model under which much of this entire area is built - well, that actually does matter. One is reminded, sometimes, though, about the old saying about why intra-staff disputes at colleges are so wicked: the drama is so big because the stakes are so small.
  • by Erwos ( 553607 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @12:04PM (#17509056)
    Unless this software came straight from UC Berkley, that escape route doesn't seem to exist. Their Office of Technology Licensing cannot unilaterally change the license on other people's code.
  • by bmac83 ( 869058 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @12:04PM (#17509060) Homepage

    Sure, it would be great if all these licenses were innately compatible. However, since they're not, it would be a disservice to the entire free software community if we were to start ignoring the provisions of each license in a spirit of universal brotherhood. As much as we all worry about challenges to the GPL, etc., in courts by open source opponents, we should not dilute open source licenses' credibility within the free software community. How seriously could the legality of these licenses be considered then?

    I think it's great that a developer took the time to notice a problem and begin the due diligence required to come to a legal, mutually-acceptable conclusion. That's the mark of a true community.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @12:08PM (#17509118) Journal

    are you suggesting I just warez IE7 and run it on my Ubuntu box simply because I don't see what their issue is?
    The issue is that the distribution is only able to distribute the code if they follow the licensing conditions. The issue doesn't affect you as an end user except in one way; if they can't legally distribute the code to you, how do you expect to get it and run it?
  • by glwtta ( 532858 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @12:18PM (#17509256) Homepage
    What "moral highground"? When you use other people's software, you are expected to comply with the license it's released under. With a lot of redistribution and integration of products with different licenses it can get a bit tricky sometimes.

    If you are only a user you would obviously care only if you are a user of that particular product, and licensing issues would prevent you from using it. Seems pretty obvious.

    Although mostly this is of interest to developers who might run into similar issues themselves.
  • by Richard Steiner ( 1585 ) <> on Monday January 08, 2007 @12:23PM (#17509328) Homepage Journal
    Much of it is free. Much of it is not free. All generalizations are false. :-)
  • by alteran ( 70039 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @12:23PM (#17509330)
    Here's a link explaining the problem. []

    I'll explain how this might affect a user like you, because at first it doesn't seem like much of a restriction: just mention UC Berkley in any advertisements featuring BSD.

    What could be simpler!

    And then seventy five other shmoes copied the provision.

    So now my voluteer website saying, "I'll help anyone, anywhere install BSD for free!!!!" needs to say:

    "I'll help anyone, anywhere install BSD* for free!!!!

    This product includes software developed by the University of California, Berkeley and its contributors.
    This product includes software developed by the alteran, who considers himself extremely l33t.
    This product includes software developed by the University of Utah and its contributors.
    This product includes software developed by Inman Software Corp, and its employees, to be used freely as long as this statement is attached. Inman Software Corp acknowledges the work of many of its contractors, who may have also contributed code to this product.
    This product includes software developed by the Grossman Progammers and Associates. Use of this software is fully authorized for all purposes as long as this statement is enclosed.
    This product includes software developed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and its contributors.
    This product includes software developed by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and its contributors.
    This product includes software developed by the University of North Carolina at Tweetsie and its contributors.
    etc., etc.

    You get the idea, but pretend I make this list TEN TIMES longer.

    Of course, when you got your copy of this software, you saw something like what I showed you above, right? Because if you didn't, well, you're running your software illegally. If you didn't, please erase it. (See, that's an effect right there!)

    And that's just the beginning. Anyone advertising/distributing BSD needs to READ EVERY DAGGUM LICENSE and figure out which shmoes need to be credited on every scrap of paper or HTML mentioning BSD. Or just be illegal-- their choice. And because there are so many contributors, any one of which could insert a new program and provision at any time, which means every update needs to be rechecked.

    No one is going to do this. They are just going to give up, or ignore the law-- both of which ultimately hurt free software.

    And, of course, its users.
  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @12:49PM (#17509678)
    people probably wonder why commercial software still owns the world's computers

    In case you haven't noticed, the current Apple OS is BSD. "Commercial" isn't the opposite of "open source". The opposite of open source is closed source, and the opposite of commercial is non-commercial. You can have "commercial open source" software and you can have "non-commercial closed source" software.

  • by sholden ( 12227 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @01:16PM (#17510148) Homepage
    But the entire text of the GPL doesn't have to appear on every piece of advertising for the product, so that's completely irrelevant.
  • Re:Scare Tactics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FallLine ( 12211 ) * on Monday January 08, 2007 @01:55PM (#17510822)
    Can you explain to me why exactly it's an advantage for commercial software?
    I'm not the OP, but...

    A) Because most mainstream commercial/proprietary software tends to be more innovative and better. Yes, there are some exceptions, but they are very few in number and tend to be in areas where the demand is so small that it would be difficult to sustain a business on (the Windows monopoly vs Linux, perhaps being an exception in some ways).

    B) Because its licensing terms are far more predictable and understandable than GPL-based software. I'd far rather trust one top-down group motivated by money (selfish, perhaps, but pragmatic), especially if I have a contract with them, than the bulk of GPL community based projects which are motivated by several different philosophies, a constantly evolving licenses, and which has too many self-promoting zealots which can spoil the works (e.g., RMS). Witness licenses going from LGPL -> GPLv2, GPLv2 -> GPLv3, and god knows where else. Even if the projects which you're immediately dependent are managed entirely by pragmatic people and has acceptable terms at present, all it takes is a few zealots changing licenses at a lower level (like its libraries, OS, etc) to force a license change and/or splinter the community.

    C) Because the company that is maintaining the product is far more likely to stay in business and motivate itself to the kinds of support that you need. A company based on GPL v2 with an equally popular product is likely to only have, say, 5% of the revenue that the proprietary company nets and that company must answer to several camps with hugely divergent interests. Even with the dual-licensed business model companies, like MySQL, you are heavily dependent on them staying in business. If they go belly up, then so does the copyright assignment that allows them to dual-license... the odds of another company making this work by trying to provide support alone is highly unlikely.

    D) Because most open source projects are simply half-assed and under-staffed. There are only a handful of open source projects have a critical mass of developers or a viable company behind it to make it acceptable today let alone provide any kind of assurance for the future.

    Yes, I know the open source dogma answer to all these is "but you have the source!". I just don't think it means much in practice for most companies and individuals as they cannot afford the time and technical resources in practice to maintain said software themselves. Yes, some of you will say that it can be forked, but this often does not work out this way as there is often not enough people behind it on aggregate (never mind behind any one specific project organizer). When MySQL changed their client-libraries from LGPL to GPL, where did the LGPL fork go? No where.
  • Re:Scare Tactics (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Znork ( 31774 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @03:12PM (#17512036)
    "B) Because its licensing terms are far more predictable..."

    As in you can't use the source. At all. For any purpose. Well, sure, it's certainly predictable.

    "C) Because the company that is maintaining the product is far more likely to stay in business and motivate itself to the kinds of support that you need."

    New to the industry, eh?

    Even if you ignore the fact that products will be altered beyond recognition and eventually discontinued, with or without the company surviving, the fact is very few companies in the proprietary software business appear to have any particular long term staying power. If they dont go belly up, they get bought up, their products cancelled, and customers forcefully migrated.

    "D) Because most open source projects are simply half-assed and under-staffed."

    And most proprietary projects are half-assed and under-staffed. It's endemic to the entire industry. At least with opensource you can discover it was half-assed before paying through the nose for a disconnected support number.

    "they cannot afford the time and technical resources in practice to maintain said software themselves."

    But if necessary they have the option. And while one company might not have the resources needed, several customers working together may very well have the resources (after all, the combined customers were the ones actually paying for the resources originally, so unless the initial producer was deliberately sinking money into the development without intending to profit, the resources still exist).
  • Re:That's awesome (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 08, 2007 @03:43PM (#17512504)
    but yet, through the sheer mass of momentum and the number of devs supporting it, linux still has better driver support than opensolaris. just look at network card support - linux support beats solaris hands down. there are even entire categories solaris does not support (usb wifi).
  • Re:Scare Tactics (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @06:29PM (#17515456) Journal
    So, if you compare the ideal case for commercial software against the worst case for open source software, commercial software wins.

    Big surprise there.

    Neither your caricature of commercial software, nor your caricature of open source software, has much to do with reality. Bad open source basically doesn't exist for a commercial company, because they most likely won't even encounter it, and it certainly won't last long in their selection system unless it's completely broken. And I've been involved in buying many closed-source libraries, and your happy-happy portrayal of closed-source software doesn't really remind me of any of those experiences. By far I have more trouble with the closed-source stuff just being unsupported, and sometimes it's the big vendors (as in Microsoft, Oracle, etc.) who are the worst!
  • by smash ( 1351 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @10:25PM (#17517984) Homepage Journal
    You'd be wrong. In any case, the proper response to Microsoft or whoever "stealing" public domain code is, "Good! I hope it works well for them." It doesn't cost you anything if they use your public domain code (now THAT's an oxymoron), so you really shouldn't expect anything in return.

    Hoorah, the first time I've actually seen a post by someone else who understands the BSD-license way of thinking.

    Commercial use of my BSD code does not remove my BSD code from distribution. If someone paid coders to improve it, they deserve the right to sell their improved version.

    The difference between GPL and BSD is that GPL is a politically motivated license bent on taking over the software industry. BSD is a license in the interests if improving the quality of software in all segments of the market (by stopping wheel re-invention).

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"