Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
The Courts Operating Systems Government BSD News

Dispelling BSD License Misconceptions 202

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.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Dispelling BSD License Misconceptions

Comments Filter:
  • Fascinating (Score:3, Informative)

    by JoshJ ( 1009085 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:11PM (#17617082) Journal
    If this turns out to be true, it could have some pretty far-reaching effects, potentially damaging Microsoft, Apple, and even certain F/OSS projects. There seems to be quite the firestorm of controversy over the BSD license lately- perhaps it'd just be better to use a license that isn't so controversial- MIT if you want something to be available for use in closed-source products, or GPL if you don't.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:14PM (#17617138)
    One tidbit seems to be ignored--this would only apply under AUSTRALIAN law, per the article.

    But, if true, it might mean that the BSD is indeed "viral" in Australia!

    Wonder what Microsoft might have to do about all that old BSD networking code they use if this is true?
  • Re:Fascinating (Score:3, Informative)

    by AlanS2002 ( 580378 ) <sanderal2 AT hotmail DOT com> on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:16PM (#17617160) Homepage
    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.
  • Re:Fascinating (Score:3, Informative)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:25PM (#17617270)
    Yes, I am baffled by this. It makes BSD sound like the GPL. I've always thought BSD was pretty much the wild west except you have to pass along their copyright statement with your software.
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:32PM (#17617362) Homepage Journal
    When Microsoft or some other proprietary software company that wants to use BSD licensed code, and actually has lawyers on payroll, decide on the wording for their license, it always reads like this:

    Copyright (c) 2003-2007 Microsoft Corporation.
    All rights reserved.

    [Copy of the EULA goes here]

    This software contains components from XXX which are available under this license:

    [Copy of the BSD license goes here]

    So they are not relicensing the BSD licensed components. They are providing those parts of the software under the license of which they were required and they are doing all they are required to use that code by providing the license in the documentation. The power of this is that the BSD license doesn't require the source code to be released to the user (and Brendan Scott, the author of the paper, recognises this in section 7.3) so the company can keep their modifications secret.

  • Re:Arcane (Score:3, Informative)

    by 75th Trombone ( 581309 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:50PM (#17617594) Homepage Journal

    Close, but no cigar:

    'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

  • Re:Arcane (Score:3, Informative)

    by nuzak ( 959558 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @03:55PM (#17617718) Journal
    From this typing mistake, we can conclude that the grandparent in fact engages in improper relations with rutabaga.

    No your honor, I have not been drinking.
  • Re:Fascinating (Score:3, Informative)

    by LurkerXXX ( 667952 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @04:05PM (#17617850)
    Incorrect. MS is totally free to warranty that Windows is fit for any purpose they care to warranty it for. What they can't do is pass on that responsibility to the authors of any BSD code in it for the BSD parts. That's why the warranty part of the BSD license stays with the author notice. So 'The buck stops at MS' if they want to warranty it for any purposes, but they are absolutely free to warranty it if they like.
  • by Generic Player ( 1014797 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @04:14PM (#17617980)
    He doesn't even provide anything to try to back up his crazy claim, he just keeps repeating his conclusion that "you must distribute it under the BSD license" under all these circumstances. The closest thing he gets is claiming that the BSD license doesn't explicitly permit re-licensing. But copyright doesn't have anything to do with licensing, so its totally irrelivant. The BSD license grants you the copyright granted rights that normally are reserved for the author, if you obey the terms. Applying your own license terms later on has nothing to do with copyright, and hence the author of the software has no right to stop you. The GPL prevents you from using your own license not because of some magical "you can't relicense" part of copyright law, but because the GPL explicitly says you can't in the license.
  • by CyberLife ( 63954 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @04:14PM (#17617988)
    I just spoke to someone I know in UC Berkeley administration about this situation and they told me the following. Please note that I am paraphrasing here and none of this is to be taken as an official statement by the University of California.

    The spirit of the license is exactly as people have interpreted it. It is not intended to limit or hinder people in any way. On the contrary, it is fully intended that their products be freely used, modified, and distributed. That's what academic research is all about. Berkeley has neither the time nor energy nor desire to chase people down. They just want credit for doing the work.

    In addition, most of Berkeley's projects are government-funded. As such, they are not generally permitted to make any profit from the work. It has to be made public and people have to be allowed to extend it for their own purposes. The essence of public research is to benefit society as a whole, not just the corporate sector.

    As for the question of third-party derivative works being used to make a profit, there is nothing stated in the license to prohibit such acts. Thus, it would seem to be legal. However, it could be argued that doing so is against the spirit of the license. Whether or not Berkeley could enforce that spirit in a court of law (assuming they even care to do so) is another matter.

    If anybody wants an official statement, they should contact Berkeley's legal department.
  • Re:Fascinating (Score:4, Informative)

    by sik0fewl ( 561285 ) <xxdigitalhellxx@@@hotmail...com> on Monday January 15, 2007 @04:42PM (#17618474) Homepage

    The BSD licence does not say that any modifications must also be released under the BSD licence. It does say that that a copy of the original licence, copyright notices, disclaimer, etc, must be including in any redistribution of the source or binary.

    In fact, the BSD licence does not say anything about licensing any code—at all.

  • by jschultz410 ( 583092 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @04:55PM (#17618656)

    It seems that this lawyer has not been trained in computer science because he is glossing over an important detail of the license to reach his incorrect conclusion. The BSD license says (using the author's numbering and my emphasis):

    "2 Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:

    3 * Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.

    4 * Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.

    5 * Neither the name of the [organization] nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission."

    The license requires, per clauses 2-4, that a user reproduce (a) the copyright notice, (b) the list of conditions and (c) the disclaimer of the original license. The author reads this as requiring that the entire BSD license be reproduced in any redistrubtion or use of the code. But this is only true if (a), (b) and (c) comprise the entirety of the BSD license. I argue that they do not!

    The key question is, "What is the 'list of conditions' that must be reproduced?" The author incorrectly claims that [2] is part of the list of conditions that must be maintained by a user, which would create a viral mechanism that this paper describes.

    It is obvious from [2]'s use of the phrase "the following conditions" and the fact that [3, 4, 5] are preceded by asterisks and use the phrase "this list of conditions" that [2] is not intended to be part of the list of conditions. The list of conditions only consists of [3, 4, 5]. Therefore, redistributors / users are not required to maintain the original grant of the license [2] in their use or redistribution of the code.

    The flaw in the author's argument is that he is incorrectly including the original grant of the license [2] into the list of conditions [3, 4, 5]. The license truly only requires that users reproduce clauses [1, 3, 4, 5, 6] of the BSD license in their redistrubtions or use.

  • Re:Fascinating (Score:3, Informative)

    by init100 ( 915886 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @05:05PM (#17618828)

    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.

    According to Microsoft, this is no longer true. BSD code were only used earlier to get TCP/IP functionality into Windows quickly when it became obvious that Internet (and not Microsoft Network, a.k.a. MSN) would be the next "big thing"

    But of course the source isn't available , so we can't verify this claim.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 15, 2007 @05:11PM (#17618894)
    Um, no, it's not quite that cut and dried.
    *If* the author of any new code using parts of BSD code in it decides to release code rather than just a binary, it is their responsibility to indicate that *parts* of the code fall under the BSD license and include the attribution/disclaimer accordingly. It is also their responsibility to state any more restrictive license they care to use for the code. You must abide by their license and can't ignore it simply because BSD code is included. I don't think you will find a court that agrees with you that you can ignore parts you don't like. You are free to try of course, it's your lawyer bill.

    The only question is: If the BSD license text is distributed with a program, does it apply to the whole program?

    There will likely be a license the program is presented to you as licensed under. There will also be a file indicating some code is contained inside with the BSD attribution/disclaimer. The software author should make it clear that this is for only part of the code. Once again, I don't think there is any legitimate question of the BSD license applying to a program licensed under another license, but you are free to waste the courts time and pay a lawyer a lot of money for nothing if you want.

  • by LizardKing ( 5245 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2007 @06:58AM (#17626672)

    That's effectively what Berkeley did when AT&T sued them over the release of the BSD Unix source code - they countered by pointing out that AT&T had stripped BSD copyright headers from a number of files included in System V. Berkeley pointed out that AT&T were welcome to restribute their code as a binary only, commercial product, but that the copyright stripping in the separately licensed source release contravened the BSD license.

We all like praise, but a hike in our pay is the best kind of ways.