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[Discuss] OSS licenses (was Home NAS redux)

> From: Derek Martin [mailto:invalid at]
> The job of a software
> license is to protect the rights of the copyright holder while
> granting privileges to their business associates.  

Copyright is exactly as the name suggests - the right to copy.  Why do we have such a thing as copyright at all?  To protect the interests of whoever created the material.

All copyrighted material exists for the exclusive benefit of the person or group that owns the copyright.  If the copyright owner determines that they would be harmed by making the material freely copyable, then they don't grant that permission.  Sometimes copyright holders determine they'll benefit by allowing "personal" usage (and define "personal") while prohibiting usage for business.  And they charge a business usage license fee.

There are a lot of situations, where there is benefit to making materials freely copyable - For example, all the gnu utilities.  It's very convenient that millions of people can all use the same tools, and thousands of people can improve them.  And since they're so widely deployed, companies make it their investment interest to continue developing and contributing.  Because they get a benefit out of making those developments.

In a lot of other situations - and this is the category that I fall under when I release code under MIT - the software developer decides, "I'm not planning to sell licenses to this software; it's just not a large enough market to be worth the effort."  and  "I might as well just grant everyone in the world permission to use it for free, for the sake of being a nice guy."  It doesn't harm me to grant total freedom to use the software - so go right ahead, everyone.  If some business can somehow make money off it, I would prefer to see that, rather than a bunch of lawyer thugs suing somebody for making a mistake violating a rule I created casually and without any serious consideration.

Every software producer has the right, even the duty, to consider what rights they're assigning to the recipients, and to consider which rights are beneficial to assign.  The decision about binaries having the same rights as code is one decision, one detail.  The decision about the rights you grant somebody who is mixing code of different licenses into binaries is another decision, another detail.  We are quickly journeying into the land of esoterica and hair-splitting.  But naturally, some people consider *that* particular detail to be 54.40 or fight!  GPL fanatically anti-CDDL evangelical...  It's religion mostly.

Prior to creating CDDL, Sun contemplated releasing their previously-closed software open-source.  They determined they would benefit by opening the source, but they would be harmed if their products became "just another linux" distribution or component.  They decided to create CDDL with the express requirement of being incompatible with GPL, while preserving the spirit of open source software and perpetual freedom just as strongly.

They knew, when companies like NVidia and Lyric Semiconductor and Cognitive Electronics release their linux kernel drivers to operate their highly secretive and special hardware, they are forced to expose some of their "secret sauce" by being forced to open their source code in order to run on that platform.  Sun knew that such a strong (some would say infectious or overreaching) copyleft as the GPL is unattractive and scary and sometimes unacceptable to businesses that need to build code to run at such a low level.  Sun considered it to be their advantage, that they could take a softer licensing position, devoid of such strong anti-business sentiment as the GPL.  Sun considered it their advantage to be able to create a new license and use their new license to satisfy a market that GPL doesn't satisfy (or at least, where GPL is disadvantageous.)

Sun wanted to compete against linux.  Not be assimilated into it.  Frankly, if they hadn't made that choice, the entire solaris line of products would have been less valuable as an asset for acquisition by Oracle.

But I sure wish Oracle didn't close-source, after they became copyright owners.  Big fat jerks.

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