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[A bit rambling] Open source licensing being questioned byanti-copyright types

 
 
ClassCastException
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      05-29-2010
On Fri, 28 May 2010 20:31:14 -0400, Arne Vajhøj wrote:

> On 27-05-2010 22:58, ClassCastException wrote:
>> In dealing with Java, OpenJDK, and Clojure stuff in recent months I'd
>> come to suspect that open source licensing is itself a source of
>> trouble. Notably, Clojure's license is incompatible with the GPL, under
>> which large chunks of other open source software is licensed.

>
> And so what?
>
> This means that you can not modify the Clojure compiler using GPL code.
>
> Very few libraries are GPL. LGPL and GPL with linking exception was
> invented for libraries.
>
> And it has no impact on people writing apps in Clojure.


Actually, it does; if you GPL Clojure code and distribute it it will
violate at least one license because the GPL'd code will link against
(and thus try to force the "viral" GPL upon) code that comes with Clojure
and has a GPL-incompatible license.

You can add a linking exception to the GPL on your Clojure code that
permits linking against Clojure libraries and the like without requiring
the GPL attach to those, but this has two problems:

1. If existing, say, Java code is GPL, and you want to use it in your
Clojure project, you still can't, since the GPL without linking
exception will "contaminate" your own code and then the base Clojure
code that's not GPLable.
2. This, and similar situations, will lead to the proliferation of
hundreds of almost-GPLs with different and incompatible linking
exceptions.

In hindsight, the linking requirement in the GPL, which was made in the
days of C, was a big mistake. But it's one it's apparently way too late
to fix.

The GPL v3 apparently tries. It has something in it about an automatic
linking exception for the code's programming language's "base libraries",
but someone said this was vague enough or otherwise had loopholes that
made it impossible to confidently apply to Clojure's GPL-incompatible
libraries.

>> So I decided to do a little reading on copyright in general. Why does
>> it even exist? The nominal purpose, it turns out, is to "promote the
>> progress of science and the useful arts" by providing a way for the
>> creators of any popular or important work to ensure remuneration,
>> basically. Which smells suspiciously like a grant of monopoly -- which,
>> barring the notion of "fair use", it basically is.

>
> If everybody could copy software exactly as they wanted then I am pretty
> sure that the software industry would be in a very poor shape.


I actually doubt this; I think it would work rather differently from now
in some ways, but that people would have found a way to make it work and
to profit in it. Plenty of businesses profit from open source software in
various ways, including by selling support or simply by funding
development of open source software that they use in-house and get
productivity gains from, and, by funding it, get more influence to have
features they'd find useful added and the bugs that particularly harm
their productivity prioritized.

> Sounds like blogs from teenagers that wants to be able to download
> everything for free and have parents to pay the bills.


I have my doubts whether Against Monopoly (run by a pair of degreed
economists) and Techdirt (run by a successful dot-com entrepreneur) are
"from teenagers that want to be able to download everything for free and
have parents to pay the bills".

>> It thus seems that copyright was twisted away from its original
>> purpose, to which it might have been poorly suited to begin with, and
>> open source licenses try to twist it back toward that purpose.

>
> Not really.
>
> Open source use copyright the exact same way as closed source. The only
> way.
>
> Open source has different license terms than closed source, but that
> does not change the copyright as such.


I'm sorry you don't seem to get what I'm driving at.

Copyright was born from the theory that letting authors of "writings and
discoveries" close off access and control the use of their work, e.g. to
set up a tollbooth, would promote progress.

At least in the case of software, this turned out to be wrong (in some
opinions), and the GPL's "copyleft" was specifically designed to force
copyright to do the reverse: force access open as widely as possible, by
requiring publication of the source code and disallowing monopoly. The
theory this time being that maximizing access and minimizing any one
vendor's control over program code would promote progress.

Judging by the stellar progress made in improving Linux since its
inception, copyleft is at least as viable as traditional exclusive
copyright in promoting progress in software.

However, both have proven capable of getting in the way in various
(separate sets of) situations.
 
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Tom Anderson
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      05-29-2010
On Sat, 29 May 2010, ClassCastException wrote:

> On Fri, 28 May 2010 20:31:14 -0400, Arne Vajh?j wrote:
>
>> On 27-05-2010 22:58, ClassCastException wrote:
>>> In dealing with Java, OpenJDK, and Clojure stuff in recent months I'd
>>> come to suspect that open source licensing is itself a source of
>>> trouble. Notably, Clojure's license is incompatible with the GPL, under
>>> which large chunks of other open source software is licensed.

>>
>> And so what?
>>
>> This means that you can not modify the Clojure compiler using GPL code.
>>
>> Very few libraries are GPL. LGPL and GPL with linking exception was
>> invented for libraries.
>>
>> And it has no impact on people writing apps in Clojure.

>
> Actually, it does; if you GPL Clojure code and distribute it it will
> violate at least one license because the GPL'd code will link against
> (and thus try to force the "viral" GPL upon) code that comes with Clojure
> and has a GPL-incompatible license.


Wrong. The GPL does not forbid you from linking against any libraries at
all. It (effectively) forbids you from *redistributing* the *products* of
linking against libraries that are not GPL'd. Do you want to distribute
binaries that include both your GPL'd Clojure code and the Clojure
runtime? No. So you're fine.

This is an important point: *none* of the open-source licenses restrict
what you do with code on your own machine, or inside your own company. The
*only* apply to *redistribution* of the code.

tom

--
This isn't right. This isn't even wrong.
 
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David Lamb
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      05-29-2010
On 29/05/2010 4:17 AM, ClassCastException wrote:
> Copyright was born from the theory that letting authors of "writings and
> discoveries" close off access and control the use of their work, e.g. to
> set up a tollbooth, would promote progress.


Well, that theory *used* to be true; Dickens apparently got no royalties
from "pirated" US editions of his works. But that was a long time ago
when the world was very different.
 
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ClassCastException
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      05-29-2010
On Sat, 29 May 2010 11:54:35 +0100, Tom Anderson wrote:

> On Sat, 29 May 2010, ClassCastException wrote:
>
>> On Fri, 28 May 2010 20:31:14 -0400, Arne Vajh?j wrote:
>>
>>> On 27-05-2010 22:58, ClassCastException wrote:
>>>> In dealing with Java, OpenJDK, and Clojure stuff in recent months I'd
>>>> come to suspect that open source licensing is itself a source of
>>>> trouble. Notably, Clojure's license is incompatible with the GPL,
>>>> under which large chunks of other open source software is licensed.
>>>
>>> And so what?
>>>
>>> This means that you can not modify the Clojure compiler using GPL
>>> code.
>>>
>>> Very few libraries are GPL. LGPL and GPL with linking exception was
>>> invented for libraries.
>>>
>>> And it has no impact on people writing apps in Clojure.

>>
>> Actually, it does; if you GPL Clojure code and distribute it it will
>> violate at least one license because the GPL'd code will link against
>> (and thus try to force the "viral" GPL upon) code that comes with
>> Clojure and has a GPL-incompatible license.

>
> Wrong. The GPL does not forbid you from linking against any libraries at
> all. It (effectively) forbids you from *redistributing* the *products*
> of linking against libraries that are not GPL'd. Do you want to
> distribute binaries that include both your GPL'd Clojure code and the
> Clojure runtime? No.


Yes. Any packaging of an application for end-user use (that an end-user
is realistically going to be able to install easily) is going to include
the runtimes and thus violate one license or both. The effect is for
GPL'd Clojure code to effectively be stamped "hacker use only" and be
inaccessible for normal, end-user use.

Use it privately? Sure. Share with other Clojure hackers? Ditto. Make a
killer game with GPL'd Clojure code and post it somewhere, or write and
publish something to beat Photoshop *and* the GIMP, or whatever? Uh-uh,
sorry, no can do.
 
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ClassCastException
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      05-29-2010
On Sat, 29 May 2010 14:48:46 -0400, David Lamb wrote:

> On 29/05/2010 4:17 AM, ClassCastException wrote:
>> Copyright was born from the theory that letting authors of "writings
>> and discoveries" close off access and control the use of their work,
>> e.g. to set up a tollbooth, would promote progress.

>
> Well, that theory *used* to be true; Dickens apparently got no royalties
> from "pirated" US editions of his works. But that was a long time ago
> when the world was very different.


Interestingly, Dickens actually profited from this. Hence why I said that
that was the *theory* behind copyright; there is some evidence that that
theory was false, or at best semi-true. In actual practice, the existence
of art of many kinds for thousands of years before anyone thought of the
concept of a copyright is perhaps the strongest evidence that it wasn't
ever actually needed. A case for it being needed for some very expensive
modern art forms such as blockbuster movies might be made. Open source
development models, including with licenses like BSD that permit closed-
source derivative works, point to its *not* being necessary for software
innovation to occur (without copyright software development would
probably be very similar to how it actually is in BSD-like-license-
dominated ecosystems, such as those surrounding BSD Unix itself and
Apache; there could be some closed-source derivative works but this
potential doesn't seem to have killed BSD or Apache).

Perhaps even more interesting is that a similar case can be made for
getting rid of patents on most everything except pharmaceuticals, where
they seem both most needed (drug development costs make $200 million
blockbuster movie productions look cheap at times) and most controversial
(artificially inflated drug prices can actually *kill*, unlike
artificially inflated movie prices or artificially inflated software
prices).

Cleverer minds than mine continue to argue, cogently at times and quite
acrimoniously at times, both sides of the debate, in the comments of both
the blogs I named elsewhere in this thread. (And, at one of the blogs,
there's also Twisted ... apparently taking a particularly radical anti-
copyright anti-patent position ... for whatever that's worth.)

Meanwhile open source continues to win practical victories. The recent
school laptop scandal, for example: the initial scandal just cries out
for owner-override rights for hardware owners, so against any species of
so-called "trusted computing" such as has been pushed at times by
Microsoft as a way of limiting "piracy" (and such as has quietly been
actually implemented in game consoles, DVD/BluRay drives/players, and
Apple's iPod/iPhone/iPad portables); the later revelation of serious
security flaws in the "remote administration" software that was snuck
onto those machines points to the dangers of using closed source remote
administration, operating system, or security software of any kind: at
best you may have severe security flaws hidden from peer review but
eventually findable by a determined black hat; at worst the nightmare
scenario from the movie "The Net" where some popular closed-source
firewall software or similarly turns out to have a deliberate back door
and its makers, once it becomes very widely deployed, start using it in a
nefarious world-domination plot or to pull off massive heists or
whatever. (Imagine a deliberate back door in Windows Vista and a
"Praetorian" conspiracy within Microsoft. Shudder. Install Linux. Sigh
with relief. Recall that many government and other trusted-by-the-public
computer systems and networks are riddled with Microsoft software.
Shudder. Note that Apple has even tighter control over the iFoo
ecosystem. Shudder. Ditch your iPhone for an Android phone. Sigh with
relief. Watch as a controversy breaks out over Amazon's retroactive
unpurchasing of Kindle customers' copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four by
Amazon and how all their annotations unexisted because Amazon decided
they were doubleplusungood, or something like that. Shudder. Ditch Kindle
for ... er, wait, dammit!, the iPad is just as evil. Groan and use the
Android phone with its inferior reading display and wait for a googlePad
or similar device to hit the shelves. Pirate what isn't available at
Project Gutenberg, because officially-sanctioned ebooks aren't available
for Android platforms, at least not yet; maybe buy a paperback copy of
each pirated book so the authors get some money. Or perhaps just lug
actual paper books around and forget e-reading for now. Sigh with relief;
now your books can't be unpublished by Amazon, Apple, or anybody else
short of jackbooted thugs breaking down your door and prying them from
your cold, dead fingers, and you trust your 12-gauge named Old Betsy
together with an electric fence, basic property rights, and the 1st, 2nd,
and 4th Amendments to keep any wannabe Guy Montagues at bay. Remember how
most of the AI-takeover apocalypses also have a similar element --
defense contractors buying from US Robotics in I, Robot, defense
contractors buying from Cyberdyne in Terminator, etc., and these having
intentional backdoors in them that let Viki/Skynet/Colossus/whatever take
over. Shudder.)
 
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Stefan Ram
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      05-29-2010
Thomas Pornin <(E-Mail Removed)> writes:
>So the GPL is, in practice (not in theory), incompatible with for-profit


If you put a box in a shop with some software for $329,
people who think that it addresses their needs will buy it.
It might contain a sheet of paper with the GPL and directory
with the source code. Most consumers will not read either of
them. There are bought many goods in our world that one
also might get for free by some other means.

>if you make a big, expensive piece of code that you plan to
>sell to a dozen big companies, you can use the GPL, because
>none of your customers would be keen on redistributing the
>code under the GPL


This would entitle /you/ to redistribute it, and your
customers might not like this. Also, once they have the
software, how do you make them pay you? The GPL already
entitles them to legally own it without any payment to you.

>Also, theory has it that big money resides in support and maintenance
>contracts. The software is then some kind of commercial argument, and
>you can give it for free since users automatically become potential
>customers for your support and maintenance activity.


Or for the support and maintenance of any other skilled party ...

 
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David Lamb
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      05-29-2010
On 29/05/2010 5:54 PM, Stefan Ram wrote:
> Also, once they have the
> software, how do you make them pay you? The GPL already
> entitles them to legally own it without any payment to you.


Well, contract law would still apply. "I'll hand over this disk and
you'll pay me" with suitable legalize boilerplate ought to mean they
have to pay you. I suppose one could start an argument about the seller
not having the money to sue.
 
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ClassCastException
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      05-29-2010
On Sat, 29 May 2010 21:54:24 +0000, Stefan Ram wrote:

> Thomas Pornin <(E-Mail Removed)> writes:
>>So the GPL is, in practice (not in theory), incompatible with for-profit

>
> If you put a box in a shop with some software for $329, people who
> think that it addresses their needs will buy it. It might contain a
> sheet of paper with the GPL and directory with the source code. Most
> consumers will not read either of them. There are bought many goods in
> our world that one also might get for free by some other means.


Perhaps. Though at that price point they might feel ripped off if they
later learned they could have gotten it for free elsewhere.

On the other hand I can see someone spending even $40 on a CD that's nice
and easy to install and considering that okay even if they find they
could have had it for free as a downloadable .iso file to figure out what
to do with to install it. People will willingly pay, sometimes quite a
lot, for convenience. Hence fast food, more expensive than home cooking
and often not as good yet very very profitable.

> This would entitle /you/ to redistribute it, and your customers might
> not like this. Also, once they have the software, how do you make them
> pay you? The GPL already entitles them to legally own it without any
> payment to you.


Obviously you'd structure the transaction as an up-front sale: swap the
money for a disc.

>>Also, theory has it that big money resides in support and maintenance
>>contracts. The software is then some kind of commercial argument, and
>>you can give it for free since users automatically become potential
>>customers for your support and maintenance activity.

>
> Or for the support and maintenance of any other skilled party ...


Still gives you an incentive to develop the code:

1. The more valuable you make the software, the larger the support pie,
and the larger the support pie, the larger your slice of it,
regardless of what percentage of the whole pie that slice might be.
2. The more of it you've developed, the better you know the codebase
relative to any other skilled party, and the better you know the
codebase relative to any other skilled party, the better you can make
your support offering compared to anyone else's. This makes your slice
of the pie larger.

So, you can potentially get yourself a larger slice of a larger pie by
participating in developing the open-source software, compared to if you
let other people do all the development work on it. Developing it builds
in-house expertise with that software, and it's the time of your experts
that you're selling; making those experts better experts makes that time
more valuable, and so does making the thing they're experts on more
popular.

Make that time more valuable and you can attract more customers so you
can sell more of it, charge more for it, or whatever.
 
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Arne Vajhøj
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      05-30-2010
On 29-05-2010 03:56, ClassCastException wrote:
> On Fri, 28 May 2010 16:09:36 -0400, David Lamb wrote:
>> Does this quote mean that, although one can legally sell modified code,
>> there is little incentive for anyone to pay for it, since they can
>> obtain, use, modify, and redistribute for free?

>
> Red Hat makes quite a bit of money selling copies of GPL'd software on
> physical media.
>
> This might have something to do with the fact that Aquafina makes quite a
> bit of money bottling and selling stuff that pretty much all of their
> potential customers can get out of a faucet for free.


Not a good comparison.

When you buy RHEL from Redhat instead of downloading Centos, then
you get support from Redhat.

> It might also have something to do with the fact that the entertainment
> industry is not, contrary to popular belief, losing revenues to piracy.
> Declining sales of things like DVDs and recorded music have a complex web
> of causes, in which the effects of online piracy are not reliably
> different from zero according to the statistical studies.


That "fact" is very disputed.

> The moral of the story: the GPL absolutely is NOT incompatible with
> profiting from selling software, NOT EVEN if you restrict your business
> model to selling copies.


Companies making monet on GPL usually do it by selling support
or by dual license (GPL and commercial).

The GPL license does not prohibit it, but the terms of GPL
plus basic economics do that you need something other than
selling copies to prosper.

Arne


 
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Arne Vajhj
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      05-30-2010
On 29-05-2010 17:54, Stefan Ram wrote:
> Thomas Pornin<(E-Mail Removed)> writes:
>> So the GPL is, in practice (not in theory), incompatible with for-profit

>
> If you put a box in a shop with some software for $329,
> people who think that it addresses their needs will buy it.
> It might contain a sheet of paper with the GPL and directory
> with the source code. Most consumers will not read either of
> them. There are bought many goods in our world that one
> also might get for free by some other means.


The word will get around.

Arne
 
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