[lug] Bruce Perens's open letter to Novell

Daniel Webb lists at danielwebb.us
Sat Nov 25 16:22:41 MST 2006

On Sat, Nov 25, 2006 at 08:12:42PM +0000, D. Stimits wrote:

> Keep in mind that even if you use GPL of an exact version for your 
> software publishing, then you still own the software. 

In my case, unfortunately, that's not true.  This was software written while a
grad student at CU, so they own the copyright.  On the plus side, unless
something has changed, they allow students who write code for their research
to decide the license.  Well, technically it's the PI who decides but in my
case my PI lets me run my own show for the most part.  So whatever license I
pick will be difficult to change later.  If someone wants to use my code
commercially, they can still dual-license, but they'll have to license from

> This in turn means you can dual-license it, or use as many licenses at once
> which you choose to use. If for your own software you use v3 or v2, and
> decide you wanted the other, you can always go back and add the one you did
> not use. You can't revoke what you granted, but when you say "or later" you
> are automatically granting the terms of any of those versions. So if you say
> "or later", you're only losing control over someone making the license less
> strict, that it will never become more strict because of future versions.
> The interesting part is that when a third party decides which license to
> use, that choice can't be a mix of terms from different versions...it's
> quite possible that the next version offers more rights in some way, while
> removing another right; they can't use the new rights unless they give up
> the old rights under that situation. This gets to be very interesting where
> content protection keys are concerned, as this is a big part of the
> stipulations of the v3 license. But if you used "v2 or later", then you can
> still use v2 and not give up content protection keys (which means that you'd
> only have to do so if v3 offered something in return, or if the software was
> published later and used v3 or later, rather than v2 or later). I have to
> wonder if v3 offers anything to non-owner vendors and end users which would
> be an advantage over v2...otherwise there's a good chance that anything "v2
> or later" (lots of v2 or later stuff out there now) would be distributed
> ignoring the new restrictions (such as keeping content protection keys) and
> not care one bit how v3 changes things.  ...

Yeah, there are going to be some complexities to deal with as GPLv3 comes out.
I hope none of them are too damaging to the fundamental mission.  Stallman et
al  certainly thought things through with GPLv2, so I have some faith that it
will turn out OK.  Regardless of their shortcomings, it's clear that they are
long-term planners with a good track record.  For the first 10-15 years they
were mostly considered crackpots, then within another 7 years their software
along with the Linux kernel and a few very useful programs such as Apache
became the foundation for a multi-billion dollar industry used by millions of
people and businesses.  They have achieved a large part of their initial
mission, which was to make it possible to run an entirely free computer system
that can do everything you might want to do with a computer.  Although a lot
of people I know can't do everything they want with Linux, I can.  I erased my
last Windows partition over 5 years ago, and don't miss a thing.  Well, I take
that back, I still use Acrobat reader for my presentations, but I think that's
the only proprietary software left on my systems.

The other thing to consider when licensing a significant piece of software
where you own the copyright is what happens if you die before the useful life
of the software?  Your heirs will then own the copyright, so it's important to
leave instructions for someone you trust and who understands the issues at
hand if you want to be able to change licenses in the future.  If you haven't
done that, it makes more sense to me to use "v2 or later" for when the
software outlives you.

P.S. The FSF gets flack sometimes for being so anal-retentive about copyright
ownership, but look at Linux for an example of what happens when you *aren't*
like that.  As many people have pointed out, even if all the current kernel
developers unanimously decided they want to use GPLv3, it's going to be a hell
of a time to accomplish that.  The FSF, on the other hand, will be able to
switch over the massive collection of software they control in a day.

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