Fwd: That whole "Linux stealing our code" thing
From: Constantine A. Murenin
Date: Sat Sep 01 2007 - 12:48:54 EST
This will hopefully help diminish certain myths about the code licensing.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Theo de Raadt <deraadt@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: 31-Aug-2007 21:40
Subject: That whole "Linux stealing our code" thing
[bcc'd to Eben Moglen so that people don't flood him]
I stopped making public statements in the recent controversy because
Eben Moglen started working behind the scenes to 'improve' what Linux
people are doing wrong with licensing, and he asked me to give him
pause, so his team could work. Honestly, I was greatly troubled by
the situation, because even people like Alan Cox were giving other
Linux developers advice to ... break the law. And furthermore, there
are even greater potential risks for how the various communities
For the record -- I was right and the Linux developers cannot change
the licenses in any of those ways proposed in those diffs, or that
It is illegal to modify a license unless you are the owner/author,
because it is a legal document. If there are multiple owners/authors,
they must all agree. A person who receives the file under two
licenses can use the file in either way.... but if they distribute
the file (modified or unmodified!), they must distribute it with the
existing license intact, because the licenses we all use have
statements which say that the license may not be removed.
It may seem that the licenses let one _distribute_ it under either
license, but this interpretation of the license is false -- it is
still illegal to break up, cut up, or modify someone else's legal
document, and, it cannot be replaced by another license because it may
not be removed. Hence, a dual licensed file always remains dual
licensed, every time it is distributed.
Now I've been nice enough to give Eben and his team a few days time to
communicate inside the Linux community, to convince them that what
they have proposed/discussed is wrong at a legal level. I think that
Eben also agrees with me that there are grave concerns about how this
leads to problems at the ethical and community levels (at some level,
a ethos is needed for Linux developers to work with *BSD developers).
And there are possibilities that similar issues could loom in the
larger open source communities who are writing applications.
Eben has thus far chosen not to make a public statement, but since
time is running out on people's memory, I am making one. Also, I feel
that a lot of Linux "relicencing" meme-talkin' trolls basically have
attacked me very unfairly again, so I am not going to wait for Eben to
say something public about this.
In http://lkml.org/lkml/2007/8/29/183, Alan Cox managed to summarize
what Jiri Slaby and Luis Rodriguez were trying to do by proposing a
modification of a Dual Licenced file without the consent of all the
authors. Alan asks "So whats the problem ?". Well, Alan, I must
caution you -- your post is advising people to break the law.
I will attempt to describe in simple terms, based on what I have been
taught, how one must handle such licenses:
- If you receive dual licensed code, you may not delete the license
you don't like and then distribute it. It has to stay, because you
may not edit someone's else's license -- which is a three-part legal
document (For instance: Copyright notice, BSD, followed by GPL).
- If you receive ISC or BSD licensed code, you may not delete the
license. Same principle, since the notice says so. It's the law.
- If you add "large pieces of originality" to the code which are valid
for copyright protection on their own, you may choose to put a different
and seperate (must be non-conflicting...) license at the top of the file
above the existing license.
(Warning: things become less clear as to what the combination of
licenses mean, though -- there are ethical traps, too).
- If you wish for everyone to remain friends, you should give code back.
That means (at some ethical or friendliness level) you probably do
not want to put a GPL at the top of a BSD or ISC file, because you
would be telling the people who wrote the BSD or ISC file:
"Thanks for what you wrote, but this is a one-way street, you give
us code, and we take it, we give you you nothing back. screw off."
In either case, I think a valuable lessons has been taught us here in
the BSD world -- there are many many GPL loving people who are going
to try to find any way to not give back and share (I will mention one
name: Luis Rodriguez has been a fanatic pushing us for dual licensed,
and I feel he is to blame for this particular problem). Many of those
same people have been saying for years that BSD code can be stolen,
and that is why people should GPL their code.
Well, the lesson they have really taught us is that they consider the
GPL their best tool to take from us!
GPL fans said the great problem we would face is that companies would
take our BSD code, modify it, and not give back. Nope -- the great
problem we face is that people would wrap the GPL around our code, and
lock us out in the same way that these supposed companies would lock
us out. Just like the Linux community, we have many companies giving
us code back, all the time. But once the code is GPL'd, we cannot get
I hope some people in the GPL community will give that some thought.
Your license may benefit you, but you could lose friends you need.
The GPL users have an opportunity to 'develop community', to keep an
ethic of sharing alive.
If the Linux developers wrap GPL's around things we worked very hard
on, it will definately not be viewed as community development.
Thank you for thinking about this.
[I ask that one person make sure that one copy of this ends up on the
linux kernel mailing list]
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