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[Amw-developers] AMW Licensing

From: Peleg Michaeli
Subject: [Amw-developers] AMW Licensing
Date: Sat, 02 Feb 2008 02:27:45 +0000
User-agent: Thunderbird (X11/20071023)

Hi all.

This is a mail about AMW licensing, that tells the story in general, and give the licensing (and non-licensing) details.

It's all started when Sylvain, an administrator from Savannah (that hosts this mailing list) wrote:

Note that your alternate license notice (for the case where public domain is
not possible) is unclear, because it only allow "use" and not "modification"
or "redistribution". I suggest you use the Expat license instead, which is
very small and properly worded:

I didn't like Expat license, because it is still not all-permissive; but more than that - even if I will find an "all-permissive-license" (Oxymoron...), there is one question that is asked - WHY?

Why not give up all rights, as simple as that?

So I have written a NOTICE that will explain very clearly: all of the original code of this project is in the public domain; though, it was difficult, and here is Sylvain's reply:

I'm not a lawyer, so I cannot say anything about custom licenses or
notices, except that we do not recommend using them.

I think the best option for a non-copyleft free license is to use the
Expat license as-is. You'll save a lot of time for people who want to
know whether your project truly complies with the Free Software
Definition, including the Savannah Hackers, the Debian packagers,
people who reuse your code in existing projects, etc.

Not very helpful; I insisted, and made the "notice" clearer as I could. Sylvain was very helpful, and here the story begins; he writes to address@hidden, and ask their advice:

Do you have recommendations for releasing a piece of software in the
public domain?

Also, isn't there something about countries who don't permit to
disclaim copyright, that we need to take into account?

Peleg Michaeli (in carbon-copy, please keep him in the replies) is
willing to do so but is using a lengthy license block (see below) that
I fear would lead to a lack of clarity. In addition he mentioned he
doesn't wish to use a permissive copyright license such as Expat.

And also made clear:

It's not about 'allowing' public domain at Savannah, it's about
avoiding ambiguity. When you write a new license header this becomes
something new that needs to be carefully analysed by different people,
as I mentioned, hence why I suggested using the widespread Expat which
is a no-brainer for such people. I didn't mean to reject public domain
as an acceptable licensing scheme for Savannah project.

Probably a no-frills "this file is in the public domain" would work,
but let's hear from address@hidden

Yoni, a volunteer at the GPL, also said what on his mind:

For what it's worth, I had recently been to a lecture on copyright law
in my jurisdiction (Israel), and a lawyer said that it is quite
difficult to legally and officially place something in the public domain.

This is just one lawyer's opinion and only regards Israel, but I'm
guessing that it just goes to show something about placing material in
the public domain around the world.

Karl added his reply:

   Do you have recommendations for releasing a piece of software in the
   public domain?

As far as I know, FSF/GNU has never made official statements or
recommendations about doing this.  Or even unofficial ones.
   Also, isn't there something about countries who don't permit to
   disclaim copyright, that we need to take into account?

I have heard this too.  I have also heard that the USA may be such a
country.  However, I've never seen anything legally authoritative about
it (either way), just FUD from programmers.

Perhaps Brett has some knowledge of the legal status of public domain.

I fear would lead to a lack of clarity.

Well, his intent seems clear enough.  What legal effect his wording has,
though, I'm not qualified to say, and I expect you'd need an
international copyright lawyer to make a meaningful comment.  Yikes.

And added:

I wonder if there is a stupid legal distinction between "disclaiming
copyright" and positively putting something in the public domain.

Which made us make the following discussion:

Peleg: It's really is a question - is it a passive, or an active act, to "put"
      things in the so-called "public domain".

Karl:  I'm sure it has to be active, if it's possible at all.

Peleg: And what if I just never claimed ownership of this code?

Karl:  By default, anything that is published is copyright "all rights
      reserved" by the author.

Peleg: Is it "mine" by default?

Karl:  Yes.  The author's.

Peleg: Says who?

Karl:  The international Berne Convention that's the basis of modern copyright 
law ...

Peleg: Are we waiting for more opinions, by the way?

Karl:  Yes: Brett, the chief guy answering licensing questions.

And then Brett, a "Licensing Compliance Engineer", replied:

It does cover a lot of bases, and I appreciate that, but I still see no
reason to recommend it above any other public domain notice.  I'm not
sure it makes legal sense to say you "dedicate any and all copyright
interest in this code to the public domain" -- the whole point of
putting something in the public domain is that you have no copyright
interest to dedicate anywhere.

I have been advised by a lawyer that putting stuff in the public domain
is more involved than most hackers think.  The same lawyer also
suggested we not worry about that too much, however: even if the author
did not properly or may not fully disclaim their copyright, the public
domain notice should serve as a license that has much the same effect.
As long as there are no contradictions in the notice, the intent is
certainly clear.

My suggestion to the Savannah maintainers is that you accept public
domain code, don't sweat the details of the legal notices too much
(although if they seem to be confused or contradictory, feel free to run
it by us), and recommend the Expat license for people who express
interest in the public domain but aren't sure about it.  A lot of
hackers seem to want the public domain option because it seems simple
and elegant.  It's becoming increasingly clear that the reality of it is
a lot more complicated.  The Expat license seems to provide the kind of
legal certainty we like to see for the least amount of effort.

And Sylvain summed:

Since address@hidden don't find it confusing and don't have
recommend a particular notice on this matter, I ("Savannah" ;)) don't
have a problem.

So, we have an "approval". Who would've thought that "putting" our own work in 
the so-called public domain will be so difficult...

Well, I have to Attach the license itself, I believe; it is attached in a txt 
file to this message.


One philosophical observation about this notice (and about public domain) - every "license", let it be as "free" as possible, 
have one "defect" - it start with "ALL RIGHTS RESERVED". After those rights are "reserved", the one the reserved them 
for himself "agree" to "release" SOME of them - as long as specific terms will be kept.

Those licenses are kept with the code just like viruses - there is almost NO 
WAY to CHANGE, UPDATE, MODIFY, or CANCEL a license after a work had been 
licensed with that license, because of the fact that that piece of code had 
many contributors, sometimes a few of them are anonymous; it happened one time 
that I know of, with SQLite, which made dozens of programmers to sign on a 
paper that says that they agree to contribute their code to the public domain; 
but it wouldn't work if one of them wouldn't have signed.

So: our criticism against GPL or other Copyleft, is the same criticism that 
Microsoft holds against it; not surprisingly, though, considering the fact that 
extreme capitalism have - sometimes - same practical ambitions as radical 

Technically speaking, I have already had many issues with licensed codes - I wanted to 
use many code snippets while programming AMW, but usually couldn't - because those 
projects are usually GPL. We ARE using LGPL code in AMW, but this is a good compromise - 
it still let people to use the software - as a whole - for almost any purpose (including 
commercial purposes), but what more important is that we, the programmers of AMW, put 
everything WE write in the public domain,  so anyone will be able to use those PARTS of 
the software without even hesitating, and without the need to license its own code in a 
license which is "compatible" with our license (because there is no...)


Now for practical issued regarding that notice:
- It is important to notify every contributor in the future that the code that 
any one of us writes in the framework of this project is public domain 
(excluding minor changes to LGPL libs we use)
- It is important to try to write most of the code in independent files and 
create independent engines, while using the LGPL libs as very distinguished 
parts; by doing that, we will have as much public domain (PD) code as possible, 
and we will ease the possibility of replacing the LGPL libs with PD libs in the 
- We will include the notice that I have attached here in every file which is PD, and we will add a 
"license" file which explains clearly what is LGPL and what is PD. We want to do it 
mostly because we seek for other contributors - that main goal of this project, I think, is to have 
a "community" - even a small one - that is gathered around it, working together.


That's it for tonight.

I'll be happy to hear opinions.



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