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Is Your Software In Danger of Termination?

Mar 15, 1999, 14:53 (4 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bruce Perens)

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"Most free software is covered by licenses that never terminate. Unfortunately, some important new free software licenses can terminate at any time, and at the sole discretion of the copyright holder. Your right to run the software covered by these licenses could be taken away tomorrow, and you'd have no recourse, no means to appeal the decision at all."

"IBM has the right to stop you from using their software if they even think there might be an intellectual property claim, and they get to define what reasonably available means. Now, I'm not saying that IBM would use this to trick us - they are sincerely trying to be members of the free software community. However, people make contracts so that when managers change, the spirit of the agreement is still preserved. Software licenses are the only contracts the free software community has, and we should be careful about them."

"To paint the worst-case scenario, suppose at some time in the future, after our current crop of IBM managers have moved on, it became to IBM's advantage to withdraw Jikes and Secure Mailer. All they would need is a threat of a possible intellectual property claim, whether it could ever be enforced or not. They could post a notice to their web site saying Sorry, but your license is terminated. Please destroy all of your copies of the software. That is all the notice they're required to provide. You'd have no right to continue to distribute or run the software, and any investment that the free software community had made in improving those programs would be lost... lost to you, at least. It's possible that IBM could still use the improvements you'd written. The whole free software community, however, would be penalized because of some absurd patent infringement claim. If your business depended on Jikes or Secure Mailer, you'd be in trouble."

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