Richard Stallman -- The Problems of the Plan Nine License
Jul 02, 2000, 13:04 (21 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Richard Stallman)
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By Richard Stallman When I saw
the announcement that the Plan Nine software had been released as
"open source", I wondered whether it might be free software as
well. After studying the license, my conclusion was that it is not
free; the license contains several restrictions that are totally
unacceptable for the Free Software Movement. (See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html.)
I am not a supporter of the Open Source Movement, but I was glad
when one of their leaders told me they don't consider the license
acceptable either. When the developers of Plan Nine describe it as
"open source", they are altering the meaning of that term and thus
spreading confusion. (The term "open source" is widely
misunderstood; see http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.html.)
Here is a list of the problems that I found in the Plan Nine
license. Some provisions restrict the Plan Nine software so that it
is clearly non-free; others are just extremely obnoxious.
First, here are the provisions that make the software
You agree to provide the Original Contributor, at
its request, with a copy of the complete Source Code version,
Object Code version and related documentation for Modifications
created or contributed to by You if used for any purpose.
This prohibits modifications for private use, denying the users a
and may, at Your option, include a reasonable
charge for the cost of any media.
This seems to limit the price that may be charged for an initial
distribution, prohibiting selling copies for a profit.
Distribution of Licensed Software to third parties
pursuant to this grant shall be subject to the same terms and
conditions as set forth in this Agreement,
This seems to say when you redistribute you must insist on a
contract with the recipients, just as AT&T demands when you
1. The licenses and rights granted under this
Agreement shall terminate automatically if (i) You fail to comply
with all of the terms and conditions herein; or (ii) You initiate
or participate in any intellectual property action against Original
Contributor and/or another Contributor.
This seemed reasonable to me at first glance, but later I realized
that it goes too far. A retaliation clause like this would be
legitimate if it were limited to patents, but this one is not. It
would mean that if Bell Labs or some other contributor violates the
license of your GPL-covered free software package, and you try to
enforce that license, you would lose the right to use the Plan 9
You agree that, if you export or re-export the
Licensed Software or any modifications to it, You are responsible
for compliance with the United States Export Administration
Regulations and hereby indemnify the Original Contributor and all
other Contributors for any liability incurred as a result.
It is unacceptable for a license to require compliance with US
export control regulations. Laws being what they are, these
regulations apply *in certain situations* regardless of whether
they are mentioned in a license; however, requiring them as a
license condition can extend their reach to people and activities
outside the US government's jurisdiction, and that is definitely
A part of the distribution is covered by a further unacceptable
2.2 No right is granted to Licensee to create
derivative works of or to redistribute (other than with the
Original Software or a derivative thereof) the screen imprinter
fonts identified in subdirectory /lib/font/bit/lucida and printer
fonts (Lucida Sans Unicode, Lucida Sans Italic, Lucida Sans
Demibold, Lucida Typewriter, Lucida Sans Typewriter83), identified
in subdirectory /sys/lib/postscript/font.
One part of this collection is free--the Ghostscript fonts that are
covered by the GNU GPL. All the rest does not even come close.
Aside from those fatal flaws, the license has other obnoxious
...As such, if You or any Contributor include
Licensed Software in a commercial offering ("Commercial
Contributor"), such Commercial Contributor agrees to defend and
indemnify Original Contributor and all other Contributors
(collectively "Indemnified Contributors")
Requiring indemnities from users is quite obnoxious.
Contributors shall have unrestricted, nonexclusive,
worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free rights, to use, reproduce,
modify, display, perform, sublicense and distribute Your
Modifications, and to grant third parties the right to do so,
including without limitation as a part of or with the Licensed
This is a variant of the NPL asymmetry: you get limited rights to
use their code, but they get unlimited rights to use your changes.
While this does not by itself disqualify the license as a free
software license (if the other problems were corrected), it is
Copyright 2000 Richard Stallman
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