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Salon: License to be good

Sep 22, 2000, 07:59 (4 Talkback[s])

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"In the free-software world, people obey the rules because they believe in them. In the music industry, the rip-off is a way of life."

"About halfway through Donald K. Rosenberg's new book on open-source software, "Open Source: The Unauthorized White Papers," I hit the chapters on licensing. I brewed another pot of coffee and made sure I had a pile of large needles close by to stab myself with. Learning about licensing is a dirty, dangerous job -- but if you care about free software, you really need to read the fine print."

"Yes, open-source licenses are boring, complicated, obtuse and multiplying in number faster than porn spam. But they are also the heart of the flourishing open-source software scene. The way they are used, or more to the point, the way they are not abused, is worth paying close attention to. Particularly if you are part of an industry like, say, the music business, where there currently seems to be a wee problem of copyright violation."

"Never mind the endless, mind-numbing subtleties. You don't really want or need to know that the Sun Community Source License treats derivative rights (the right to make new software programs based on the original source code) differently than the Mozilla Public License. You don't have to care that there are actually two versions of Richard Stallman's famous GPL -- the strict, original version untrammeled by compromise, and the more industry-friendly LGPL. Once you've had the basic parameters explained -- on this side, the side of ideological purity, there is the GPL, and on that side, the side of lenient pragmatism, there are the BSD-style licenses -- you know more than enough to stay, in the words of hacker Eric Raymond, "fat, dumb, and happy."

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