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Salon: License to be good

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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