[darcs-users] Licensing and copyright fun.

Trent W. Buck trentbuck at gmail.com
Tue Oct 14 13:58:44 UTC 2008

On Tue, Oct 14, 2008 at 04:11:27PM +0900, Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:
> Trent W. Buck writes:
>  > trentbuck at gmail.com (Trent W. Buck) writes:
>  > 
>  > > If a file has no license declaration, it *is not licensed*.
>  > > Therefore adding license declarations is REQUIRED.  It is *not*
>  > > sufficient to simply include a COPYING file in the root
>  > > directory.
> This isn't true, in principle.  In the U.S., the licensor doesn't even
> need to provide a COPYING file, or even say a word.  Violating
> copyright is not a crime (in most cases, and even when it is it is
> unlikely in the extreme to be prosecuted until a copyright holder
> complains).  All they need to do is *not sue you*.

Over at Debian we are not allowed to rely on the faith in the good
intentions of upstream.  If Darcs was going through the rigorous
scrutiny of the NEW queue today, it wouldn't (or at least shouldn't)
be allowed into Debian because distributing the parts of Darcs that
lack a clear license declaration COULD constitute copyright, and the
copyright holder(s) COULD sue at some point in the future.

> In the practice of open source, however, this requires extreme trust
> on the part of licensees, especially since (as LZW amply demonstrates)
> such "implicit licenses" can be revoked at any time, leaving the users
> high and dry with respect to legal extortion.


>  > > This applies to *ALL* files (that aren't autogenerated),
> I don't see any reason in copyright law for autogenerated files to be
> excepted.  For example, under a BSD license you certainly could omit
> configure.in and distribute configure only, in which case you'd want
> configure to contain an appropriate notice.


> I would say they are implicitly GPL2, for sure, with "or higher" if
> and only if that's David's license.

What I've seen of David's licensing doesn't even explicitly say GPL 2:
it just refers to "the GPL".  I'm simply *assuming* that David's
intention is to use GPL2 or GPL2+ because those are common, and
COPYING contains the GPL2 license.

> This is (a) the usual community practice, and (b) implied by them
> publicly posting (ie, distributing) their patches based on copyleft
> code to a copyleft project without disclaiming a license.

I consider any work in Debian that is not explicitly licensed to be
broken -- either it should be (explicitly) licensed or it should be
removed from Debian.  As the Darcs maintainer for Debian, I'm
initially focusing on Darcs because I'm responsible for it.  I'm
pestering people about explicit licensing because I'd rather not
remove Darcs from Debian, which as I see it is the only other
long-term solution.

I don't consider "everybody else does it" to be sufficient reason to
rely on implicit licensing and thus expose the entire Debian community
to potential badness from copyright holders.

Don't forget that the copyright holder isn't necessarily the person
who wrote the code -- it could for example be an ill-mannered daughter
who wants to turn the IP that was bequeathed her in a will into cash,
and decides that SCOing people is the right way to go about it.

> This would be a good idea, but I see no reason why it can't be done
> over time.

I have no problem with that.  I do have a problem with dismissing
explicit licensing as unnecessary.

> There are a couple of authorities for this kind of unilateral
> relicensing.  First, the Wikipedia removed some DFSG-unfree terms from
> its instance of the GNU Free Documentation License (cover texts or
> invariant sections or something like that).  Also, Eric Raymond wrote
> a screed on unilateral relicensing, I suspect with the advice of the
> OSI's lawyers: http://www.catb.org/~esr/Licensing-HOWTO.html#id2790762.

Thanks, I'll have a look at that.  Ideally I'd like to get everyone to
agree to explicitly licensing their contributions ASAP, but I realize
that legal red tape isn't anybody's idea of a fun time.

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