Linux Licensing: barriers to developers

Linux Licensing: barriers to developers

Summary: The GPL is a beautifully designed implementation of a social idea in the contextof an existing legal system - the notion that those who celebrate free as in freedomby helping themselves to the work of others with their left hands, have a responsibilityto pass on their own work, and the GPL view of freedom, with their right hands.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Legal
84
There are dozens of different software license structures ranging from the legal structures of the GPL and Chinese government policy on the one hand to nextgen DRM and Microsoft's end user licenses on the other.

The GPL is a beautifully designed implementation of a social idea in the context of an existing legal system - the notion that those who celebrate free as in freedom by helping themselves to the work of others with their left hands, have a responsibility to pass on their own work, and the GPL view of freedom, with their right hands.

The GPL works, and works well, to empower innovation - but also represents a peaceful implementation of Karl Marx's famous dictum that the state should take from each individual according to the individual's abilities, and give to each individual according to that individual's needs. Indeed the GPL doesn't different in principle (although it's certainly dramatically different in practice!) from the communist Chinese policy of state confiscation of intellectual property for state use.

Microsoft's EULA, in contrast, takes the polar opposite approach: it represents the ultimate in the exploitation of the existing legal system to retain the company's intellectual property rights while collecting an economic rent on whatever benefits the user may be able to obtain by using some current manifestation of that intellectual property in Microsoft software.

Now look at this as a simple either/or choice for a developer with an established code base and you can see the problem. He'd like to get into the Linux market, but to do that he might have to use some GPL'code and is certainly looking at a significant legal bill to assess not only his obligations under the various licenses his application development and release work might touch on, but also his risks with respect to real and alleged patents and/or ongoing or probable litigation. So what's a smart developer to do? for the risk averse the answer is obvious: Microsoft is the low risk choice, Linux the high risk choice - so what if Linux works better? you don't get sued going Microsoft.

The best answer so far, at least in my opinion as a non lawyer, is Sun's community development license. Basically this is a have your cake and eat it too deal: developers keep proprietary code proprietary, participate in the free as in freedom world being built up around openSolaris, and work inside a patent umbrella held up, not just by Sun, but by mutual agreement among participating developers. In other words, Joe developer can adopt openSolaris and the CDDL ( Common Development Distribution License) without spending a nickel on legal fees and be reasonably confident that not doing something criminal (or just criminally stupid) will suffice to protect himself from legal action.

Combine the CDDL with the fact that Solaris is the best OS around, and it's easy to see why the openSolaris community is exploding --and that's great, but the biggest source of developers is the Linux community not the Microsoft one, and more internecine warfare is one thing the Unix community as a whole does not need.

So what to do? What I think is that the Linux community has to play catch up ball here: adopt the ideas behind the CDDL and create the requisite patent umbrella to remove both the real and perceived legal barriers to Linux.

 

Topic: Legal

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

84 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Linux Licensing != communism

    OK, maybe in theory, but history shows that communism in practise winds up being forced upon people. Using GPL software as your base means that you enter into the contract to give back, knowing the terms up front. Want to stand upon the shoulders of giants without giving back? Do diligent research to find BSD licensed software and use that as your base.

    Here is a non-software example: home owners associations. The only reason I am in one now is my wife owned a home before we met. I moved in after we got married and now share that home. I despise HOAs, because I am forced to pay a yearly fee to a group that tells me what I can and can't do with my property. I put up with it now, because that was the pre-existing state in the neighborhood, and I CHOSE to move there. When we decide to sell and buy elsewhere, you can rest assured that our new home will NOT be in an area that falls under an HOA.

    To summarize: my point is that to use or not use GPL is a choice. Use it if it meets your needs, find something else if you don't. Also, nothing is stopping anyone from building and application from "scratch" and retaining full copyrights to it and deciding to release none of the source.
    mjollnir
    • More to the point

      The GPL doesn't "take" anything.

      It's about as "communistic" as horse-trading.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • horse-trading is barter...

        ... which is a pre-capitalist system. I think that's what you intended, anyway.

        The ancient Egyptians never did bother to use money. They traded only in goods.

        Of course, that system was under complete government control, with every item recorded by a large number of clerks. Particularly during the Middle Kingdom.

        So once you start with the assumption that individuals should not be able to control their own earnings, you do have a variety of systems from which to choose.

        Me, I think one's as bad as another. But you're entitled to a different view.
        Anton Philidor
        • More Western than Middle

          [i]horse-trading is barter which is a pre-capitalist system. I think that's what you intended, anyway. [/i]

          The term "horse trading" has at least two common uses:

          * Very sharp negotiation -- horese traders were known to be extremely skilled bargainers. Cash or barter, they didn't lose out in their deals.

          * The Western practice of resting riding horses on a long trip by temporarily trading with a cooperative rancher. After riding for a ways, you'd turn unsaddle your horse, turn it into your neighbor's corral, and saddle up one of his. On the return, you'd reverse the process. Most likely you'd be offered a meal for yourself as well. It all worked out because your neighbor could expect the same from you.

          The analogy works both ways.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Bartering is what capitolism is all about

          It doesn't matter if I trade you $100 for your service or I trade you 10 chickens for your service. A value is attached to both the currency and to the chickens.

          Using money does not define what is and is not capitolism.
          voska
    • Well stated, Linux is not the right platform

      for proprietary (for profit) software development. Ummm, isn't that the very thing Paul said?
      No_Ax_to_Grind
      • Ah yes... more FUD

        VMWare seems to be doing quite well developing and selling their proprietary software for Linux. Codeweavers not only sells proprietary software but uses GPL software alongside it, AND it publishes its changes, and yet they still have buyers because they sell a good and useful product. Nero hedging its proprietary software against some very good GPL software, and many people like it better than the GPL stuff. Staroffice still sells well despite the fact that there is a free version it is competing against. And what about Oracle and IBM software?

        The Linux platform [u][b]is not a barrier for proprietary software development.[/b][/u] If you want to say GPL libraries are a barrier then you'd have an arguement. But you do not need to use GPL libraries, you have a wide variety to choose from.
        Michael Kelly
        • I think that GPL==Linux is not a correct assumption

          As you stated, there are packages that sell for Linux that are not GPL, VMWare being one of them.

          You could use GPL code on a Windows or BSD computer and still have the same GPL problems. I myself have no use for GPL code because it is too much of a pain to deal with and much of it is substandard (many Perl modules come to mind) but that doesn't mean that I can't develop something for Linux or any other OS and not use GPL components.
          balsover
      • Not what I got

        It seems to me that for profit OS developement derived from Linux would not be wise.

        For Profti software, if was me, I'd develope it for what ever platform worked best and gave my customers the best for the money. That could be Linux, Windows, Unix or any combination. The GPL is irrelevant as the EULA. My software my license, the OS license doesn't apply.
        voska
      • No, he was saying that about GPL

        You can create non-GPL software for Linux just as you could (although I wonder why you would) create GPL code for other platforms such as Windows or Solaris.
        balsover
        • Actually

          even though you may not be developing specifically for Windows, a lot of software created for Linux is easily ported to Windows using the same code, especially if it uses libraries that have been ported. Some examples of GPL programs originally intended for Linux but also have downloadable binaries ported Windows include MPlayer, Pan (a yEnc capable NNTP newsreader), and GAIM. I use all three of those on my XP computer at work.
          Michael Kelly
    • You more or less agreed with Murphy

      Using GPL could cost more if you are doing due diligent research to find BSD alternatives.

      Higher cost is a barrier to GPL use. These are not the concerns of a hacker that never intends to market their product, only to companies that do intend to market their product at a profit.
      balsover
    • GPL is very Capitolistic

      The GPL is a far from communism as you can get. The community surrounding the GPL may be communist leaning such as Stallman but that's just speculation on my part.

      Like most software you pay for what you get. GPL software has a price. That price is the trading of code. Isn't trading the whole basis behind capitolism? So how can you have very capitolistic idea like the GPL but call it communism?

      My theory is that the so called capitolists are not what they try to appear. To most businessmen capitolism is just a path to get what you want but once you got it you don't need nor want capitolism. Competition is capitolism but it's also dispised by those who used captitolism to get where they are and how dare anyone else use capitolism to get rich too.

      The GPL isn't evil, it's just license. Choose to use it if you will and remember it's not free, it does have price. Don't like the price then choose not to use the procuts.

      When people cliam the GPL is communist it just make me wonder how much pirated software they have in thier home.
      voska
  • Risk?

    "Microsoft is the low risk choice, Linux the high risk choice"

    Riiiiight.

    Tell that to SQL Server developers:

    www.theregister.co.uk/2003/02/20/sql_server_developers_face_huge/
    kincera
    • Sorry ...

      ... but can you name one customer who was required to spent a penny on this? MS shielded the customers from the suit. In case of GPLed software who will be stepping up for the developer/customer?
      Ardian Daka
      • MS Customer Sued

        Oh how wrong you are:

        www.theage.com.au/news/Breaking/Indemnification-Microsoft-claims-questioned/2004/11/09/1099781376840.html
        www.timeline.com/021304PR1.htm

        HTH
        kincera
        • Settled out of court

          What does that prove? Nothing. IBM was sued by SCO, do you assert that SCO was correct just becase they sued IBM?

          They decided to settle out of court rather than prove the point. Who else was sued? Only Cognos out of all the companies that use SQL Server? Surely if Timeline has such a strong case there would be cases lined up for serveral years. This case was no different than SCO other than instead of settling out of court as Cognos did IBM decided to fight it.
          balsover
          • IBM vs Cognos

            Your comparison isn't valid. Timeline has a patent that a court has already ruled that Microsoft's SQL Server is indeed in violation of. SCO has no patents and to date has had no legal validation to their claims.

            It really isn't hard to see why Cognos settled -- they were figthing an already validated patent. Good luck fighting that.

            In summary, Timeline DOES have a strong case. I'll leave why they haven't gone lawsuit happy up to speculation as I certainly don't know.
            kincera
    • That was nearly 2 years ago

      what was the outcome? Are the SQL developers liable? Do you know or is this the only dirt that you could google for?
      balsover
  • Sociologists wanted.

    One of the problems I see with these articles is that, while they seem to be extremely well thought out and correct for the most part, they don't pay enough attention to the base of people they are supposedly addressing. The average Linux developer's mental state and emotional makeup are a huge piece of what needs addressed should we want to go further with making it accepted worldwide.

    Using the ideas in this article sounds all well and good to the people who are truly interested in Linux becoming a ubiquitous OS... but how many Linux developers care about that? Mostly, they care about the particular uses they or their community have for Linux, and secondarily about the developer-at-large community never having a bad opinion about Linux. They want Linux to be the system that your standard IT professional looks at and goes "It would be GREAT if I could use that system", but they don't care really if that IT professional really can use the system. They just want it to be the system that everyone looks up to.

    What you really need to do to make Linux a successful OS is to convince the major body of developers for Linux that they personally will receive advantages, or that Linux as a whole will receive advantages, from being mainstream. To them, being mainstream just means that actually fixing all the bug reports that come in will become a full time, overwhelmingly complicated job that will keep them from being able to do the truly innovative development and major changes to the underlying system.

    When you have to support a mainstream user base, making major shifts in underlying technology becomes far more difficult... look at the fact that MS is still almost completely backwards compatible to a lot of MS-DOS programs... do you think they _want_ all that left over garbage-code lying around in their OS? No... but when you have such a huge mainstream audience, you have to keep in mind that the upgrade of the end user's approach to computing takes a MUCH longer time than the upgrade to your OS, or any of your products.

    To wit, becoming a mainstream program will make Linux much more like Windows that it will make Windows like Linux. The most appropriate place for Linux, at least to me, is as the underdog, who is constantly innovating, making the new ideas, implementing the things that we see in all the other OSs down the road. While it really, really sucks that the people making these innovations aren't receiving much in the way of compensation for it, the fact remains that without being the underdog, those innovations are pretty hard to come by.
    technodolt