Sunday, December 03, 2006

License to hack-debug-release

I start with the disclaimer that I am not a lawyer. I am also not very careful in reading the EULAs (End User License Agreement - a short acronym of a long term usually describing an even longer gibberish english text). When I release my first piece code (was it JBabel or mGet ?), I put them in GPL (possibly v1). Of course I didnot know what was I doing - I was merely completing a formality during the fascinating experience of sharing one's program. With time, and during development of Beagle, I came to know about the various licenses. It was about this time that the GPLv3 debate started. Also, I started releasing verious kde-beagle softwares which required me to figure out the correct licenses for them.

Liceneses, I feel, serve two purpose, demand credit where its due and specify the amount of responsibility.

Authors of some projects just want to release code without claiming any credit. I did so too. Only to be pointed out by someone that I have to actually specify the terms for others to use my code. Since I dont want to be credit for the code, its natural not to held responsible for its damages either. That needs to be specified too. One can either cook up one's own license or just pick one from the sea of licenses ( . The license I found to do just that is the MIT license.

MIT (X11) License: Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, ...

The license is itself not copyrighted, so it can be modified if needed. A rather free-to-do license, except for this clause following the above text

... subject to the following conditions: The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

Wikipedia tells me that the latter part is necessary for the copyright laws of US and other countries. The credit part is followed by the author responsibility part


Often, people use this clause to explicitly deny responsibility

Except as contained in this notice, the name(s) of the above copyright holders shall not be used in advertising or otherwise to promote the sale, use or other dealings in this Software without prior written authorization.

I havent seen projects where the last clause wasnt present, so I assume it is not a necessary clause. I didnot use it myself when I released yaBi under MIT license. The core parts of Beagle and Mono are released under this license.

My other project, kBeagleBar uses the fancy LGPLv2. I had to use LGPLv2 because I was using some source code from kde libraries. Note that, LGPL allowed me to use the library without any restriction, but I copied some code from a library source file - so I had to use LGPL. Similarly, I release kontrol as (distributed as a part of kbeaglebar) which uses the code from GPLed kerry, so its under GPL too. Also GPL and LGPL are copyrighted by FSF. But then again, I wouldnt dare to modify them myself.

I am looking forward to GPLv3. No, not because I have any particular reason to like it. Because I hope to read it fully, understand it and read the various articles and blogs about it to understand the issues of free software licensing. Its always good to know where my rights end and start.

Even after all this, it will take me some more years to actually read EULAs. They are frightfully convoluted to confuse my little grey cells.

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