Wired Article on the GPL

Ian Grigg iang at systemics.com
Wed Mar 29 23:52:15 UTC 2000

"W. Yip" wrote:

> A. Is revocation by M possible?

Here's what I wrote on another list this morning:

Subject:              open source licence non-revocability
   Date:              Wed, 29 Mar 2000 08:55:29 -0400
   From:              Ian Grigg <iang at SYSTEMICS.COM>
     To:              CYBERIA-L at LISTSERV.AOL.COM

John Noble wrote:
> My understanding is that a license is presumptively revocable.

Open source licences are customarily non-revocable.  This is
an industry or community situation, rather than anything covered
in law.

I say customarily, in the sense of customary law, but my sense
of this is quite limited, having read JKW's attack on Verisign
(on her site somewhere: http://www.smu.edu/~jwinn/ ).  IANAL.

In order to establish court precedent I suppose one could encourage
the judge to look at the following facts (assertations):

   1.  Open source licences have been in existance since the early
       eighties, at least.

   2.  The community as a whole, and professionals within that
       community have a working belief that they are non-revocable.

   3.  There have been many cases of "withdrawal" where new versions
       have ceased to be issued under the original licence, but are
       then issued under changed licences.  In all cases, AFAIK, the
       old licences remain valid, and pre-published code continues
       to remain available under the old licence.  But, over time,
       the user base tends to follow the newer supported code, and
       thus the revised licence.

   4.  The Internet as a whole relies on the non-revocability of
       these licences.  Last I saw, half the servers that run the
       net are split between FreeBSD and Linux, both relying on
       open source licences.  If, hypothetically, the licences
       underlying these systems were to be revoced, then this list
       would probably cease to exist (not so much the list server
       but many of the intermediate nodes would be "invalid").

I've not ever researched this issue, and am writing as a professional
that was worked with these licences for many years.  I think to claim
that an open source licence is revocable might be legally consistent,
but, does not reflect the practice and understanding of the net

OTOH, I don't know how far the concept of customary law takes us.


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