Legal soundness comes to open source distribution

John Cowan jcowan at
Wed Aug 14 11:47:01 UTC 2002

Lawrence E. Rosen scripsit:

> Whatever else open source licenses do, they do not explicitly make a
> licensee the "owner of a copy."  To transfer ownership requires a
> contract; a mere license won't do.

That seems farfetched to me.

If I set out a table with cookies on it by the side of the road and
a sign saying "HELP YOURSELF!", it seems to me that by taking a cookie
you become owner of the cookie and can do what you like with it.

Similarly, if I put a printer (chained to a tree) by the side of
the road, with a sign saying "PUSH HERE TO GET A FREE COPY OF MY BOOK",
then it seems to me that those who push the button and get a copy
are owners of that copy and can do what they like with it.

In neither case is there any mention whatsoever of ownership.
I grant that in most cases ownership is transferred by means of
contract, but I don't see how a contract can be required.  

John Cowan   <jcowan at>
"One time I called in to the central system and started working on a big
thick 'sed' and 'awk' heavy duty data bashing script.  One of the geologists
came by, looked over my shoulder and said 'Oh, that happens to me too.
Try hanging up and phoning in again.'"  --Beverly Erlebacher
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