Copy-Back License draft for discussion

Chris Zumbrunn chris at
Mon Apr 25 00:10:31 UTC 2005

On Apr 24, 2005, at 10:22 PM, Chuck Swiger wrote:

> Chris Zumbrunn wrote:
>> On Apr 24, 2005, at 7:20 PM, John Cowan wrote:
>>> About the most that the FLOSS community will accept is a requirement 
>>> to
>>> publicize the change on a web page, not to actively mail it back to 
>>> you.
> I'd bet that most people here use software with more restrictive 
> licenses than this one, and that at least some people on this list 
> have published their own software under a more restrictive license, 
> too.
> I think it would be better to simply use a BSD license and simply 
> request that changes be returned to the author in the README.  
> However, if Chris wants to receive any and all changes as a condition 
> for publishing his code, yes, the restriction is somewhat annoying, 
> but this is still compatible with the OSD.

Personally, I may stick with the BSD and GPL licenses for what I'm 
publishing. But I think the concept of a copyback license might have 
its justification. It's different from the BSD and GPL philosophies. It 
allows for use in proprietary products, doesn't require the public 
release of source code, is not "viral" (but is reciprocal). But it 
requires modifications to be contributed back even if they are not 
published/distributed. Depending on the twisted way one looks at this, 
one could argue that code covered under the Copyback license is more 
"free" than both code under the BSD and the GPL. Certainly, it's a 
different kind of "free".

> [ ... ]
>> 5. Reasonable efforts to support this project must be made by 
>> contributing
>> any modifications and extensions back to the original contributor, 
>> which
>> must be notified on how to easily obtain such contributions by 
>> contacting
>> the Contact Email Address.
>> With this formulation it's possible to send one notification about 
>> where any future modifications will continue to be made available. 
>> Also, I dropped the reference to the BSD license, which was an 
>> unnecessary restriction.
> Be careful of using the term "reasonable" in a license, as there are a 
> whole lot of opinions about just what that means.  It would be better 
> to simply state that if one publishes a modified version of this 
> software, then one needs to submit the changes back to the Contact 
> Email Address.
> It would be useful to say what happens if the author cannot be 
> contacted.

Whether a certain effort to contact the author is reasonable depends on 
the significance of the contribution and the surrounding circumstances. 
This is an unavoidable reality. Making the language of the license more 
specific in this regard would likely cause more controversy and 
problems than it would prevent. In fact, I just changed "any 
modifications" to "any relevant modifications" for the same reasons. 
Leaving room for interpretation in these regards is within the intent 
of the license.


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