NPO Developers License

Ian Jackson ijackson at
Thu Apr 28 11:47:19 UTC 2005

Don Cameron writes ("RE: NPO Developers License"):
> Such issues or outcomes may not result from our efforts, however a potential
> does exist for exploitation or commercialization outside our scope if the
> software can be resold to, or by an NPO. Such a result could have a chain
> reaction effect if a commercial entity were to change the software,
> subsequently donate it to an NPO writing-off the time involved in
> re-development as a tax deduction. The NPO would be required to lodge the
> dollar value of the donation and warrant the purpose to which the software
> would be used. This is commonly an expensive and time consuming process.

If you use a copyleft free software licence (eg, the OSI-approved GPL)
then these problems will be avoided.  Since it is a legal requirement
of such licences that any modifications which are distributed are made
available under the same licence, there is no possibility for a
commercial entity to take even an improved version of the product
`proprietary' in a way that would force anyone to pay that commercial
entity for it.  So there would be no monetary donation to the
`downstream' nonprofit.  Any software initially provided under such a
licence would be perpetually available, without a licence fee, to all
comers (so long as the original copyright lasts, at least).

> Having clarified we cannot stipulate a requirement for free distribution
> under an Open Source license, my intent is to investigate other licensing
> options and perhaps see if we can use an Open Source license in conjunction
> with an overriding distribution license preventing resale.

The relevant thing that the OSD requires is (for example) that the
licence allows third parties, with no connection to the original
authors/licensors, to _provide copies for money_ - for example, there
are numerous companies who provide the service of physical CD
production and distribution of free software.  But these companies are
in no position to prevent anyone from downloading the software,
setting up competing distributors, etc.  Nor are they able (because of
the GPL and other copyleft licences) to put themselves in that
privileged position, and extract money from people, by modifying the
software to create a new or improved version.

The provision of donated software under a copyleft licence is
definitely not resale of that software, and also inherently prevents
the sale of licences (which is what the tax laws probably mean when
they say `sale of software' since software is an intangible which
cannot be sold in the conventional sense).  It's also very doubtful
whether software available under a copyleft licence would count as
`commercial products'.

Which particular countries seem to have the most difficult or unusual
provisions and where can we find more about this ?  It is difficult to
answer your questions properly if all we're answering is vague fear,
uncertainty and doubt.


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