For Approval: Microsoft Permissive License

Donovan Hawkins hawkins at
Sun Aug 19 06:12:40 UTC 2007

On Sat, 18 Aug 2007, John Cowan wrote:

> Which is to say that the GPL excludes the MS-PL, not vice versa.
> In particular, 2B is inconsistent with the GPLv2; I don't know whether
> it's incompatible with the GPLv3 or not -- I suspect not.  Anyhow, if
> you keep me out of your club, you can't also claim that I'm an elitist
> because I can't be found there.

That is the mechanism, but since the GPL came first I think it is safe to 
say that the MS-PL is intentionally incompatible. The fact that the GPL 
makes incompatibility easy to achieve is not the issue. In this case the 
club has a rule against wearing hats and you put one on solely to get 
yourself kicked out. You both made your choice not to associate with each 
other and that's fine, I never said MS-PL couldn't do that. I said it's 
not permissive and should not be called permissive.

> Even the 3-clause
> BSD license imposes *some* restrictions on (re)users; in particular,
> they can't change the attributions.  If you want "people to do what
> THEY want", you need to dedicate your code to the public domain, and
> then you have to deal with me and Larry Rosen, who don't believe that
> you can actually do so.

The "restrictions" on the new BSDL are of great importance to lawyers but 
of minimal significance to ordinary developers and users. I would argue 
that they are nothing more than common-sense courtesy not to cause harm to 
the person who freely gave you their software, but sadly not everyone has 
common sense or courtesy so we have to be explicit.

I would be willing to wager that few people have ever found themselves 
unable to use a piece of (3-clause) BSDL software because of a restriction 
in the license that they were unable to comply with. The same is not true 
for the GPL nor will it be true for the MS-PL. That is the line I am 
saying represents the difference between permissive and non-permissive.

Incidentally, why is public domain not an option? I joined this list 
recently and haven't heard your discussions in the past on that subject.

> The theory of GPL freedom is that it preserves the freedom of users, not
> necessarily the freedom of developers; developers get a lot of freedom to
> do what they want with the code, but by no means absolute freedom.

There's a vast difference between GPL freedom and "absolute freedom" 
that BSDL manages to fit in quite nicely I might add. I'm not attacking 
the GPL and I don't necessarily disagree with copyleft, but I'd have 
preferred to see "free" reserved for the most free of the open-source 
licenses (permissive licenses like BSDL) rather than one of the more 
restrictive open-source licenses.

If restrictions like those in MS-PL still count as a permissive license, 
could we at least reserve a term for the licenses that BSDL that don't 
tell me, the developer, how I'm supposed to license my derivative code? 
The good terms are getting used up fast, and it would be a shame if the 
category of license that gives the most rights to the community gets 
shafted because groups like Microsoft and the FSF want to label their 
licenses with terms like "permissive" and "free" in order to sound better.

What word means more free than "free" and more permissive than 

Donovan Hawkins, PhD                 "The study of physics will always be
Software Engineer                     safer than biology, for while the
hawkins at                   hazards of physics drop off as 1/r^2,                biological ones grow exponentially."

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