For Approval: Microsoft Permissive License

Matthew Flaschen matthew.flaschen at
Wed Aug 22 17:41:23 UTC 2007

Chris Travers wrote:
> IANAL, etc.  Maybe someone should hire a lawyer to send a writeup of the
> concepts under this discussion here, however.
> Do you disagree that:
> 1)  Copyright licenses are additive (i.e. one gets the sum of permissions
> from *all* copyright licenses granted to one for a given work)?

No.  When two or more licenses apply for the same code (dual-licensing),
you can choose *one* license to follow.  When a derivative work is
sublicensed (e.g. a BSD deriviative is under the GPL), you must choose
the sublicense (GPL in this case).

> 2)  Only the copyright owner or his/her agent can grant licenses or issue
> restrictions?

No.  The copyright holder can grant the right to sublicense.

> 3)  Only the copyright owner or his/her agent can enforce violations of
> copyright licenses?


> In short, I think that no amount of adding licenses would
> allow me to go after someone for infringing any copyright licenses on
> sections of code which I had merely included with the permission of the
> copyright owner.

You can't enforce the copyright on the original code, but you can
sublicense a derivative work and enforce the copyright on it.

> And since licenses are permissive grants (rather than restrictive
> contracts), adding licenses has no effect anyway since I cannot remove
> conditions placed on the work by the original copyright owner.

Yes, it does.  You can add restrictions for the derivative work.

  The original section of code is *still* only licensed under the
original terms even if
> the larger work (and even my changes) may grant different permissions for
> the aggregate.

Granting different permissions for the derivative work (which includes
BSD code) is sublicensing.

> For more detail:
>  work as a whole, etc.
> The copyright owner and the copyright owner alone can issue permissive
> grants to use that work in ways otherwise prohibited under copyright law.
> This is *separate* from the rights granted in such a license because it
> *requires* assignement of copyrights to the licensor

No, licensing does not require copyright ownership.  The copyright owner
can allow me to sublicense his work.

 and such language is
> lacking from the BSDL (if it were not, then one could remove the license,
> etc. because one would have the permission to change the terms under which
> it was distributed).

No.  Restrictions can be *added*, but not *removed*.

> Neither the GPL nor the BSDL is a set of restrictions, but rather a
> permissive grant to do something that otherwise would be restricted by law.

BSD allows all derivative works, which means sublicensing is okay.

> Only a copyright owner can make such a grant

As noted above, BSD does make that grant ("Redistribution and use in
source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted")

> In this view, the GPL does not require passing on restrictions to original
> components of derivative works.

The entire work must be under GPL ("You must cause any work that you
distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived
from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole").  If
BSD didn't allow sublicensing, New BSD code couldn't be included in a
GPL work.

>   Yes, adding another license in a derivative of BSD code
>> is permitted
>> as long as said license doesn't violate the short list of
>> thou-shalt-nots in BSD.
> But it requires copyright transfer rather than license.

As stated earlier, sublicensing does not require copyright ownership.

> Therefore it is still forbidden because copyrights are not effectively transferred.  I could
> be wrong.  IANAL, but I thought that only copyright owners (not mere
> licensees) could dictate such terms.

Licensees can if copyright owners let them.  Copyright owners have full
discretion to let licensees exercise any and all of their copyright rights.

> No.  WHat makes it a permissive license is that a) it does not mandate a
> license for derivative works

If it allows derivative works under a different license, it's allowing

> My reading of the MS-PL does *not* extend to altered portions of the code or derivative
> works.

MS-PL says "If you distribute any portion of the software in source code
form, you may do so only under this license".  That includes portions in
derivative works.

Matt Flaschen

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