Attribution & the Adaptive Public License

Rick Moen rick at
Tue Feb 6 18:38:08 UTC 2007

A member wrote me off-list for clarification, so perhaps I should also
post it here.

> Rick, sorry for the private e-mail, but can you please expand on this 
> part of your e-mail:

Not a problem.

> >Aside:  It strikes me as very odd that all 20-odd "Exhibit B" badgeware
> >companies (MuleSource and others) elected to hang their clauses off a
> >copyleft licence (Mozilla Public License) whose copyleft provisions
> >inherently have _zero force_ in their (and their competitors')
> >no-distribution ASP usage model.  Isn't that a bit like requiring
> >spelunkers to wear sunscreen?  Don't they realise that about 3/4 of
> >their chosen licence is a _NO-OP_ for their entire market segment?
> I am not sure what you mean here. Feel free to drop my message if you 
> don't answer private ones.

A copyleft licence's provisions stating the obligation to give others
access to source code -- which are the main point of such licences and
what distinguishes them from simple permissive licences such as the BSD
and MIT/X licences -- trigger upon _distribution_ of the covered code or
of derivative works from that code. 

In the ASP business model, however, you make absolutely full use of code
without the need to ever distribute it.  Therefore, for users operating
in that market, the source-access provisions of copyleft licences[1]
might as well not exist, since they never operate as intended:  ASP
users never need to publish source.  Effectively, ASP users can fork off
proprietary derivatives of copylefted works at will, and do anything
they wish with those, as long as they don't distribute (something their
deployment model makes unnecessary).

Companies like Google can modify, re-use, exploit other people's GPL,
MPL (etc.) works in ASP deployments for the entire coming millennium
without ever needing to share back their changes.  Or, seen another way, 
if Google _does_ fully honour the intent of copyleft licences by sharing
back its changes, it can have no confidence that competitors won't then
take Google's changes proprietary in the manner described.  The intended
reciprocity of such copyleft licences thus gets finessed by the manner
of deployment.

My point to the "Exhibit B" firms is thus:  "Why on earth would you
use a licence most of whose key terms get automatically made
inapplicable by the basic business conditions of your market?  For
_this_, you paid for expensive legal advice?"

[1] Other than copyleft licences tailored specifically to address this
problem within the ASP market, three of which I cited:  Affero Public
License, Honest Public License, and the GPLv3 drafts.

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