Ethical Restriction

Rick Moen rick at
Wed Jan 31 22:47:23 UTC 2007

Quoting gilemon (gilemon at

> Sorry for trying again to push forward a "hypothetical discussions"...
> After going through the whole genesis of Open Source, the
> "non-military use" restriction sounds too clumsy to be constructively
> considered in this mailing list. But it looks like there might be some
> room for the notion of ethic.
> As our research project involves human subjects, it has to be reviewed
> and monitored by an independent ethics committee. Our project has
> restrictions in order to safeguard the rights, safety, and well-being
> of all trial subjects. As this is applying to our own software, in
> which way will it be inherited by people reusing our sources?

Well, you say your _project_ includes ethical restrictions, which is
perfectly reasonable given its nature and aims.  The question is:  Is
someone who fetches the source code to your software and uses it
independently of your project required to adhere to the project's
restrictions on software usage?

I looked briefly through to see if I could 
determine what strings are currently attached to such source code, but
couldn't find the latter.

Really, the fundamental point is that code, to be open source, must 
have source available and be licensed to be usable for any purpose by
all parties present and future -- including people you (generic "you")
disapprove of, using it even for purposes you might highly disapprove
of:  Users such as your enemies, your competitors, your enemies'
great-grandchildren....  Usages such as warfare, blowing away cute furry
woodland creatures, commercial competition against your company, etc.

When you (speaking generically of "you" as licensor -- and please excuse
my using this occasion to make a broader point) are mouldering in the
grave, after your company and all its VC funders[1] were obliterated
when the Financial District Meteor of 2009 struck the corner of
California and Market Streets, your source code must still be fully
adaptable for any purpose, even after you yourself are a thin layer of
dust covered with an overlay of slowly cooling extrasolar feldspar.
Ideally, your _licence_ should be, too -- which is why, for example, the
otherwise highly useful IBM Public License got quickly renamed to
"Common Public Licence" and all its internal company-specific references
were made generic to _licensor_ rather than "IBM" (other than the
definition of "Agreement Steward", which is the party allowed to create
new versions of the licence, as copyright holder over that document).

Because -- hey! -- one of the core ideas of open source is to make reuse
by others feasible:  reuse of licences, equally as of code.  Open source
takes the long view, and says "What happens when _you're not around_,
any more?  And how do _other_ people use your licence?"

Consider, for example, this revised badgeware patch to Mozilla Public
License v.  1.1, posted yesterday to :

  Redistributions of the Covered Code in binary form or source code
  form, must ensure that the first time the resulting executable program
  is launched, a user interface, if any, shall include the attribution
  information set forth below prominently. If the executable program does
  not launch a user interface, the Company name and URL shall be included
  in the notice section of each file of the Covered Code. :

  (a) MuleSource Inc.
  (b) The MuleSource Logo Image

It might (when considered with the rest of MPL v. 1.1) or might not be 
considered to legitimately qualify as open source[2], but it's not very
adaptable to other users not crushed by hypothetical meteors, and would 
look a bit silly in my hypothetical year 2010 -- for lack of effort thus 
far to apply "template" treatment to it.

[1] Or in your case, your project -- and I'm certainly not actually
wishing meteors on anyone today. 

[2] The _particular_ referenced file is an
(arguably) moderately sized 250 x 52 pixel image.  Having raised the
point in earlier discussion that I think OSD#6 embodies the core notion
that open source must be reusable for all purposes without impediment
including in particular commerce, I'll offer my further opinion that the
"attribution information" mandated above still does materially impair
reuse by, e.g., commercial competitors, because of this obsession about
mandatory display -- about which more below -- but wouldn't if it were
an "About" screen available to the user but not shoved in his/her face.
(And sorry, there's no bright line in sight:  It's inherently a
judgement call.  Life sucks and has taxes in it, too.)  

What a pity the licence clause wasn't stated in _templated_ form for use
by _others_ of the 6.5 billion featherless bipeds on this planet.  FWIW,
I had suggested, earlier:  "Imagine a logo requirement for an original
copyright holder logo + company name + URL not to exceed 120 by 120
pixels that must be on an "About" screen for any derivative that has a
user interface."

Please note that I said "an About screen" -- not something the program
"must ensure [is displayed] the first time the resulting executable
program is launched".  The latter, given the stated mandate, is of
course not attribution but rather plainly _advertising_.  (Generations
of BSD coders' needs for attribution have been met by fully credits in
the source code, which cannot lawfully be removed by third parties --
so, people, please don't tell us that badgeware clauses are needed for
"attribution" purposes, as that's insultingly obvious flummery, and
doesn't convince anyone.)

Cheers,                "I'd hate to have a Peugeot 404.  I can just see it now... 
Rick Moen              I'd park it somewhere, then never find it again." 
rick at              - Kirrily 'Skud' Robert <skud at>

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