Viral permissiveness

Steve Thomas steve.thomas.private at
Tue Jan 20 15:00:54 UTC 2009


I am a hobbyist software developer who would like to make my hobby
project available under an open source licence. My particular choice
of license would not be motivated by personal financial gain but
rather by values I hold which tend towards those associated with
Permissive licences. To this end, I have been looking with interest at
the BSD license [1]. When I refer below to the "BSD license", I mean
this particular variant.

I have read the license-discuss thread [2] and as I understand it,
most experts would agree with the following statements :
  a: the BSD license is not a copyleft license.
  b: the BSD license is straightforwardly relicensable.

Moreover, I note the following comment [3] by OpenBSD founder, Theo de Raadt:

  "In either case, I think a valuable lessons has been taught us here in
  the BSD world -- there are many many GPL loving people who are going
  to try to find any way to not give back and share [...] Many of those
  same people have been saying for years that BSD code can be stolen,
  and that is why people should GPL their code.

  Well, the lesson they have really taught us is that they consider the
  GPL their best tool to take from us!

  GPL fans said the great problem we would face is that companies would
  take our BSD code, modify it, and not give back.  Nope -- the great
  problem we face is that people would wrap the GPL around our code, and
  lock us out in the same way that these supposed companies would lock
  us out.  Just like the Linux community, we have many companies giving
  us code back, all the time.  But once the code is GPL'd, we cannot get
  it back."

Consider the following scenario:

  (1) I make my code available under some open source license.
  (2) After a chain of 1+ verbatim copies and/or derivations, the code
(or derivative work thereof) ends up in the possession of a certain Mr
  (3) Mr Takesallsorts creates a derivative work from the code he obtained.
  (4) Mr Takesallsorts licenses copies of his derivative work
exclusively under GPL.

  After (4), companies can :
  (5) Create a derivative work of Mr Takesallsorts's code
  but cannot then :
  (6) Sell binaries of this derivative work without making the source available.

Does a license already exist that, for any such chain as in (2), would
preclude step (4) whilst allowing (5) and (6) in the event that Mr
Takesallsorts chooses to distribute his derivative work ? Is it
possible for any such license to be GPL-compatible ?

Thanks in advance for replies,

Steve Thomas


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