[License-discuss] a GPLv3 compatible attribution for MIT/BSD?

Clark C. Evans cce at clarkevans.com
Thu Feb 2 03:03:02 UTC 2012

Karl & Rick,

I'm proposing that we implement a open source catalog and credit system
so that it is convenient for applications to display a graphical screen
(or textual menu) listing all of a works component parts, information
about them, copyright statements, license information, perhaps
contributors, and most importantly project name, location and logo.

If (and only if) this system for acknowledgement is adopted broadly by
the community would it be time to formalize the practice that is
voluntarily followed, and making it a legal requirement for those
who would otherwise wish to hide this attribution from their users.


Let me start with some background to explain why I'd want this.

First, the mostly irrelevant part.  We have an excellent medical
informatics project, RexDB (http://rexdb.org) which we are preparing to
release under the AGPLv3 with the 7b attribution clause as currently
deployed by SugarCRM and Zarafa.  I want to stress that the ability to
have a non-removable "Powered By" logo such as this was essential part
of getting board approval.  Since we won't have a "Professional"
version, the ability to advertise our company as the authors of this
work is quite important for our services and support business model.

That said, what I'm proposing here isn't badgeware.

So. It seems our *capstone* work, RexDB, will have some rather potent
branding ability... but what about the works we've built upon?  This
seems kinda like a 1967 Volvo Wagon that happens to have a 427 Hemi, T56
gear box, and a special made titanium drive shaft under the hood.  While
we coo loudly about this sort of stuff to our more technical customers,
we don't really have to.  We stand on the shoulders of giants.  Yet, it
has never been a super high priority to formally have any sort of 
prominent attribution for those works that are absolutely essential 
to our work and our company's productivity. 

I'd like to fix that.  In particular, I'd like to dogfood it, so that
our forthcoming RexDB release has a prominent attribution, for all the
stuff we're built upon: Python, PostgreSQL, FreeBSD, and dozens of
others.  Even if they don't otherwise require it.  So, badgeware isn't
the answer since it doesn't scale: here's no way that having two dozen
badges at the bottom of every page will not work.  One is ugly enough.

What is the answer?  So, interestingly enough, I think it is exactly
what the other part of GPLv3 7b permits you to request: reasonable
attribution in the Appropriate Legal Notices ("ALN") for works
containing the Software.  The requirements of the ALN itself are quite
strong; it has to be prominent and convenient feature, accessible from
every interactive user interface of the system.  

So. I think the answer isn't to start with legal language, but rather 
to build the mechanism and then seek voluntary adoption.  If that is
achieved by the "inner circle" of our various open source communities,
then we could talk about how to formalize it as both a standard
"non-permissive" term to the GPLv3 and also as a new MIT+Attribution
license (that is compatible with the GPLv3).

I hope this helps.  So, as such, I'm not asking for specific license
feedback now or even approval.  However, a broad discussion on this
topic might be quite useful and of course I'd love to have others
engaged with me so that it's a shared & broadly supported idea.

That is... if it even makes sense.



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