[License-discuss] step by step interpretation of common permissive licenses

Chuck Swiger cswiger at mac.com
Fri Jan 13 18:36:46 UTC 2017

On Jan 13, 2017, at 10:05 AM, Massimo Zaniboni <massimo.zaniboni at asterisell.com> wrote:
> I tried interpreting the terms of common permissive licenses following a "step by step" approach, like if they were instructions in programminng code, and I found with my big surprises that doing so they became non permissive licenses, or permissive licenses only using some "border-line" interpretation.

This is a pretty common mistake that developers tend to make when reviewing licenses.  The law doesn't come in a fully denormalized grammar suitable for context-free parsing; more importantly, judges aren't compilers.

> This is the case for BSD-2, MIT, and ISC license. Instead Apache-2 license can be followed in a precise way, and its "step by step" interpretation implies exactly its intended meaning.
> The analysis is in this mine blog-post:
> http://another-ticket-in-the-wall.blogspot.it/2016/11/oss-licenses-debugging.html
> Probably I'm wrong, but I'm curious to understand where. So if someone has the patience to read the post,  can report here a fault part of my reasoning, so I can understand better and maybe discuss?

It's pretty simple.  The BSD license references the original source code under those terms, and it is permissive and allows relicensing including under restrictive terms by implication and common understanding of the community, which you called C for "commercial licenses".  Software under a C license isn't open source, but its existence does not change the licensing of the original software.

For BSD projects and similar projects using the ISC and MIT licenses, the developers are fine having commercial organizations use their software for value-added commercial offerings.  In other words, your point here is by design:

"Maybe the BSD license is referring only to the original B source code, while C source code can be released under a commercial license. But what is the point saying that the B part in a binary product C can be redistributed freely, if we can not separate B from C?"

Generally speaking, one can fall back to using the BSD open source variant if a commercial variant doesn't suit your particular needs.


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