[License-discuss] Private modification

Moritz Maxeiner mm at ucw.sh
Fri Aug 9 01:44:10 UTC 2019

On Friday, 9 August 2019 02:19:30 CEST Brendan Hickey wrote:
> Branching off from the Libre Source discussion. Not necessarily in reply to
> Russell, but this seems like a good jumping off point.
> On Thu, Aug 8, 2019 at 8:09 PM Russell McOrmond <russellmcormond at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > I will register my standard objection, which is that 2.2 seems to attempt
> > to restrict private modification.  Many countries are starting to
> > recognise
> > the harm of claiming restrictions on private copying under copyright, so
> > this reads as an attempt to circumvent in contract law a limitation or
> > exception of copyright law.
> > 
> > I believe any such attempts to circumvent limits and exceptions to
> > copyright violate the intent of FLOSS even when not clearly understood to
> > violate the language of the OSD.
> What are some good policy arguments in favor of restrictions on private
> modification? My own impression is that these licenses are so onerous as to
> discourage any serious use. Are there any significant projects using the
> RPL or similar licenses?

I'm not sure if it can be considered a good policy argument, but my point of 
view is that it's - at the very least - ethically questionable to take source 
code that the author clearly intended to be libre, improve upon it, and then 
keep the improvements from the rest of the world; or the sinister variant of 
it: Make it worse and pretend you didn't. As an example of the latter consider 
the following (contrived, but imho not implausible scenario):

You are a business that on the one hand wants its office workers to feel safe 
while browsing the web, but on the other hand wants to (or maybe has to due to 
regulations for things such as insider trading) monitor all your employees 
network activities. There are common ways to accomplish this, but they are 
usually fairly easy to detect for those of your employees with basic technical 
expertise. Now suppose you want to make your monitoring as close to 
undetectable as feasible. To your luck there's an open source security library 
that's basically used by every program you want to monitor. And to your 
further luck, you may do private modifications. So you go ahead, add your 
monitoring capability to the library, build it, and deploy it within your 
business (which generally doesn't count as distribution) while calling it by 
the same name. Your employees won't be able to distinguish between the library 
with reduced security and the original one.

You could argue that the use in the example isn't private anymore, but I could 
extend the example to a network service that claims to be secure due to their 
use of aforementioned security library, but internally use a weakened one.

While I don't think forcing modified source code to be published would stop 
this completely, it would at least make it a lot harder for the people 

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