[License-discuss] For Public Comment: The Libre Source License

Howard Chu hyc at openldap.org
Wed Aug 21 22:56:00 UTC 2019

Russell McOrmond wrote:
> On Wed, Aug 21, 2019 at 2:16 PM Howard Chu <hyc at openldap.org <mailto:hyc at openldap.org>> wrote:
>     Fwiw, most of the free software I released in the 1980s, before GPL existed, had the clause
>     "You are free to use this software but any modifications/corrections/bug fixes you make must
>     be sent back to me so they may be included in future updates."
> In Canada it was still being debated in the early 1980's whether software was covered by copyright law at all.  Printed source code in a book was covered by
> copyright like any other book, but binaries weren't automatically considered covered.
> Until I discovered gnu.misc.discuss back in 1992 I either didn't put any license on what I released, or attempted to dedicate to the public domain (once I had
> read about copyright law).
>     I am offended by the notion that someone may benefit from code that I released for free, but
>     would deny anyone else the benefit of improvements they make (privately or not) to my code.
> You would not be alone feeling this way, but until very recently it was understood that such proprietary interests were contrary to Free Software (later Open
> Source) which was focused on the wider public interests of software users rather than narrowly on the interests of software proprietors.

Requesting that improvements be made available benefits both the software users and the proprietors, so
I don't see this as a particular conflict. Indeed, this serves the greater good, while keeping improvements
private undermines the greater good.

A standard license clause of this form would also have ended the debate over disclosure of zero-day vulnerabilities
and other such nonsense that plagues today's software world. I.e., you would have a clear obligation to inform the
software authors of any flaws you discover in their code - first, before doing anything else with that knowledge.

> What the FSF calls "freedom 0" was very specifically intended to not put obligations on pure software use.  There is no obligation to contribute, only a freedom
> to contribute (freedoms 2 and 3).

I still believe the FSF erred here. Free software only grows if a community contributes back. It may be OK
for a large corporation to toss software over a wall, but for individual hobbyist programmers trying to
improve their work and support their users, this "pure use" freedom sucks people dry and burns them out.
> There has been an obligation in some licenses for quite some time to make contibutions (public distribution of code) be accompanied by corresponding source code
> and be licensed under a compatable license, but the idea that private modifications should be forced to become contributions is very new and quite
> controvercial.  I strongly believe that these forced contributions are contrary to the FSF's 4 freedoms and the OSI's OSD, but it is obvious that this is not
> yet a decided discussion.

  -- Howard Chu
  CTO, Symas Corp.           http://www.symas.com
  Director, Highland Sun     http://highlandsun.com/hyc/
  Chief Architect, OpenLDAP  http://www.openldap.org/project/

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