[License-discuss] Ethical open source licensing - Persona non Grata Preamble

Thorsten Glaser tg at mirbsd.de
Sat Feb 29 11:16:02 UTC 2020

Grahame Grieve dixit:

>specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program
>from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.
>This precludes discrimination against illegal activities, either in the
>source or user jurisdiction, right? Has this ever been tested in court?
>(E.g. an open source library that was a key contributor to empowering an
>illegal activity is targeted for allowing that use in it’s license).

The OSD is a bit confusing in that it is a meta definition: in all but
one, IIRC, point, it applies to the licences themselves.

So: the licence itself may not contain a clause prohibiting its use for
fields of endeavour illegal in the licensor’s jurisdiction. If the work
published under an OSS licence is used by licensee to do something il‐
legal in licensee’s jurisdiction, it’s of course their own fault.

And many OSS users probably do something illegal in the jurisdiction of
at least one OSS contributor weekly. Drinking alcohol comes to mind as
an example. So of course that’s not in the scope of regulation through
the licence.

More specifically, at least in Berne convention countries, it works
like this: person Ap creates work Aw in country Ac. It then is protected
by Ac’s copyright laws in Ac. If Ac and Bc are Berne convention signatories,
it’s protected in Bc by Bc’s copyright laws the same as a work Bw created
by Bp, citizen of Bc, in Bc. This means that, while Ap grants the licence,
it uses Bc’s copyright law to apply to Bp. (There was uncertainty about
using English-language licences in Germany some while ago, but nowadays
the courts seem to interpret them sensibly.)

>Say I got a PR that specifically made it possible to break
>the law using the source code.

There’s laws against “hacker tools” in some jurisdictions, more or less
broad. Of course, it’s the responsibility of the person writing the code
to honour their local requirements, and each distributor of theirs.

The annotated OSD even has this, using USA export restrictions as example.

>(I haven’t had such a PR, but there are places in my source where this
>could be done since my source is enforcing the law in places).

Then it’s up to the project lead to validate each change, of course.

>Is the intent of the OSD that such a PR should be
>accepted since there should be no prejudicial treatment?

No, of course not. But the licence you’re using must not forbid it,
since it can be legal elsewhere (or elsewhen). It doesn’t need to
either, since a licence cannot grant what law otherwise forbids,
anyway (it only grants what’s under copyright protection).

When he found out that the m68k port was in a pretty bad shape, he did
not, like many before him, shrug and move on; instead, he took it upon
himself to start compiling things, just so he could compile his shell.
How's that for dedication. -- Wouter, about my Debian/m68k revival

More information about the License-discuss mailing list