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[P]
Dual-License Open Source Benefits

By ryancooley in Technology
Thu May 17, 2001 at 10:18:58 AM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)
Software

While Microsoft's recent statements regarding the GPL license are typical FUDD, they are buzzing in the ears of commercial developers everywhere. There's good reason why not to develop with GPL'd software if you want to keep your code propritary, but could a dual license solve the problem?

Perhaps companies would be happier if they had their choice of using GPL'd code (and in-turn releasing their modifications to the public) or paying a fee to use the code under a different license. One license for the Open source developers, and one paid-for license that gives developers the right to keep their code secret.


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comments (24)
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After a few days of Microsoft, Caldera, and GPLs floating around in my head, I put it all together and it all made sense... The future of Open Source should be a dual license system. This way Open Source software is still open, Microsoft still can't put Linux out of business, and developers that can't release their modifications (like 'Tivo Technologies') can still keep using GPL'd software if they donate to the Open Source project in question.

The idea came up thinking about QT and Opera. While QT is released under the GPL, Opera uses QT and is closed source. How can that be? QT is simply dually licensed under the GPL, and Trolltech's own commercial-friendly license. Doesn't that work out perfectly? Open Source developers can be bound by the GPL, while commercial developers can fund the project, and in turn get the source under a non-full disclosure license. Everyone's happy.

In case a developer wanted to user the Linux kernel and keep the modifications private, they could strike a deal with Linus (or whoever is offically in charge). The money will go to a good cause. GPL developers don't loose anything because the developer would likely gone to some other propriatary platform instead, and the Linux project gets a large ammount of capital to continue development.

It's time has come as the GPL has been a major turn off lately, especially in the embedded market. <sarcasm>If developers had their choice, all Microsoft's concerns would be addressed, and them I'm sure they'd stop their current campaigns and turn around and start promoting Open Source right? </sarcasm>

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Poll
Should GPL'd projects be dually licensed?
o Definately. Everyone but M$ would be happy. 10%
o Yes. But only some of them. 32%
o No. The developers would never go for it. 9%
o No Way. I hate capitalism! 25%
o Undecided. 8%
o What's all this about 'Open Sores'? 13%

Votes: 86
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by ryancooley


Display: Sort:
Dual-License Open Source Benefits | 49 comments (45 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
Would this work? (3.00 / 5) (#1)
by dave114 on Thu May 10, 2001 at 07:59:43 PM EST

Perhaps companies would be happier if they had their choice of using GPL'd code (and in-turn releasing their modifications to the public) or paying a fee to use the code under a different license. One license for the Open source developers, and one paid-for license that gives developers the right to keep their code secret.

How would this work?

How could they merge the two worlds?

Source that others (outside of the company) have contributed would be stuck under the GPL and thus wouldn't fit with the commercial license counterpart.

not quite. (none / 0) (#3)
by rebelcool on Thu May 10, 2001 at 08:23:54 PM EST

the copyright is still owned by a single entity. That entity can do what he sees fit with the code. Now, if the GPL'd code includes OTHER gpl'd code (ie, if i copy the code from program X into program Y) then you're right. But simply donating code doesnt have that effect. Heh, the volunteers' lines of code are not copyrighted unless they expressly state that they are. And I would imagine whatever project managers there are would not allow that code in.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Copyright doesn't have to be stated. (none / 0) (#10)
by John Milton on Thu May 10, 2001 at 10:59:43 PM EST

Anything you create is copyrighted the minute you write it down. You don't have to say so, although it will clear up confusion later if you do. This comment is copyrighted even though I haven't stated so.


"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


[ Parent ]
untrue. (none / 0) (#12)
by rebelcool on Fri May 11, 2001 at 12:06:52 AM EST

if what you're entering it into has already stated that everything is copyrighted beforehand, then it falls under the previous copyright. Since software is copyrighted before the donation of code, unless the donated code is previous copyrighted, it will fall under the original copyright.

I'm not a lawyer, but if you recall the huge furor that came unto microsoft from their TOS which effectively stated every message passed through hotmail was copyrighted by microsoft. It wasnt because that was legally incorrect, but rather that it was indeed *very* correct.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

actually, it is true (none / 0) (#14)
by samth on Fri May 11, 2001 at 01:39:10 AM EST

Everything the previous poster stated was correct. All works created in the United States currently are copyrighted, absent some act releasing that copyright. [1]

Even if you donate code to a project that has a specific license, your code is copyright you until you sign that copyright over to someone else. They cannot license it without your consent, for any reason.

[1] http://www.loc.gov/copyright/title17/92chap4.html

Given a choice between Libertarianism and ravenous martian spores, I ask you, do I look good in this Bernaise sauce? -- eLuddite
[ Parent ]

look at it this way: (none / 0) (#26)
by rebelcool on Fri May 11, 2001 at 11:45:39 AM EST

suppose some disgruntled ex-employee of microsoft declares that some lines of code he wrote to be GPL'd. Do you think thats going to magically cause the release of microsoft code? Certainly not. You do not need any sort of contract, because the copyright on the product is already implied by the original holder.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

No, that's not why (none / 0) (#30)
by samth on Fri May 11, 2001 at 08:31:49 PM EST

The reason that your Microserf can't do that is they signed an employment agreement by virtue of which all their code is owned by MS. Not because of any copyright already held on the rest of the code.

Given a choice between Libertarianism and ravenous martian spores, I ask you, do I look good in this Bernaise sauce? -- eLuddite
[ Parent ]
Previous poster is correct (none / 0) (#23)
by Anonymous 242 on Fri May 11, 2001 at 10:00:14 AM EST

This is one of the reasons why the FSF requests one to explicitly sign over copyright for changes to GNU software that are contributed.

[ Parent ]
cover your ass contracts (none / 0) (#27)
by rebelcool on Fri May 11, 2001 at 11:49:12 AM EST

since this sort of thing hasnt been tested in court (that I know of anyway), I imagine they do this as a sure-fire way to see that such a scenario doesnt happen. However, with projects and companies ive worked for, very few have these kinds of contracts in place. If you're going to include code into something, you'd better declare it GPL'd BEFORE the fact. Not after.

Looking at it, I see this as yet another nasty pitfall of the GPL as twit on some kind of ideological kick could declare his one line contribution GPL'd and screw the rest of the project. I seriously doubt that would hold up in court, however.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

cya (none / 0) (#33)
by samth on Fri May 11, 2001 at 08:49:00 PM EST

since this sort of thing hasnt been tested in court (that I know of anyway), I imagine they do this as a sure-fire way to see that such a scenario doesnt happen. However, with projects and companies ive worked for, very few have these kinds of contracts in place. If you're going to include code into something, you'd better declare it GPL'd BEFORE the fact. Not after.

I suspect that every company that you have developed software for owned the copyright to that software. That's just how the industry works. Also, you are not required to declare what you want done with your copyrighted work at any particular time. You are also allowed to change the license of it at any time.

Looking at it, I see this as yet another nasty pitfall of the GPL as twit on some kind of ideological kick could declare his one line contribution GPL'd and screw the rest of the project. I seriously doubt that would hold up in court, however.

How would that screw the rest of the project? They'd just have to take that one line out. Furthermore, anyone can revoke your right to distribute their code, at any time. This could happen regardless of the license of your project.

Given a choice between Libertarianism and ravenous martian spores, I ask you, do I look good in this Bernaise sauce? -- eLuddite
[ Parent ]

not quite (none / 0) (#36)
by rebelcool on Fri May 11, 2001 at 09:59:47 PM EST

Actually, in most cases *I* owned the copyright as it was a customization of software I produce. However, these companies had their own in-house developers working, and I know for a fact they did not sign any sort of contract that said whatever they write becomes company property, even though the projects they worked were ALREADY company property. It's a legal gray area, but I imagine a court is far more likely to rule on the side of a company in such a case.

if someone sued the project claiming their bit of code was gpl'd, they could demand that the source code for the project be released immediately. At the very least, they could demand the release of code of which their code appears in. If you were to remove the code, you'd have to redistribute under a new version, but that still wouldnt eliminate the old version.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

quite (none / 0) (#37)
by samth on Sat May 12, 2001 at 04:14:49 AM EST

Actually, in most cases *I* owned the copyright as it was a customization of software I produce. However, these companies had their own in-house developers working, and I know for a fact they did not sign any sort of contract that said whatever they write becomes company property, even though the projects they worked were ALREADY company property. It's a legal gray area, but I imagine a court is far more likely to rule on the side of a company in such a case.

I'm not clear on what was happening here. You were working on code, the rest of which was copyrighted to you? Then the rest of the code is still yours. Other people were working on code copyrighted to their employer? Then the rules have to do with works for hire, which is complicated. I'm very surprised their contracts didn't mention this.

if someone sued the project claiming their bit of code was gpl'd, they could demand that the source code for the project be released immediately. At the very least, they could demand the release of code of which their code appears in. If you were to remove the code, you'd have to redistribute under a new version, but that still wouldnt eliminate the old version.

No, they don't get to demand anything of the sort. There are lots of remedies available to people who have their copyrights infringed. That isn't one of them. See here [1] for more info.

[1] http://www.loc.gov/copyright/title17/92chap5.html#502

Given a choice between Libertarianism and ravenous martian spores, I ask you, do I look good in this Bernaise sauce? -- eLuddite
[ Parent ]

Really? (none / 0) (#35)
by marx on Fri May 11, 2001 at 09:06:03 PM EST

I thought this was because they want to be able to sue violators. I find it hard to believe that you can lose the copyright this easily, when there are such tough rules around copyright otherwise.

Join me in the War on Torture: help eradicate torture from the world by holding torturers accountable.
[ Parent ]

Not a problem (4.50 / 2) (#4)
by marx on Thu May 10, 2001 at 08:32:20 PM EST

I've also thought about this, and I think it's a very good idea. When you license the code to a company (for money), you must of course get the permission of everyone who has contributed to the code (and make some kind of money distribution scheme). Also, the company can of course not take new GPLed code and add it to their code without licensing the new code as well.

I think there could be complexity issues with large and old projects (such as the Linux kernel), buit with small and faily self-contained projects, I think it could work quite well. Maybe the idea that the FSF pushes, that all copyright be assigned to them, could be useful here. They could function as the broker between the companies and the developers. I guess there are pitfalls with such a solution, but I can see some positive things.

Join me in the War on Torture: help eradicate torture from the world by holding torturers accountable.
[ Parent ]

Hrmmm... (1.00 / 1) (#13)
by UrLord on Fri May 11, 2001 at 12:41:40 AM EST

How would this work? How could they merge the two worlds?

It is already working in the BSD license.

We can't change society in a day, we have to change ourselves first from the inside out.
[ Parent ]

Cripples code re-use (1.00 / 1) (#48)
by mbrubeck on Fri May 18, 2001 at 12:19:05 PM EST

Source that others (outside of the company) have contributed would be stuck under the GPL and thus wouldn't fit with the commercial license counterpart.

Even more important (to me), dual licensing destroys one of the biggest advantages of GPLed free software -- the ability to draw from the vast pool of existing GPL-licensed code.

If your alternate license is not GPL-compatible (which I presume it wouldn't be in a situation where dual licenses are needed), then you can't include GPL (not LGPL) libraries, or re-use code from other GPL projects. Doesn't this remove one of the major incentives to use the GPL for your own code?

[ Parent ]

this is a pretty good idea. (4.00 / 5) (#2)
by rebelcool on Thu May 10, 2001 at 08:20:50 PM EST

and it would most likely work. Now, some people are going to question "but the volunteers would never agree to it!".. even if a project is GPL'd, it's still owned by someone who most certainly can change the license as they see fit. Anyone with half a brain of economic sense can see that the GPL itself was never designed for software that might be sold. The viral clause sees to that.

A dual license would work. However, it's still going to be of limited use because lets face it, theres *alot* of unscrupulous people out there. The whole reason behind closed source is to keep design tactics secret. It's very difficult to prove another company stole your code in the first place.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

The 's is important (5.00 / 1) (#6)
by lavaforge on Thu May 10, 2001 at 10:25:28 PM EST

Many projects today include many individuals. Unless the owner of a project created an ironclad agreement for everyone before the work began, the developers involved could force all of *their* code to be GPL'd. This could result in some pretty ugly situations. What do you do with a program that is half GPL?

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is." -- Jan L.A. van de Snepscheut
[ Parent ]
they.. (1.00 / 1) (#7)
by rebelcool on Thu May 10, 2001 at 10:27:40 PM EST

would have to declare it GPL'd before submitting it into the project. They couldnt go back later on and say "oh, my 1 contributed line of code was GPL'd!" and render the entire thing GPL'd.

Though this hasnt been tested in court...it'd be interesting to see how it works out.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

I don't know where people get this idea (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by samth on Fri May 11, 2001 at 08:51:50 PM EST

would have to declare it GPL'd before submitting it into the project. They couldnt go back later on and say "oh, my 1 contributed line of code was GPL'd!" and render the entire thing GPL'd.

This is totally wrong. You are merely required to remove the code. You cannot be forced to distribute your code under the GPL. If this actually worked, you could declare your one line of code "all rights reserved", and prevent the project for being distributed at all. It has nothing to do with the GPL, and it's wrong to boot.

Given a choice between Libertarianism and ravenous martian spores, I ask you, do I look good in this Bernaise sauce? -- eLuddite
[ Parent ]

This would work with new projects (5.00 / 1) (#8)
by John Milton on Thu May 10, 2001 at 10:37:16 PM EST

Old projects are obviously not going to leave the GPL, but newer ones could use a modified license. The nasm project used a license similar to the one ryancooley describes. Basically it said that nasm was GPL, but the authors could license it as closed source to anyone they wanted. You can do that under the GPL. However there was a clause in the license that said if you contributed you gave them the right to license your contributions as closed source.

I believe this is what it said. Anyone care to correct me? I do know that they were kicked off sourceforge, because their license didn't fit any of the standard open source models.


"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


[ Parent ]
BSD (3.00 / 5) (#5)
by regeya on Thu May 10, 2001 at 09:42:34 PM EST

Release crippleware source code, release full software as binary-only. License it under the BSD license. Blammo, problem solved.

Of course, this means your competitors can legally do the same with your code, emphasis on legally, with the implied meaning being that you'd not have to worry about defending your code from "illegal" uses such as linking your code with code under a license incompatible with your own (such as linking GPL code with MPL code.)

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]

As long as they don't use it on the kernel (2.66 / 6) (#9)
by John Milton on Thu May 10, 2001 at 10:53:45 PM EST

I think this is a good idea for some projects. It especially makes sense for libraries, but I wouldn't want to see this used on the kernel. I don't care if all of the programs are free, but the base operating system should be completely free. The operating system should be an open framework that can't be given proprietary extensions. It was proprietary extensions that fractured unix before.

Linux needs four things:

  • Word or something better
  • a really good browser like the win32 version of Opera (the linux version still isn't up to speed)
  • Games
  • Photoshop or Paintshop Pro because the Gimp is just clunky

Most other apps fall into the area of specialized market or just too simple to ever be able to charge. I can't help but feel sorry for the poor idiots trying to sell shareware zip extractors for $40. There just too much freeware for most programs to compete in those low end markets.


"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


Missing entry in your list. (1.50 / 2) (#40)
by deefer on Mon May 14, 2001 at 04:14:22 PM EST

* decent RAD compiler & IDE.

<asbestos suit on>
Yes, I know GCC/nasm/nmake et al are out there, and they are all very good for what they were designed for. Unfortunately, crossplatform, embedded systems and esoteric processor support are fine things, and GCC does a great job. But as someone coming from a Win32 background, the transition is *painful*. I used to use make files, command line compilers etc when I was writing for DOS 3.3. Every single IDE I have ever used under Linux is frankly of lower quality than even the POS that is VC++

I'm not saying that the tools available for Linux are poorly written; far from it. But the design goal for them all does not seem to have included much targeted at entry level. It's fine if you're a mad k-rad 1337 c0d3r, but if you want a quick dabble then you're in for some fun & games.

This is important, because if the entry level is easy, then you'll get more developers getting into it. More developers for a given environment means the TCO of that environment drops, and has additional stability - easy to find other programmers if you break your current ones.

By decent IDE, I want one that delivers RAD front end DB apps. This is the meat and drink of the software industry, and this is where Linux distros needs to be targeted. It's one thing being able to get your OS for free; not being able to bang out quick and dirty DB apps will cost you in the long run.

I really had high hopes for Kylix, until today when the review on K5 was less than glowing. Borland's Delphi and C++ Builder just *rock* - nice and easy to write noddy DB apps, and it doesn't get in your way if you want to get down to the bare metal. Kylix, I thought, was the tool that would push Linux further into mainstream. Guess I'll be waiting for 2.0 then...


Strong data typing is for weak minds.

[ Parent ]

What I miss in Linux (2.50 / 2) (#45)
by WWWWolf on Thu May 17, 2001 at 11:37:02 AM EST

My take on your list:

  • LyX beats Word. (Honest. It, combined with the underlying LaTeX system, does. I've used LyX to produce my documentation for quite a while now and no one has complained about the quality =)
  • Mozilla is decent, of course, it's not exactly a "small" browser. For speed, try Lynx.
  • Games... okay, a big hole here. =(
  • GIMP is good for my own use, but I know it's not good enough for some people.

What I miss is this:

  • Audio production tools (normal wave editing, multitrack wave editing)
  • Better sound drivers (Linux sound card drivers ocassionally suck. Hard. Yeah, you can play MP3z with them, but I'm not happy that even recording doesn't work on my soundcards...)
  • Video editing tools (Broadcast2000 was cool, but a) it didn't work for me, dropped frames like hell and b) it's somewhat clumsy...)

I run Win98SE only for games, Terragen, and sound and video editing. Everything else can be done on Linux =)

-- Weyfour WWWWolf, a lupine technomancer from the cold north...


[ Parent ]
In My Mind (3.66 / 9) (#11)
by Devil Ducky on Thu May 10, 2001 at 11:20:11 PM EST

I was thinking of something very similar to this recently.

With the recent release of OSX on FreeBSD (is that the right one?) I wondered why not Linux? It's more popular, is better known, and would provide more press coverage for Apple and Linux. Then I thought, Apple surely had to change the kernel some to get OSX to work; under the GPL they would be forced to release those changes, Apple would not like this (Do you really blame them?).

I was then trying to hypothetically work out a project where I wanted to add things to the existing kernel (the actual imaginary program is quite complex and would be very popular), how would I as a company that has invested possibly millions of dollars into this be able to protect my investment. I was thinking of an area where competition would be fierce against closed-source companies not known for their fair play who shall remain anonymous.

So far my only answers are: don't use Linux, release the changes and hope they don't get reverse-engineered, ask Linus/developers for special permission. If I heard the rumors the correctly Apple did ask Linus, and he said no, so they went with the first option.

Of course, this new license would most likely not solve this problem either, because it would very difficult to change the license on a project like Linux; but that's okay with me since I don't have the know-how or the time to start anything of the sort.

Devil Ducky

Immune to the Forces of Duct Tape
Day trading at it's Funnest
BSD and OSX (3.33 / 3) (#16)
by ell7 on Fri May 11, 2001 at 03:22:55 AM EST

Actually, OSX isn't based on BSD, it's based on NEXT, which was proprietary software made by Steve Job's other company before he was rehired at apple.

OSX has a BSD layer for better Unix compatibility, just like they have a Mac layer for Mac OS Compatibility. But it isn't 'based' on OSX.

If they had tried to use Linux for their OS they would have had problems getting it to do what they wanted.

I mean Linux is cool and everything, but it isn't very elegant, if you know what I mean. And it wasn't what apple wanted.

[ Parent ]
Based On vs. Runs On (2.00 / 1) (#24)
by Devil Ducky on Fri May 11, 2001 at 10:23:06 AM EST

Just for the record, I never said OSX was based on BSD. And if I did, I didn't mean it. :)

The way I see it, having never seen OSX in person, is that it runs kind of like Win 3.x to DOS, as a shell. If this is indeed how it works, then they would have to have changed BSD in some ways to put the "hooks" into it for OSX to run. It's those changes they'd want to protect.

If that's the other way around, with BSD being a layer within OSX, Apple would have to make even more changes to the kernel.

Yes, Linux isn't very "elegant," though sometimes it is amazing. If they were simply looking for elegance they could have gone with NEXT, I'm sure Jobs could have gotten it licensed pretty cheap. Probably they were looking for the infamous "stability of open source."

Devil Ducky

Immune to the Forces of Duct Tape
Day trading at it's Funnest
[ Parent ]
Based on NetBSD (none / 0) (#49)
by mbrubeck on Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 06:52:53 PM EST

Like NeXTStep, MacOS X has a kernel based on BSD and the Mach microkernel. But OS X's kernel is not directly descended from NeXTStep; it is actually based on the more recent NetBSD kernel. That's right: MacOS X has a true UNIX kernel based on recent NetBSD code, not just a compatibility layer. The UNIX portion of OS X is available as Darwin, a complete open-source UNIX operating system. During development of Darwin/OS X, Apple engineers contributed patches back to the NetBSD and OpenBSD developers.

The part of MacOS X that is directly descended from NeXTStep is the Cocoa API and libraries. Likewise the Carbon API/libraries are the new version of the former MacOS programming environment.

[ Parent ]

Darwin! (2.50 / 2) (#38)
by brion on Sun May 13, 2001 at 07:41:53 AM EST

Then I thought, Apple surely had to change the kernel some to get OSX to work; under the GPL they would be forced to release those changes, Apple would not like this

Well, considering that Apple has released their kernel as open source (which they aren't required to do under the BSD license of the code it was based on), I donīt think that's likely to be that big a problem for them...



Chu vi parolas Vikipedion?
[ Parent ]
How do you navigate the difficulties? (2.33 / 3) (#17)
by slaytanic killer on Fri May 11, 2001 at 06:08:13 AM EST

Out of curiosity, are you thinking of the GPL exception, where the licenseowner can agree to grant exceptions? It sounds like you're doing that, while making sure that contributors agree to any selling off of the code.

The main difficulty I see is of morale: How does one make such a license that the contributors benefit if you sell the closed-version for money? It is not easy to start a company. And what if the big company turns around and competes with the Free version? Then your company has competition, and if you didn't start a company, the contributors suddenly feel attacked.

You have missed the point of the GPL (2.75 / 4) (#18)
by hulver on Fri May 11, 2001 at 07:29:22 AM EST

You keep saying GPL through out your article. Yet you seem to be talking about some other Licence. The Whole Point of the GPL is that when you give your software to somebody, you must give them the source code as well (or make it available to them), so that they can do the same.
By then saying that "Companies should be able to release binary only versions with their own modifications as well" you are going against everything that the GPL stands for, and everything that people like RMS have fought for.
If you are saying that, then your article would be better saying, "Don't use the GPL, use some other licence like the MPL". The MPL does almost what you are suggesting.
It gives a specific company the rights to leach off free software developers by taking their code, and giving Nothing back. What makes you think that any free software developer is going to want that?
Sure, some developers do make a compromise, like using the MPL, but that is their choice.
What you are proposing has nothing to do with the GPL.

--
HuSi!
Say it, Brother! (nt) (none / 0) (#21)
by hardburn on Fri May 11, 2001 at 09:17:30 AM EST

no text


----
while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }


[ Parent ]
My god you people are idiots (3.00 / 1) (#29)
by ryancooley on Fri May 11, 2001 at 06:03:56 PM EST

The whole point is, you can either give back code, or a large ammount of money. If you release it under the BSD or MPL licenses, you aren't bound to give back either.

[ Parent ]
Problems with this .. (4.00 / 9) (#20)
by Highlander on Fri May 11, 2001 at 08:16:41 AM EST

While your entire point is valid, there is one problem, which eventually leads to a code-split:

Imagine a company or group (similar to apache group) holds the rights to the source. The source is then released under GPL for free, and given to companies, who do not want to disclose their code, for a fee.

This means that contributors to the project have to hand over the rights to their work to the company or group, so that it can release the source under the proprietary, non-disclosure forcing license. This is a real problem (esp. to you if you are RMS) .

Contributors can decide to start their own fork of the project, if they are unwilling to release copyright. Even if they keep contributing, there is a good chance that a court will rule that it is bad practice to use unpaid volunteers to write your code, which means that you will have to recompensate them (Ask MicroSoft, they know from experience).

The conclusion form this is:

As a company, you can gain from dual licensing, but you either have to pay compensation to code contributors, or have to recon with a project fork.
As a contributor, do not let yourself get cheated by a license that tells you to give away your copyrights for nothing. A lot of Open Source is not Free Source - you will donate to the Company, not to the World.


Moderation in moderation is a good thing.
Why do so many people think this is a new idea? (4.58 / 12) (#22)
by Anonymous 242 on Fri May 11, 2001 at 09:24:44 AM EST

Perl is duel licensed under the GPL and Artistic license and has been at least since release 4, perhaps earlier. Since both licenses are Open Source, this works fine and many hard core Free Software types continue to work on Perl. However, I suspect that if Perl's other license were proprietary in nature, that they'd lose a few good programmers.

The problem, is that for a significant number of people that prefer Free Software, this solution is not workable when the second license is commercial in nature. For those people into Free Software simply because they want to ensure that their work is always available to be used in the future, this solution is good enough. (And as others have pointed out, such is practically identical to using a BSD style license to begin with.) Others, however, like the GPL because it prevents companies from making proprietary changes and distributing those changes and not giving those changes back to the community.

For many people, the GPL is a sophisticated form of self interest. For these people to defang the GPL through using a dual license, is to throw away the largest benefit of the GPL, that of ensuring that all improvements to the code are available to anyone that uses the software. With a dual license, company X can come along, take the commercial license option, benefit from the work of Open Source programmers, make changes to make the code better and not give anything back to the community. Straight GPL licensing prevents that.

Conclusion: dual licensing has been done before is functionally equivalent to BSD style licensing, might very well be the best choice for some businesses, but will alienate many Free Software programmers who feel disenfranchised by it.

I'll explain it to you... (4.50 / 2) (#28)
by ryancooley on Fri May 11, 2001 at 03:39:17 PM EST

While many projects have dual licenses, none charge for the right to use the source under a closed license.

Under the BSD license, developers don't need to distribute their changes, and they are not forced to pay for that privlidge. In my idea, devlopers that submit their changes pay nothing, and ones that keep it propritary fund the project's future. How can anyone not be happy about that?

[ Parent ]
** WHOOOSH ** (2.00 / 2) (#39)
by Anonymous 242 on Mon May 14, 2001 at 12:47:29 PM EST

That was the sound of my previous comment flying over Ryan's head.

The important thing to understand is that different people contribute code to different projects for different reasons. If people always contributed code for the same reason, we wouldn't have the gazillions of licensing options (that range from the Charity-ware of vim, to the GPL, to the MPL, to BSD, to the SCCL, to public domain) that exist today.

Some people just want to release their code onto the world and don't really care abou the differences between different licences.

Other people want to prevent, at all costs, anyone from making money of their code.

In between there are many, many different shades of people. People that fall into many of those shades between one extreme and the other do have a problem with the very notion of dual-licensing a code base under the GPL and a proprietary license.

My guess is that the largest contingent that would object are the ones that use the GPL for reasons of a particular kind of enlightened self-interest. This contingent see that if code is licensed to any corporations under any terms other than the GPL, it has the potential to have enhancements made that the Free Software community will never be able to benefit from. This contingent sees this state of affairs as for-profit companies being able to profiteer on the labor of Free Software hackers without the responsibility of having to ever contribute anything back to the community.

I don't have the exact numbers. I don't think anyone does. How many members of this contingent of Free Software advocates exist is an unknown. The real question is, given that this contingent exists, what percentage of the universe of Free Software hackers that would be attracted to your project are members of this contingent? If the percentage is high, your project will get only a small amount of outside help from the Free Software community. If the percentage is small, then the notion of dual licensing in such a manner is (obviously) a good business decision.

[ Parent ]

No, but mine flew over yours (none / 0) (#41)
by ryancooley on Tue May 15, 2001 at 09:47:11 PM EST

If people always contributed code for the same reason, we wouldn't have the gazillions of licensing options

There are about 4-5 genuinely different licenses out there. The rest are companies making a license that works like the BSD, GPL, LGPL, Artistic or thers. Why they don't use the installed licenses is for legal purposes only. Some are simply afraid the GPL can't be upheld in court so they make their own.

This contingent sees this state of affairs as for-profit companies being able to profiteer on the labor of Free Software hackers without the responsibility of having to ever contribute anything back to the community.

This is the part you still don't understand. They will either contribute back code, or they will contribute back MONEY to fund the continued development. While I know there are a small number that are completely anti-corporate, most work on GPL projects because they yield the best products, and the license ensures progressive development. Besides that fact, I never claimed this is the all-encompassing answer, but it definately would work perfectly for many like Eazel who need funding, and want to be open source as well.

[ Parent ]

Your point is irrelevant to some (1.00 / 1) (#43)
by Anonymous 242 on Wed May 16, 2001 at 01:41:16 AM EST

This is the part you still don't understand. They will either contribute back code, or they will contribute back MONEY to fund the continued development.
First, your assertion is not necessarily the case. I can imagine a scenario where:

Company A creates a program, B
A decides to dual license B under the GPL as well as a proprietary license.
A starts feeling for Free Software hackers to help out with project A.
Hackers start contributing to B.
Hackers start contributing so much to B that A can stop paying people to work on B.
A starts selling proprietary licenses for B, without using the profits to allocate additional resources to B.
A is now in the position reaping the rewards of the Free Software hackers who have contributed without returning anything additional to the community.

Second, you are still missing the point. Companies that buy a license from A are contributing to the stockholders of A, not to the Free Software community. Only if A uses the money from selling proprietary licenses to fund development on a Free Software project that it would not have funded otherwise can we say that a company buying a license from A is giving back to the community in any way, shape or form.

Further, what rattles the contingent of hackers I spoke of previously is not whether a company is giving back to the community or not. What disgruntles some people about this scenario is that the company that bought the proprietary license can expand on the work of Free Software hackers without contributing any improvements or modifications back to the community. This begins to break down the very model of Free Software. The company that bought the non-free license can fix bugs and make improvements that might never see the light of day. The company might even have a vested interest in not contributing bug fixes back to the community.

Now, I'll gladly concede that the universe of Free Software contains many folks that are not this hardline about the GPL. It may even be that such people are in the majority. That said, I can understand why dual-licensing would upset some. To contend that your solution is a universal panacea is either arrogance or stupidity.

[ Parent ]

A B C D E F G (none / 0) (#44)
by ryancooley on Wed May 16, 2001 at 04:37:03 AM EST

While it is possible for a company to screw over the open source developers with my new idea, it is just as possible to do that with the GPL license by granting exceptions to a company. Linux did that when he allowed kernel modules to be closed source, which allowed TiVo to be created closed source. Very simply, if you don't trust the source, you shouldn't be working for them in the first place. Besides that, cases such as those are very rare, and while the income would be nice, it most likely would not be enough to be considered profit over the cost of the project.

I believe I've said in several instances that this is not the universal licensing solution. For companies like Eazel, this would have been the perfect way to go, spreading their code via the GPL, while developers must either provied code, or money to continue the project. Indeed some projects need funding to survive (for bandwidth if nothing else) and this is a way to provide it without becomming closed source. I know why this is not well accepted... Previously, money was flying around from investors galore, so it was easy to get money... Very soon though, the money will dry up and more will not come. Developers will then see that this isn't such a bad idea after all.

And back to the TiVo issue.. They have not contributed code or money back to Linux in any way... Nobody has complained, and no one has stopped development due to it.

[ Parent ]
Wouldn't work (1.00 / 2) (#47)
by knowfear on Fri May 18, 2001 at 02:29:38 AM EST

Why would developers in the commercial market submit their changes to the open source code so they can pay nothing? Any good changes would be incorporated into the open source version and there would be no need to buy the closed source commercial version!


A man's mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions. -Oliver Wendell Holmes
[ Parent ]
YOu hit on it.. "who controls the kernel&quo (2.50 / 4) (#31)
by t3chie on Fri May 11, 2001 at 08:37:24 PM EST

there are many pieces of GPL'd code in the kernel... all GPL'd by different people... some people might not agree to allowing their code to be used commercialy w/o getting code back... thats the purpose of the GPL... plus who gets the money?

I've been thinking about this too. (4.00 / 2) (#42)
by Tachys on Tue May 15, 2001 at 11:53:12 PM EST

One word of warning we would have to word this second license to make sure the software doesn't become "Microsofted". You know try to change the software slightly so it doesn't work with the original. Then use its Windows marketshare to make sure only their version is used.

BTW, I was wondering has anyone besides Microsoft tried to pull this stunt?

"Slight Modification" (none / 0) (#46)
by Robby on Thu May 17, 2001 at 06:41:05 PM EST

You know try to change the software slightly so it doesn't work with the original. Then use its Windows marketshare to make sure only their version is used.

I don't think this can happen, if you're basing your code on someone elses libraries.

Well, OK, This is going to happen if you give people modify rights to the code you're writing. I think the GPL lets you redistribute modified code under a different Name (i.e. I can't change KDE , then distribute it as KDE).

On the 'fantasy second' licence, then, you'd have a similar proviso: You can modify the code, and distribute it (Not neccessarily as source!) under a different name. If people want to make their software work on proprietery closed-source libraries only, they're the ones in trouble, since Most libraries will be established as open-source.

Now I wonder where the Hole in my thinking is?

[ Parent ]

Dual-License Open Source Benefits | 49 comments (45 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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