On Mon, Feb 08, 2010 at 08:18:21AM +0100, Christopher Svanefalk wrote:
At least one OSI-certified license today (the "W3 Software
and License") contains a provision like this:
"By using this software in any way, you acknowledge that you have
READ, UNDERSTOOD, and will comply with this license".
In other words, the license seems to put a moral burden on the end-
user to both read and understand the license in order to be granted
any rigths to even use (let alone modify and distribute) the
software it covers. There may be other licenses that have "lighter"
provisions of the same type (such as "you understand that you may
not remove or alter any copyright notices" and the like) in their
text, and I will include those here for the sake of discussion, as
falling into the same category.
I believe restrictions like this are contrary to the spirit of
FOSS. As the FSF definition says:
"The freedom to run the program means the freedom for ANY KIND of
person or organization to use it on any kind of computer system"
, emphasis added)
Licenses like this do not grant this freedom to everyone - it
expressly grants it only (at least in the ethical sense) to people
who can affirm that they have read and understood whatever the
license requires them to read and understand.
What this could mean in practice might be that end-users might have
to pre-screen the licenses (including any third-party licenses) for
packages they install, just to make sure they comply with the
ethical side of these restrictions. Needless to say, that would put
a large and impractical burden on the end-user, which I believe
land us in a situation where we are no better off then in a
proprietary environment, which (in my view) is unacceptable for any
This is a very interesting issue, about which much could be said.
Actually, clauses similar to this one are not uncommon in FOSS
licenses, though they differ in details and degree of
annoyingness. They are invariably fossils from proprietary commercial
software licensing culture where they originated as (arguably
quixotic) efforts to establish contractual assent. I myself would say
that, in theory, as a matter of caution, users should 'pre-screen',
but we cannot deny that, in typical FOSS distribution contexts, no one
generally does this, and it is usually impractical to do so.
I would say that the W3C type of clause is generally assumed within
FOSS culture to have no interesting legal meaning and to be purely
ceremonial. I believe this explains why, for example, the W3C license
is considered by the FSF to be not only free but GPL-compatible,
despite the existence of the clause. However, any such clause has to
be examined carefully; if it appears to be a real enforceable
condition on the grant of rights, or if the licensor acts in such a
way as to suggest that this is the licensor's view, we might well
classify the license as non-free; indeed we may have done so in some
Possible workarounds - -------------------- I believe the perfect
situation is ABSOLUTE freedom to run the software, without any
extraordinary legal obligations toward the licensor, as is granted
expressly by the GPLv2 ("There are no restrictions on running this
software"). Again, legal or moral pre-reqs like this on free
software excludes people who for any reason are not able to fulfill
them (take into account that the license might only be available in
english, or contain complex legal language, and you see the
difficulty this will pose for most people who are not
english-speaking lawyers). I believe it is possible to get around
this problem, in fact, it may already be solved. Here are some
suggestions: 1) Compile against GPL2+ code - Now I am not sure about
this, but does not combining code under a GPL-compatible license
with code under the GPL cause the combined work to fall under the
If this is the case, does that mean that any terms of the GPL-
compatible license (such as the W3C) can be ignored after such
No, not usually, in the sense that the terms generally are assumed to
persist and burden users of the GPL-licensed larger work
downstream. This is the whole assumption behind GPL compatibility
In that case, the situation would be solved for
packages that are combinations of the W3C licensed code and GPL
code. 2) Display any "must-read" terms in the package manager -
Hack the package manager to popup a shrink-wrap window where the
user has to affirm they have read and understood what the license
requires. I admit this is an awful, ugly solution.
3) Ban any
licenses that would fall into this category (possible, since for now
the only license of this type I know off is the W3C).
No, for the reason stated above; we generally don't take such clauses
license authors to provide global waivers that remove these
provisions from the licenses (possible if it came from the
community, perhaps not an individual).
Generally not necessary, for the reason stated above.
Red Hat, Inc.