[conspire] Licensing wrap-up
rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Sep 9 17:57:53 PDT 2004
It's likely that I made everyone's eyes glaze over, by gabbing at length
about licensing. But I hope y'all won't mind my summing up:
A. It's tough to assess a distro's licence status because:
1. Users misunderstand: People tend to assume that things they've
downloaded and not been arrested for redistributing must be
lawful to distribute. Maybe someone told them so.
2. Distro staffers misunderstand: Note my exchange with Rick
Holzer of SUSE USA, who honestly believed that non-commercial
copying of SUSE Professional is OK -- totally in error.
3. Product literature doesn't help: It takes a lot of digging
to find even the package list for SUSE Professional,
and even then you're given no clue about which packages have
B. But it remains important because:
1. We want to be legal.
2. We want to avoid ripping off programmers by violating their
licence terms. (The way we reached open source was by eschewing
software with ridiculous licensing, and writing replacements -- NOT
by blithely ignoring those licences. The latter habit is a characteristic
disease of the proprietary-OS world, not _ours_.)
3. We want to know _which_ distro media may be duplicated indefinitely
without legal or other hassle -- especially for LUG installfests.
C. And this problem gets bigger the more we penetrate into
MS-Windows/desktop/naive-user space because they insist on
proprietary goodies with distribution restrictions, that the rest
of us in the Linux community long ago kissed off as we progressively
eliminated _all_ proprietary packages, regardless of right to
redistribute (xv, Netscape, pine, Acroread, qmail, djbdns, etc.).
D. But arriving at a definitive answer would require doing a licence
audit of each package -- hundreds for a typical distro. Few will
have the time and energy.
Anyhow, rule of thumb: If you can download a codebase, it might be
redistributably licensed. If you can download it from both official and
non-official sources, it's almost certainly redistributable.
Thus, instinct alone would make you expect that Xandros Standard and
Deluxe Editions _are_ unlawful to redistribute -- because they're
available only as shrinkwrapped boxed sets. Ditto SUSE Professional
and Personal Editions -- same reason. Ditto the Mandrakelinux 10.0
Official disc images that are available solely through Mandrakeclub,
as opposed to the _different_ 10.0 Official images available for
Thus, instinct alone would make you expect that Xandros Open Circulation
Edition _is_ lawful to redistribute -- because you can find it in
various places on the Net.
And you would be correct in all of those cases. I hope that helps.
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