[conspire] Licensing wrap-up

Rick Moen 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[1],
    and even then you're given no clue about which packages have
    distribution restrictions.

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.

[1] http://www.suse.de/us/private/products/suse_linux/prof/packages_professional/index_all.html

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