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Catalog of Software Licenses

News See also Recommended Books Recommended Links Pro-author licenses Prouser licenses Prodicstributor licenses Licenses favorable to the creator of derivatice works
BSDL-derived licenses GPL -- The Incompatible License Artistic License Sun community license IBM License Plan 9 Mozilla Etc.

Free software licenses can be classified in many different ways. For example copyright-compatible and questionable (GPL). Licenses that have attribution close for derived works (original BSD) and those who cannot care less about the original author (GPL), and so on and so forth. I had found the Various Licenses and Comments about Them - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)  contains too much propaganda and this is a modest effort to provide more unbiased view on various free licenses.

As we already mentioned above, a free/open software license can be viewed not only as a legal document but also as a social contract, a mechanism for attracting users and co-developers and ensuring cooperation. Actually none of the licenses were ever challenged in a court of law.  In my opinion most free/open source developers do not think about those licenses in purely legal terms;  they are usually interpreted as some kind of social framework that a particular developer adopts. Their primary social role might be in establishing "the rules of game" ("rules of  free/open software development league"), a set of expectation for the author, user and co-developers to observe and from that point of view both are closer to a social contract that to a legal document.  And this social framework is far from being static; its a complex mosaic of interrelated issues, including the ability to use components licensed under different licenses, the fear of misappropriation of the product under development, the ability and perceived value of attracting commercial developers to the project, etc. For example if you analyze GPL-related literature belonging to, say, the period 1992-1997, it is quite evident that views on GPL that are currently held are very different and the level of understanding of each aspect of GPL is much higher; various new aspects of the GPL were discovered and analyzed since 1997.

The idea of the social contract is quite old. Here is the initial part of the definition in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Social contract theory is the view that morality is founded solely on uniform social agreements that serve the best interests of those who make the agreement. Historically social contract theory is an outgrowth of natural law theory, specifically the theories of Grotius and Pufendorf. However, we find hints at social contract reasoning in earlier works, most notably in Book 2 of Plato's dialog The Republic. Two distinct portions of that Book contain social contractarian themes, the first of which is offered by a skeptical character in the dialog named Glaucon. According to Glaucon, we all recognize that it is good for us individually to be unjust, although it is bad for us individually to suffer. We also recognize that if we do act unjustly, we will suffer injuries from other people. To avoid suffering injury, then, make contracts with each other by which we give up injustice and practice justice. To demonstrate his point about our preference to be unjust, Glaucon presents a myth about a shepherd named Gyges who finds a ring that makes him invisible when he wears it. Understanding the special advantage gained by having such a ring, Gyges uses its powers to seduce the Queen and Kill the King. Glaucon then argues that if there were two such rings, worn by a just person and an unjust person respectively, they would both commit the same kind of unjust deeds. Plato himself rejects this skeptical view about justice; however, the hero of the dialog - the character Socrates - presents a different contractarian account of the origin of justice in society. According to Socrates, societies are formed for the purpose of fulfilling our human needs. We have many needs and thus many kinds people and activities are required to fulfill all those needs. We then form partnerships by which we exchange goods and services. The mutual fulfilling of the various tasks is the basis of justice in society.

The definitive statement of social contract theory is found in Chapters 13 through 15 of Hobbes's Leviathan. Briefly, Hobbes argues that the original state of nature is a condition of constant war, which rational and self-motivated people would want to end. These people, then, will establish fundamental moral laws to preserve peace. The foundation of Hobbes's theory is the view that humans are psychologically motivated by only selfish interests. Hobbes argued that, for purely selfish reasons, the agent is better off living in a world with moral rules than one without moral rules. Without moral rules, we are subject to the whims of other people's selfish interests. Our property, our families, and even our lives are at continual risk. Selfishness alone will therefore motivate each agent to adopt a basic set of rules which will allow for a civilized community. Not surprisingly, these rules would include prohibitions against lying, stealing and killing. However, these rules will ensure safety for each agent only if the rules are enforced. As selfish creatures, each of us would plunder our neighbors' property once their guards were down. Each agent would then be at risk from his neighbor. Therefore, for selfish reasons alone, we devise a means of enforcing these rules: we create a policing agency which punishes us if we violate these rules. Like rule-utilitarianism, Hobbes's social contract theory is a three-tiered moral system. Particular acts, such as stealing my neighbor's lawn furniture, are wrong since they violate the rule against stealing. The rule against stealing, in turn, is morally binding since it is in my interests to live in a world which enforces this rule.

Another important consideration is that neither the BSDL nor GPL exist is isolation: they implicitly interact and influence each other as they serve a common social group that we defined as the "programming intelligentsia".

A software license is not only a legal document, but also an algorithm for ensuring an appropriate social contract. Neither BSDL nor GPL exist isolated: they implicitly interact and influence each other as they serve a common social group that we defined as "programming intelligentsia"

Formally each of  software licenses can be viewed as a point of the multidimensional space with dimensions corresponding to major social groups participating in the development and values of dimensional coordinates corresponding to the level of satisfaction of the requirements of a particular user group. Such representation can make more explicit the fact the each license is an attempt to balance often conflicting interests of the author(s) and interests of other subgroups in user space. The license needs to ensure the cooperation of  others as well as the achievement of the author goals. We will adopt a simple classification that distinguishes between four interwoven subgroups of users: 

If we assume that at each stage of the development of software project we need to  balance the (potentially conflicting) requirements of each of those subgroups, then it is evident that the license itself is an exercise in the art of compromise and thus the author can simplify this task by adopting different requirements depending of the stage of the program development and the fact of existence (or non-existence) and relative importance of a particular user subgroups on a different stages. 

In its most basic form, a license is simply the grant of a right to do something that would otherwise be prohibited. In the context of a free/open software license, this usually means the grant of certain rights to each of the above mentioned subgroups.  For example proprietary software license simply withdraws the rights of distributors, contributors and creators of derivative works and severely limits the rights of the user including his ability to copy and use software on several machines.  That means that free/open source license is inherently more complex because a proprietary software license specifies only the conditions of use for the program, while a free/open software license needs to specify much broader set of rights that should cover not only the users, but also the distributors, contributors and developers of derivative products. 

It is clear that it does not make sense to give rights that nobody is asking for. Like putting under GPL assignments submitted to the professor in the university course. Here, for example, creators of the derivative works face some problems no matter what license is adopted.  That also means that in the case of really useless software,  neither of those groups mentioned above actually exists, and for such software  BSDL, GPL  and the commercial software licenses are pretty much equivalent.  That means that the popularity of the product affect the licensing and it may be prudent to modify the license as the program popularity grows and some new subgroups emerge.

As the importance of the groups mentioned above varies with the stage of the software life stage the project is at, it might be beneficial to take into consideration the interests of the most important group, not the interests of everybody. That leads us to the question of what set of requirements are most important for each subgroup. Although this is a complex topic that subject to revisions and further refinement, briefly we mention the following rights as the most important for each subgroup:  

  1. Principal author/co-developers rights:

  2. The regular users/redistributors might value the following rights:

  3. The contributors  might value the following rights:

  4. The creator of derivative products might value the following rights:

- Nikolai Bezroukov

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  • Earth First!:
  • The Open Source Definition:

    Netscape Public License:
    Apple Public Source License:
    The Artistic License:

  • Free/Open License Requirements for Contributors

    [IBM License]

    Free/Open Licenses Requirements for Distributors

    [IBM License]

    Commercial distributors of software may accept certain responsibilities with respect to end users, business partners and the like. While this license is intended to facilitate the commercial use of the Program, the Contributor who includes the Program in a commercial product offering should do so in a manner which does not create potential liability for other Contributors. Therefore, if a Contributor includes the Program in a commercial product offering, such Contributor ("Commercial Contributor") hereby agrees to defend and indemnify every other Contributor ("Indemnified Contributor") against any losses, damages and costs (collectively "Losses") arising from claims, lawsuits and other legal actions brought by a third party against the Indemnified Contributor to the extent caused by the acts or omissions of such Commercial Contributor in connection with its distribution of the Program in a commercial product offering. The obligations in this section do not apply to any claims or Losses relating to any actual or alleged intellectual property infringement. In order to qualify, an Indemnified Contributor must: a) promptly notify the Commercial Contributor in writing of such claim, and b) allow the Commercial Contributor to control, and cooperate with the Commercial Contributor in, the defense and any related settlement negotiations. The Indemnified Contributor may participate in any such claim at its own expense.

    For example, a Contributor might include the Program in a commercial product offering, Product X. That Contributor is then a Commercial Contributor. If that Commercial Contributor then makes performance claims, or offers warranties related to Product X, those performance claims and warranties are such Commercial Contributor's responsibility alone. Under this section, the Commercial Contributor would have to defend claims against the other Contributors related to those performance claims and warranties, and if a court requires any other Contributor to pay any damages as a result, the Commercial Contributor must pay those damages.


    BSDL and Derived Licenses

    The original BSD license classic academic style license. It contains an attribution clause that is an essential requirement in the academy.

    The X11 license.
    BSD style license without advertising clause or attribution requirement.  XFree86 uses the same license.
    BSD licensse without advertaizing clause This is the original BSD license, modified by removal of the advertising clause which makes it similar to X11 license
    The Berkeley Database License (aka the Sleepycat Software Product License).
    The OpenLDAP License, Version 2.7.
    This is a permissive non-copyleft free software license that is compatible with the GNU GPL.
    The Zope Public License version 2.0.
    This is a simple, permissive non-copyleft free software license which is compatible with the GNU GPL.
    The Arphic Public License.
    This is a copyleft free software license, incompatible with the GPL. Its normal use is for fonts, and in that use, the incompatibility does not cause a problem.

    The original BSD license.

    Note how Stallman objected to the original BSD and wanted to remove the author attribution clause Very nice example of a political spin):

     on the preceding link, the original BSD license is listed in the "UCB/LBL" section.) This is a simple, permissive non-copyleft free software license with a serious flaw: the ``obnoxious BSD advertising clause''. The flaw is not fatal; that is, it does not render the software non-free. But it does cause practical problems, including incompatibility with the GNU GPL.

    We urge you not to use the original BSD license for software you write. If you want to use a simple, permissive non-copyleft free software license, it is much better to use the modified BSD license or the X11 license. However, there is no reason not to use programs that have been released under theoriginal BSD license.

    The Apache License, Version 1.0.
    The Apache License, Version 1.1.
    The Zope Public License version 1.
    The license of xinetd
    The License of Python 1.6b1 and later versions, through 2.0 and 2.1.
    The Interbase Public License, Version 1.0.
    This is a free software license that is essentially the same as the Mozilla Public License
    The Sun Public License.
    This is essentially the same as the Mozilla Public License Please do not confuse this with the Sun Community Source License
    The Netscape Public License (NPL)
    The Jabber Open Source License, Version 1.0
     It permits relicensing under a certain class of licenses, those which include all the requirements of the Jabber license.


    The Sun Industry Standards Source License 1.0
    The Q Public License (QPL), Version 1.0.
    The PHP License, Version 2.02.

    GPL -- The Incompatible License

    GPL can be characterized as anti-author, pro-user, pro-distributor and pro-creator of derivative works license.

    The GNU General Public License, or GNU GPL for short. Should not be used as the only license (as the only license probably can be used for one-man early stage projects or for the "dumpware").
    The Library General Public License, or GNU LGPL for short.  permits linking with libraries written under other licenses. Otherwize is as rigid as GPL.  Should not be used as the only license (as the only license probably can be used for one-man early stage projects or for the "dumpware").

    Artistic License

    The Artistic License is used by some authors who want more control than offered by the BSD, but fewer restrictions than the GPL. It aims to give software authors a degree of control over their work approximating artistic freedom.

    It allows redistribution of the complete work and minor changes ("bugfixes, portability fixes and other modifications") without restriction, but requires that if you distribute an altered version that you either publish your alterations so that they are available for the free software community to examine and use, or clearly difference the modified product by using a different name for it to avoid confusion.

    You can include the licensed work in other aggregate works (e.g., operating systems distributions) and may charge whatever you like for aggregate or derived works but may not charge for the licensed product itself, other than a reasonable charge for distribution.

    The Artistic License is one of the alternative licenses available for Perl, and is also used by some other authors. It is well suited for developers who want to make a product freely available and allow commercial use of the product as part of a greater whole, but not as a product in itself.

    The Artistic License from

    The Frontier Artistic License

    The Artistic License -- weblint

    The Artistic License -- yebasic

    The Artistic License

    IBM License

    developerWorks Open source

    Other open source licenses

    Plan 9 License

    LUCENT TECHNOLOGIES INC -- contains interesting modification limitations that protect the original developers from some abuses.


    3.1 Modifications which You create or to which You contribute are governed by the terms of this Agreement and must be made available under the terms this Agreement in at least the same form as the Source Code version of Original Software furnished hereunder. Any distribution by You of the Source Code version of Licensed Software must be made under the terms of this Agreement or any future version of this Agreement under Section 11.0, and You must include a copy of this Agreement with each and every copy of such Source Code version of Licensed Software which You distribute. You may not offer or impose any terms on any such Source Code version of Licensed Software that alters or restricts the terms of the applicable version of this Agreement or the Recipients€ rights and obligations hereunder.

    3.2 You must cause all Licensed Software to which You contribute, i.e. Your Modifications, to contain a clear identification, e.g., a separate file, documenting the changes made by You and identifying You as the Contributor that reasonably allows subsequent Recipients to identify the originator of the Modification. To the extent You create at least one Modification, You may add Your name as a Contributor to the requisite notice described in Section 3.3.

    3.3 With respect to Your distribution of Licensed Software (or any portion thereof), You must include the following information in a conspicuous location governing such distribution (e.g., a separate file) and on all copies of any Source Code version of Licensed Software You distribute:

    "The contents herein includes software initially developed by Lucent Technologies Inc. and others, and is subject to the terms of the Lucent Technologies Inc. Plan 9 Open Source License Agreement. A copy of the Plan 9 open Source License Agreement is available at: or by contacting Lucent Technologies at http: //

    All software distributed under such Agreement is distributed on an "AS IS" basis, WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, either express or implied. See the Lucent Technologies Inc. Plan 9 Open Source License Agreement for the specific language governing all rights, obligations and limitations under such Agreement.

    Portions of the software developed by Lucent Technologies Inc. and others are Copyright 2000. All rights reserved.

    The Problem with Plan 9 -- incoherent critique of some pro Open Source folks

    The Problems of the Plan 9 License - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF) Stallman's point of view is useful as the points he criticize can usually be considered achievements of the license ;-)

    You agree to provide the Original Contributor, at its request, with a copy of the complete Source Code version, Object Code version and related documentation for Modifications created or contributed to by You if used for any purpose.

    This prohibits modifications for private use, denying the users a basic right

    and may, at Your option, include a reasonable charge for the cost of any media.

    This seems to limit the price that may be charged for an initial distribution, prohibiting selling copies for a profit.

    Distribution of Licensed Software to third parties pursuant to this grant shall be subject to the same terms and conditions as set forth in this Agreement,

    This seems to say when you redistribute you must insist on a contract with the recipients, just as Lucent demands when you download it.

    1. The licenses and rights granted under this Agreement shall terminate automatically if (i) You fail to comply with all of the terms and conditions herein; or (ii) You initiate or participate in any intellectual property action against Original Contributor and/or another Contributor.

    This seemed reasonable to me at first glance, but later I realized that it goes too far. A retaliation clause like this would be legitimate if it were limited to patents, but this one is not. It would mean that if Lucent or some other contributor violates the license of your GPL-covered free software package, and you try to enforce that license, you would lose the right to use the Plan 9 code.

    You agree that, if you export or re-export the Licensed Software or any modifications to it, You are responsible for compliance with the United States Export Administration Regulations and hereby indemnify the Original Contributor and all other Contributors for any liability incurred as a result.

    It is unacceptable for a license to require compliance with US export control regulations. Laws being what they are, these regulations apply in certain situations regardless of whether they are mentioned in a license; however, requiring them as a license condition can extend their reach to people and activities outside the US government's jurisdiction, and that is definitely wrong.

    A part of the distribution is covered by a further unacceptable restriction:

    2.2 No right is granted to Licensee to create derivative works of or to redistribute (other than with the Original Software or a derivative thereof) the screen imprinter fonts identified in subdirectory /lib/font/bit/lucida and printer fonts (Lucida Sans Unicode, Lucida Sans Italic, Lucida Sans Demibold, Lucida Typewriter, Lucida Sans Typewriter83), identified in subdirectory /sys/lib/postscript/font.

    One part of this collection is free--the Ghostscript fonts that are covered by the GNU GPL. All the rest does not even come close.

    Aside from those fatal flaws, the license has other obnoxious provisions:

    ...As such, if You or any Contributor include Licensed Software in a commercial offering ("Commercial Contributor"), such Commercial Contributor agrees to defend and indemnify Original Contributor and all other Contributors (collectively "Indemnified Contributors")

    Requiring indemnities from users is quite obnoxious.

    Contributors shall have unrestricted, nonexclusive, worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free rights, to use, reproduce, modify, display, perform, sublicense and distribute Your Modifications, and to grant third parties the right to do so, including without limitation as a part of or with the Licensed Software;

    This is a variant of the NPL asymmetry: you get limited rights to use their code, but they get unlimited rights to use your changes. While this does not by itself disqualify the license as a free software license (if the other problems were corrected), it is unfortunate.

    Bell-Labs Releases New Version Of Plan 9

    Re:interesting ideas, unacceptable license (Score:1)
    by Japanese Fuckslut on Sunday April 28, @11:34AM (#3424666)
    (User #554887 Info |
    It's Bell Labs' OS, so they're allowed to call the shots about how its licensed. I prefer to judge an OS based on what it can do for me, rather than whether or not it is sanctioned by Richard Stallman & friends.
    Re:interesting ideas, unacceptable license (Score:0)
    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 28, @11:34AM (#3424667)
    Since when does Stallman decide what is acceptable?

    He's one extreme end of a pole, and it's not really that important a pole.
    Richard Stallman's vision (Score:0)
    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 28, @11:52AM (#3424738)
    Richard Stallman's idea is to have a socialist police state which pays everyone equally no matter how talented they are -- the janitor makes the same amount of money as the computer programmer -- and programmers will be forced to release software under the GPL, and if they don't release under the GPL we throw them out of town and take their car, home, etc. Long live the revolution!

    Don't like giving half your paycheck to the state? Just wait until you have to give 75-90% of it to the state. It has already happened in some European countries, and it will happen here too if people who think like Richard Stallman get into power.

    RMS (Score:-1)
    by Roto-Rooter Man ([email protected]) on Sunday April 28, @11:04AM (#3424552)
    (User #520267 Info | | Last Journal: Monday April 22, @12:53AM)
    Do we really need to hear Stallman's critique of every little news story that pops up on Slashdot? Christ, it's like Slashdot didn't feel the original story was biased enough for its standards.

    "Here's a story, and in case you aren't sure how you're supposed to react, here's the way open source fanatics should think about it."
    Re:If you don't like their license... (Score:-1)
    by October_30th on Sunday April 28, @11:28AM (#3424644)
    (User #531777 Info | | Last Journal: Saturday April 27, @01:34PM)
    For people like RMS, Bill Gates and religious fanatics there is only one Right Way -- their way.

    They don't think they're being rude because, after all, they're saving the people from themselves.

    No, it's Lucent's false offer that is rude (Score:2)
    by mkcmkc (mkc-slashdot@math ... minus city) on Sunday April 28, @11:56AM (#3424753)
    (User #197982 Info)
    If Lucent's offer were free and clear (like a GPL or OS license), it would be rude to complain about it. But it's not.

    The license is actually an IP monkey trap. It pretends to be open, tempting us all to invest our time and effort into the release. But it's actually very restrictive, and gives Lucent many ways to pull the rug out from under us once we've "trapped" ourselves by investing our time and effort.

    If Lucent is serious about getting people to use the release, they need to offer it under some License which involves a true fair exchange. I'm surprised that this isn't self-evident to the Plan 9 developers.




      Sun Community Software License

    The Sun Community Source License is a pretty complex document that allow developers to release source code in a limited and controlled way, without relinquishing their rights to subsequently commercialise it. It isn't clear whether you can use a CSL'd product for more than research and evaluation; you may not re-distribute the product; you may not use it to produce and distribute derived works; and it isn't clear whether the rights you have been granted may later be revoked. 

    Sun Community Source License Principles Microsystems by Richard P. Gabriel and William N. Joy Document in PDF format (~93KB)

     Sun Community Source License -- text of the license

    Q Public License

    The Q Public License was designed by TrollTech for KDE that uses their "Qt" development libraries. The QPL aims to preserve the producer's rights to own and modify their product and make it available for a fee to other developers and to prevent the spread of "non-official" versions, but still allow bugfixes. It allows redistribution of the complete product and distributions of modifications, provided they are shipped separately as patches to the original package and do not affect the copyright of the patched product. You can distribute binary copies of the product, provided that you also make source code available for free or at about the cost of distribution. You can use the product to build your own software and may distribute it, but if you do so you must make source code readily available and grant users the right to re-distribute your work and source at no fee, and must also make your work available on request to the owner of the QPL'd work that you used. RMS believed that QPL was incompatible with GPL and launched his infamous KDE jihad.

    Trolltech - QPL



    The Nokia Open Source License.
    This is similar to the Mozilla Public License



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