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Re: Automake: use of modified Perl modules & GPL

From: Russ Allbery
Subject: Re: Automake: use of modified Perl modules & GPL
Date: 21 Apr 2001 22:40:38 -0700
User-agent: Gnus/5.0807 (Gnus v5.8.7) XEmacs/21.1 (Channel Islands)

Narrowing the Cc line somewhat....

Elaine -HFB- Ashton <address@hidden> writes:
> Russ Allbery address@hidden quoth:

>> You seem to be under the impression that not requiring license
>> statements somehow reduces your legal liability.  I'm fairly certain
>> that this is not actually correct.

> Russ, who would they sue?

Who would they sue if you required license statements?  The answer to that
question is the answer to your question.  The chances of anyone *suing*
someone is fairly remote either way in my opinion; you were the one who
raised the issue of legal liability, so presumably that's something that
you're already worrying about.  I'm just pointing out that if you believe
there is something in this archiving process that incurs legal liability,
being an ostrich about licensing isn't protecting you from it.

I believe that the legal liability of the archive maintainers is precisely
the same whether you ask for explicit license statements or not.  I pulled
out and objected specifically to your previous statement because it
sounded like it was partly based on the widespread but entirely inaccurate
belief that filtering submissions by some criteria incurs additional legal

There may be good arguments against doing what RMS is asking for.  Legal
liability is not one of them.

>> It may be more work than the benefit justifies; I'm not disagreeing
>> with that.  But the phrasing of your response sounded like you were
>> objecting to an attempt to force license terms on people, and I think
>> that's a straw man.

> That's precisely what I'm objecting to.

No one is proposing that.  No one has said anything about requiring people
use some particular license.  What was proposed was to ask people to make
explicit what licensing terms they prefer.  This is not the same thing.

> This is the first time that I'm aware of that an issue over licensing
> has been raised.

This is not the first time an issue over licensing has been raised.

> Even Schwen mentioned that he releases modules without an explicit
> license statement as he belives the 'licensed under the same terms as
> Perl' is implicit enough not to warrant such a statement.

I think that Schwen is unfortunately incorrect on this point from a legal
perspective, but you're both certainly entitled to your opinion.

Since I think it's pretty unlikely that anyone would sue over a Perl
module, the practical effect of that position is mainly to make it much
more difficult to use such modules as part of a project that is careful
about licensing, such as Automake or such as a commercial software
package.  One of the advantages of taking a moment to put a couple of
lines in the README explicitly stating the license terms (for many people,
just saying it's under the terms of Perl itself seems to be sufficient) is
that one no longer has to be bothered by these annoying licensing
questions that one would really rather not have to think about.

I agree with you that it's mostly just an education effort.  Checking
perlmodlib, I'm glad to see that it already talks about licensing
(although under the heading of a copyright statement, which is mildly
inaccurate).  I'll try to write a patch clarifying that and will send it
to p5p later this weekend.

> I submited a patch for h2xs today that adds a place for a license in the
> POD framework but that is merely a placeholder and can be removed by the
> author if they wish to do so.

Thank you.  I appreciate that.

> The second you start forcing people to do something is the moment they
> begin to think of ways to circumvent it.

This is an exaggeration.  The special handling of README in the CPAN
archiving code has not caused a lot of module authors to try to find ways
to avoid having their README file pulled out of their module, at least
that I've noticed.

Consider it a feature request and prioritize it accordingly?  :)

Russ Allbery (address@hidden)             <>

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