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Re: LGPL vs. GPL

From: John Forkosh
Subject: Re: LGPL vs. GPL
Date: Sat, 2 Aug 2008 10:18:24 -0400 (EDT)

On Fri, 1 Aug 2008, Ciaran O'Riordan wrote:
John Forkosh <> writes:
One thing that's for sure is that he'll have to distribute
MimeTex's source with the binary (or an offer to send people
the source on request).

I'd thought a link to its homepage (where the source can be
downloaded) satisfies that requirement.

Yes, I think so too.

The free-of-charge version of his program helps society
(assuming it's useful in the first place)

In the short term, in technical ways, maybe, but it will also compete
against truly free applictions that are trying to do the same thing.

Hadn't thought of that.  But, on second thought now, I'd say,
"let the best program win."  If the commercial application is
truly better, maybe its superior functional specifications will
inspire an open source "knock off."  If that doesn't happen,
then the superior commercial application has every ethical right
to dominate the market if users are willing to pay the price
(dollar price as well as closed source price).

As I see it, zero-cost copies of MS Word can help with a technical job in
the short term, but the lack of freedom eventually leads to software lock-in
and a single vendor having control of your computing.

As above.  And is slowly becoming a viable open source
"knock off" alternative.  So, at least in this particular case, I'd
say my "glass half full" interpretation is warranted.

The ideal is for people to have both functionality and freedom, but a
non-free application is a dead-end when trying to reach that ideal.  If
computer users choose software with good freedom but low functionality, they
can add the functionality themselves (or if many people want that
functionality, they can wait and maybe someone else will add it).  If they
choose software which has functionality but lacks freedom, they're in a
dead-end because it's unlikely the vendor will later make it free software,
so they'll never get to the ideal of having both functionality and freedom.

As above, that "dead-end" might or might not happen, depending
on whether or not open source alternatives eventually appear.
In any case, I can't see condemning commercial applications
just because they're closed source and/or non-free.
That decision is legitimately made by the copyright holder.
Of course, I do condemn big companies, like, sometimes, MicroSoft,
when they try to dominate the market by choking competition rather
than by developing superior applications.  That's a whole different

Yeah, that's pretty much my major gpl gripe.  People keep emailing me
whether such-and-such a use is permitted.
That's one big pain.  I wish the fsf would think about some effective
way for gpl authors to avoid these kinds of emails.

Unfortunately, the GPL has to obey copyright law, and copyright law is a
mess.  Even if you got a definitive answer in one country, a judge in
another country could decide the opposite.

When a developer sees some nice GPL'd software, the two surest things the
developer can do to avoid uncertainty are:
1. Ignore that software
2. GPL their software too

Uncertainty only appears when a developer decides he wants to benefit from
the GPL'd software without contributing back (or contributing as minimally
as they can get away with).

Yeah, I don't suppose I really expected an easy solution.
But here's part of an email I got in April, 2007...
   From: Bob Bilyk <>
   I am the director of Cyber Village Academy (an elementary school)
   and of a small educational software company called LodeStar
   Learning.  In support of the elementary school, which started off as
   an online school that provided help to chronically and seriously ill
   children, I co-founded a second company that produced software that
   made it easier for teachers to develop eLearning activities.
     The software is called lodeStar, and its presently used in quite a
   number of schools.  We do charge a fee for the software ($149) and we
   are a for-profit company; however, all of our earnings have been
   dedicated to building new templates for teachers and keeping up with
   the rapid changes in standards (i.e. SCORM 2004, etc.).
     As you know, formatting and rendering mathematical formulae in
   eLearning activities that work across platforms and multiple learning
   management systems to diverse student populations has always been a
   challenge.  I was happy to come across mimeTeX.  I built an interface
   module to the mimeTeX compiler and integrated it with our product
   just to see if I could make the user interface easy enough for school
   teachers to use.  I think I've accomplished that.
He goes on to request permission to distribute mimetex outside
the gpl.  What the heck am I supposed to do in a case like this?
After several emails, and some help from,
I eventually told him, "okay."  But it would be really nice to
have a more straightforward procedure for dealing with these kinds
of situations, especially a procedure that leaves me out of the loop.

My typical, and most recent
answer takes the form (excerpted from a recent email)...

That's a good answer.

Some optional advice you could add would be: "You could avoid these licence
compatibility issues altogether by also using the GNU GPL."

The person you email might not know why releasing software as free software
is a good thing to do, so maybe it would also be a good idea to add a link
to a good explanation.  Here's one I like:

Sounds good.  And thanks yet again, Ciaran, for your time and effort,

No problem.  It's an interesting situation, and I'll probably generalise and
reuse what I've written as a blog entry in the next few days.

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