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What is the purpose of there being a free software license?

CrazedNerd

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This is something that has confused me every since i've been using linux. It's not a license in the standard sense of the term, i don't think, where you go to some office and pay to renew it...but it's not a joke to the GNU community or the rest of the linux developer community. If the software is totally open source, then wouldn't the license become redundant and inefficient?
 


KGIII

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The license (in many cases, there are a whole variety of them) is there to make sure the software remains open source. It's effectively using copyright to assert ownership along with other conditions - such as use guidelines. In many cases, there's also license provisions that prevent people from locking the code away, distributing it (even with modifications) without distributing the source, etc...

The license isn't so much restrictive, but to ensure the software remains permissive.

For example, my entire Linux-Tips site is published under a CC license. You can use it with attribution. So, it always goes back to the source and it always remains open. You can't use it and then copyright it to say it belongs to you. You too must use the same license.
 
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CrazedNerd

CrazedNerd

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Yeah i figur
The license (in many cases, there are a whole variety of them) is there to make sure the software remains open source. It's effectively using copyright to assert ownership along with other conditions - such as use guidelines. In many cases, there's also license provisions that prevent people from locking the code away, distributing it (even with modifications) without distributing the source, etc...

The license isn't so much restrictive, but to ensure the software remains permissive.

For example, my entire Linux-Tips site is published under a CC license. You can use it with attribution. So, it always goes back to the source and it always remains open. You can't use it and then copyright it to say it belongs to you. You too must use the same license.
I figured it was for the sake of ensuring transparency when i first looked at it years ago...it just still seems odd from a legal standpoint, has there ever been an instance of someone suing a software company for taking open source then not sharing the code? Is it basically just a way of saying "please be as good to your users as we've been to you"?
 

KGIII

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I know you have access to Google! :D

You can start here:


There have been a number of them, but I haven't created a log of them. As far as I know, they usually settle out of court. You'll have to search for more examples, but they're out there.

Basically, GPL uses copyright (some irony in that) to ensure anyone using the code must share any modifications to the code if they then distribute anything with that code. The goal of the license is to ensure the software remains 'free'.

Now, there are a whole lot of different licenses. There are then different versions of the licenses. There's quite a bit of difference in the licenses. Some will happily let you lock the code up after you change it, which is kinda what Apple has done (though they contribute a lot to open source). Some insist you share the code and the changes you made.
 
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CrazedNerd

CrazedNerd

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I know you have access to Google!
My bad, sometimes i just prefer to ask questions...even though when i'm trying to make something work on my end, i normally try to figure it out myself.

That's interesting, i personally have a different way of looking at ethics. My position is that rights are imaginary, and courts are so aweful that you should only resort to them if there aren't better options (like not doing anything)...even if that means having them send a threatening letter, then taking care of it out of court.

Ensuring transparency of code has some pretty big implications for security though, i can see why linux devs want to enforce it. I guess programming in general is an ethical conundrum: is my automation ideal?
 

KGIII

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Without the courts, there's no way to enforce things like the GPL. We live in the real world, not in a world you (or I) envision as idea.

An interesting thing about the word 'Utopia', is that (while I forget the name of the book right now) we use the word as though it's some sort of great thing. Yet, the book which coined the word 'Utopia' was demonstrating that such a world could not exist.

So, it is what it is. Expecting to effect change is unrealistic. The best you can hope for is to navigate the waters while maintaining your ethics and hoping to leave a decent legacy.
 
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CrazedNerd

CrazedNerd

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Yet, the book which coined the word 'Utopia' was demonstrating that such a world could not exist.
And the word itself means "no place" i believe, etymologically speaking.
 

KGIII

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It's an imaginary place, from Sir Thomas Moore in like 1516. It's a place that can't exist, if you ever get the chance to read the book. It was coined by him in a book by the same title. (I had to refresh my memory.)
 

darry1966

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The original idea of the free software licence was to make software shareable with others but making sure the person you share it with has the same rights. As well as the right to modify that software to meet your needs.
 

JasKinasis

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This is something that has confused me ever since i've been using linux. It's not a license in the standard sense of the term, i don't think, where you go to some office and pay to renew it...but it's not a joke to the GNU community or the rest of the linux developer community. If the software is totally open source, then wouldn't the license become redundant and inefficient?
I’m no lawyer , so I’m not an expert.
But as far as my understanding goes:
In the case of the GNU GPL, the point is to ensure that Free/Libre/Open source programs and libraries licensed under the GPL remain perpetually Free/Libre/Open. So it’s a protection mechanism to ensure that any given piece of software licensed under the GPL remains truly free.

So if somebody uses GNU GPL licensed code in their project, or creates a derivative work based on a GPL’d piece of software, their application must be licensed under the GPL and they must publish/provide the source code for their application and for any changes they may have made to any GPL licensed libraries they’re using/distributing.

So it prevents giant corporations from using Free software in their proprietary, closed source projects, unless they provide source code for their application, or for any GPL’d components their software uses.

There are ways around this. Libraries licensed under the LGPL can be used in proprietary software, but the developers must distribute the source code for any and all components of their system that are licensed under the GPL.

So they can keep their own proprietary code as closed source, separate from any external GNU code. But for any GNU libraries, or binaries that they use, or distribute to their customers, they are legally obliged to provide the source code for them. That way - any modifications or improvements that they may have made to the GNU licensed code (or even malicious tracking features) have to be published.

So for example, some giant mega-corporation has built a piece of ground-breaking, industry-leading, proprietary software. They use some GNU licensed libraries to provide some of their functionality - but they needed some additional features that weren’t in the library and needed to change it.

It ultimately doesn’t matter if the changes they made are good, or bad. But because the library is licensed under the GPL, they are legally compelled to publish the source code for those libraries.

That way, any FLOSS components licensed under the GPL can be studied/audited by anybody to ensure nothing malicious has been added. And the original developers of the software can adopt/integrate any of those changes in their main codebase if they choose to.

So the GNU GPL and LGPL licences aggressively enforce that any given piece of GPL’d free software should always be free and open.

Several successful lawsuits have been made against companies who are in breach of the GPL. And I believe there are a few ongoing and pending cases.

I don’t know all of the ins and outs, but under certain uses of GPL code, you’re required to publish the source code for your entire project. For other uses, you’re only required to provide the source code for the GPL licensed components.

Because of how strict and aggressive the GPL is, some people have called it a viral licence.

Then there are licenses like MIT/Berkely and BSD licenses that are more permissive.
Anything licensed under those kind of licenses, you are only encouraged, but not required to publish changes.

Any derivative works, or modified versions that are distributed must be kept under the same license and terms, but companies/developers using that software in their projects are NOT compelled to open source the code for their own project, or even to publish any changes to any libraries/components that are licensed under the MIT/BSD type licenses.
They are only obliged to give due credit to any of the projects whose code they’ve used.

Then there are tons of unlicences, that just say "Do whatever you want with this, we don’t care!"

So the various free software licenses just define what other developers can and can’t do with the source code for any given project. And especially in the GPL’s case, protect free software.
 
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CrazedNerd

CrazedNerd

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That way, any FLOSS components licensed under the GPL can be studied/audited by anybody to ensure nothing malicious has been added.
let me correct that for you: to ensure malicious components can be known/understood...just like everywhere else, in software/computing "malicious" is totally subjective. For example, i don't see how facebook is not a form of malware/spyware given all the implications it has for human psychology, information security, and the general spread of outright lies/misinformation...however, nobody would agree with me in terms of the standard internet/data security sense. "Everyone who uses Facebook agrees to it, so it can't actually be malicious".
 
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