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Subject: Re: Licensing and Copyright Issues

Re: Licensing and Copyright Issues

From: Ray Lambert <codemonkey_at_interthingy.net>
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 18:30:50 -0400 (EDT)

Karl Kurbjun wrote:
> On Ray's arguments: I do not think that relicensing would ever be a
> possibility unless we had our own copyright holding entity - I doubt that
> the FSF would ever agree to let us relicense under anything but the GPLv3
> or above. I am sure there would also be plenty of headaches obtaining
> agreements with all the other projects that are used in Rockbox.

As I understand it, the FSF doesn't have any say whatsoever in how we
choose to license our code.

When we (or, at least, I) speak of "re-licensing", that always refers to
*new releases*. As the copyright holder, we can choose to re-release our
code at any time using whatever license we wish.

Code that has already been released cannot be retroactively re-licensed.
For example, the release we made yesterday, under GPLv2, must and will
*always* be available under GPLv2.

But, if we make a new release tomorrow and we decide to release it under
BSD (e.g.), we're completely within our rights doing so.

(This is another reason why dissing GPLv3 because of the DRM clauses
bothers me; if GPLv3 prevents TiVo from using new releases of Linux, they
are still completely within their rights to continue using their current
version, which is licensed under GPLv2. Of course, they were also
completely within their rights to have originally chosen BSD, or a
commercial embedded system, e.g. QNX, instead of violating the spirit of
GPLv2. You can probably tell that I have no sympathy for them... ;)

Of course, all of this re-licensing talk assumes that we can get consensus
from our copyright holders. I've read a bit about this (including, IIRC,
something from Eben Moglen) that basically indicated that this isn't as
big an issue as one might expect. My understanding is that to do this
legally you need to set-up a vote and post a notice in advance where all
interested parties can see it. Then you take the vote and proceed from
there. If not everyone votes, it doesn't matter; they were notified and
they had the opportunity. I don't know if a majority of copyright holders
are required to vote. The notice probably needs to state that the default
vote is YES. I believe that even Linus Torvalds said he didn't expect
this process to be an issue (w.r.t. re-licensing Linux) (but that's only
one part of that particular can of worms...).

Setting up a copyright holding foundation would of course make this much
easier. I think this could be done in a way that makes everyone happy. I
would suggest that anyone who transfers a copyright to the foundation
should be granted perpetual voting rights and that any decisions regarding
use of the copyrights would need to be put to a vote. (Voting rules
should be set-up so that a 100% turnout is not needed and advance
notification of votes are required.) So, although you've transferred your
copyrights, you retain a vote and therefore some control over how things
are done.

It may also be possible to set-up a foundation which accepts a perpetual
license to your code, rather than a full copyright transfer. That way
individual authors still retain the copyright in their work and are free
to license it to others as they see fit. Such a license would also need
to grant rights to the foundation to freely license and distribute the
code as the foundation decides (through its voting process).

> There would be an even more limited possibility of Rockbox being used
> commercially with the GPLv3.

I don't agree with this. Commercial companies are quite familiar with the
concept of licensing technology for their own use; in fact, it's really
the norm in the business world. FOSS is the newcomer. If a company
really wants RB, the prospect of having to license it is not going to
scare them away (in fact, it might even give them a warm & fuzzy).

If commercial licensing is something that we do want to do then we can
also approach companies ourselves and/or promote this possibility on the
web site, etc. (in case companies aren't familiar with the dual licensing
concept). (Before going down this road though I think we should first
fully explore the possibility of a RB copyright foundation.)

> ... we would still receive code contributions even if a device was
> tivoized not to mention that we are already having to break into each
> players protections that we create a port for. So what's the loss if it
> happens?

Control. We lose control of our code and all the hard work we put into
it. I don't think that's a smart thing to do.

~ray
Received on 2007-09-12


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