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Introducing Craig Topham, FSF copyright and licensing associate

Filed under
GNU
Legal

My name is Craig Topham, and I’m the latest to have the honor of being a copyright and licensing associate for the Free Software Foundation (FSF). I started work in November, and the delay in assembling my introductory blog post is a testament to how busy I have been. Although my post feels late, it gives me a chance to share my experience here at the FSF, along with sharing a little bit more about myself.

From 2005 to 2017, I worked as a PC/Network Technician for the City of Eugene, Oregon. The role had the inherent reward of allowing me to be a part of something much larger than myself. I was helping local government function. From the mayor and city council all the way to the summer staff that worked the front desk at the recreation department's swimming pools, I was one of many making it all work. It was even a part of my job to support some free software the city used! Sadly, a vast majority of the software that we used was proprietary, but despite the painful duty of supporting nonfree software, the overall experience felt pretty great. As I close that chapter of my life with all the wonderful memories and marks made, I am beset with a wild sense of relief. Like finding a rock in my shoe after twelve years, the alleviation is palatable: I never have to labor to master proprietary software again!

For unknown reasons (which I contemplate often), I did not learn about the free software movement until 2004, despite a lifetime of using computers. Like so many before me, my initial education on the movement came via Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman. What so instantaneously drew me to free software was the simplicity of the four freedoms: run, edit, share, contribute. These freedoms, coupled with the ethical nature of the movement, made it a natural fit for me. It did not take me long to realize that this is what I needed to soothe my “How can I make the world a better place?” angst. Inevitably, I became an FSF associate member on October 28, 2007 because it was (and still is) the easiest way to help out. If you are reading this and you are not a member, I encourage you to change that and help make the world a better place.

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After Red Hat, Homebrew removes MongoDB from core formulas due to its Server Side Public License adoption

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OSS
Legal

In October, last year MongoDB announced that it’s switching to Server Side Public License (SSPL). Since then, Redhat dropped support for MongoDB in January from its Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Fedora. Now, Homebrew, a popular package manager for macOS has removed MongoDB from the Homebrew core formulas since MongoDB was migrated to a non open-source license.

[...]

In January this year, MongoDB received its first major blow when Red Hat dropped MongoDB over concerns related to its SSPL. Tom Callaway, the University outreach Team lead at Red Hat had said that SSPL is “intentionally crafted to be aggressively discriminatory towards a specific class of users. To consider the SSPL to be “Free” or “Open Source” causes that shadow to be cast across all other licenses in the FOSS ecosystem, even though none of them carry that risk.”

Subsequently, in February, Red Hat Satellite also decided to drop MongoDB and support PostgreSQL backend only. The Red Hat development team stated that PostgreSQL is a better solution in terms of the types of data and usage that Satellite requires.

In March, following all these changes, MongoDB withdrew the SSPL from the Open Source Initiative’s approval process. It was finally decided that SSPL will only require commercial users to open source their modified code, which means that any other user can still modify and use MongoDB code for free.

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Open Source is more than licenses

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OSS
Legal

A few weeks ago I was honored to deliver the keynote of the Open Source Awards in Edinburgh. I decided to talk about a subject that I wanted to talk about for quite some time but never found the right opportunity for. There is no video recording of my talk but several people asked me for a summary. So I decided to use some spare time in a plane to summarize it in a blog post.

I started to use computers and write software in the early 80s when I was 10 years old. This was also the time when Richard Stallman wrote the 4 freedoms, started the GNU project, founded the FSF and created the GPL. His idea was that users and developers should be in control of the computer they own which requires Free Software. At the time the computing experience was only the personal computer in front of you and the hopefully Free and Open Source software running on it.

The equation was (Personal Hardware) + (Free Software) = (Digital Freedom)

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Also: How to crack Open Source?

A Cycle of Renewal, Broken: How Big Tech and Big Media Abuse Copyright Law to Slay Competition

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Legal

In 1950, a television salesman named Robert Tarlton put together a consortium of TV merchants in the town of Lansford, Pennsylvania to erect an antenna tall enough to pull down signals from Philadelphia, about 90 miles to the southeast. The antenna connected to a web of cables that the consortium strung up and down the streets of Lansford, bringing big-city TV to their customers — and making TV ownership for Lansfordites far more attractive. Though hobbyists had been jury-rigging their own "community antenna television" networks since 1948, no one had ever tried to go into business with such an operation. The first commercial cable TV company was born.

The rise of cable over the following years kicked off decades of political controversy over whether the cable operators should be allowed to stay in business, seeing as they were retransmitting broadcast signals without payment or permission and collecting money for the service. Broadcasters took a dim view of people using their signals without permission, which is a little rich, given that the broadcasting industry itself owed its existence to the ability to play sound recordings over the air without permission or payment.

The FCC brokered a series of compromises in the years that followed, coming up with complex rules governing which signals a cable operator could retransmit, which ones they must retransmit, and how much all this would cost. The end result was a second way to get TV, one that made peace with—and grew alongside—broadcasters, eventually coming to dominate how we get cable TV in our homes.

By 1976, cable and broadcasters joined forces to fight a new technology: home video recorders, starting with Sony's Betamax recorders. In the eyes of the cable operators, broadcasters, and movie studios, these were as illegitimate as the playing of records over the air had been, or as retransmitting those broadcasts over cable had been. Lawsuits over the VCR continued for the next eight years. In 1984, the Supreme Court finally weighed in, legalizing the VCR, and finding that new technologies were not illegal under copyright law if they were "capable of substantial noninfringing uses."

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REUSE makes copyright and licensing easier than ever

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Legal

The licensing of a software project is critical information. Developers set the terms under which others can reuse their software, from individuals to giant corporations. Authors want to make sure that others adhere to their chosen licenses; potential re-users have to know the license of third-party software before publication; and companies have to ensure license compliance in their products that often build on top of existing projects. The REUSE project, led by the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), helps all of these parties.

REUSE aims to have all copyright and licensing information stored as close to the source files as possible. This is achieved by directly adding this information to the file in a standardised and machine-readable form. If a file does not support that, a .license file or central DEP-5 configuration file can be used instead. This way, developers can be assured that re-users will not oversee copyright holders and their intended license.

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Open Invention Network, the Linux-based patent non-aggression community, exceeds 3,000 licensees

Filed under
Linux
Legal

OIN's mission is to enable Linux, its related software, and its programmers to develop and monetize without being hogtied by patent fights. In Linux's early years, this was a constant threat. Now, thanks largely to the OIN's efforts to get everyone to agree on the basic open-source principle -- that's it's better and more profitable to share than to cling to proprietary property -- open-source software has taken off in the marketplace.

The OIN isn't the first to take this concept and apply it to the Unix/Linux operating system family. After Novell bought Unix from AT&T, rather than keep fighting with Berkeley Software Design Inc. (BSDO) over possible Unix IP rights violations in BSD/OS, an early, commercial BSD Unix, Noorda famously declared that he'd rather compete in the marketplace than in court. This Unix case was settled in 1994.

That was a one off. The OIN, which has grown by 50% in the last two years, has turned patent non-aggression into policy for thousands of companies. By agreeing to the OIN license, members gain access to patented inventions worth hundreds of millions of dollars while promoting a favorable environment for Linux and related open source software.

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My personal journey from MIT to GPL

Filed under
GNU
Legal

As I got started writing open source software, I generally preferred the MIT license. I actually made fun of the “copyleft” GPL licenses, on the grounds that they are less free. I still hold this opinion today: the GPL license is less free than the MIT license - but today, I believe this in a good way.

[...]

I don’t plan on relicensing my historical projects, but my new projects have used the GPL family of licenses for a while now. I think you should seriously consider it as well.

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GPL Dodge and Compliance

Filed under
GNU
Legal
  • Why does macOS Catalina use Zsh instead of Bash? Licensing [iophk: "s/patents/software patents/g; :("]

    So, it’s no surprise that Apple’s moving its users away from Bash. I’m also not surprised to see Apple favor Zsh. For starters, it’s licensed under the MIT License, and therefore doesn’t contain the controversial language surrounding patents and Tivoization.

  • The Redmi S2, aka Y2, gets its Android Pie update

    That may not be a huge deal to some users, however. Xiaomi is also obliged to release the S2/Y2's kernel sources in order to remain compliant with GNU's general public licence.

EFF and Open Rights Group Defend the Right to Publish Open Source Software to the UK Government

Filed under
OSS
Security
Legal

EFF and Open Rights Group today submitted formal comments to the British Treasury, urging restraint in applying anti-money-laundering regulations to the publication of open-source software.

The UK government sought public feedback on proposals to update its financial regulations pertaining to money laundering and terrorism in alignment with a larger European directive. The consultation asked for feedback on applying onerous customer due diligence regulations to the cryptocurrency space as well as what approach the government should take in addressing “privacy coins” like Zcash and Monero. Most worrisome, the government also asked “whether the publication of open-source software should be subject to [customer due diligence] requirements.”

We’ve seen these kind of attacks on the publication of open source software before, in fights dating back to the 90s, when the Clinton administration attempted to require that anyone merely publishing cryptography source code obtain a government-issued license as an arms dealer. Attempting to force today’s open-source software publishers to follow financial regulations designed to go after those engaged in money laundering is equally obtuse.

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Licensing Changes

Filed under
GNU
OSS
Legal
  • CockroachDB changes its open-source licensing model [Ed: Waffling tom avoid saying it became proprietary]

    Cockroach Labs has announced that it is switching CockroachDB away from the Apache License version 2 (APL).

    According to Cockroach Labs, its business model has long relied on the assumption that “companies could build a business around a strong open source core product without a much larger technology platform company coming along and offering the same product as a service.” But this is no longer the case, the company explained.

  • Another open-source database company will tighten its licensing strategy, wary of Amazon Web Services [Ed: Another reminder that all the cloudwashing by corporate media is an assault on FOSS because people are shamed into ceding control, giving all money and data to GAFAM]

    Cockroach Labs, the New York-based database company behind the open-source CockroachDB database, will change the terms of the license agreement in the next version of the open-source project to prohibit cloud providers like Amazon Web Services from offering a commercial version of that project as a service.

  • CockroachDB shelters from AWS extermination under Business Software License [Ed: Amazon's assault on FOSS using the AWS/cloudwashing craze yields results; FOSS becoming proprietary software and GAFAM couldn't care less.]

    Cockroach Labs has become the latest open source vendor to run for cover from AWS and other cloud vendors, by relicensing its CockroachDB under the Business Source License.

    In a post explaining the move, the companies’ founders wrote “We’re witnessing the rise of highly-integrated providers take advantage of their unique position to offer “as-a-service” versions of OSS products, and offer a superior user experience as a consequence of their integrations.” They cited AWS’ forked version of ElasticSearch.

  • Latest FSF Updates To Software Licenses

    If you've ever felt confused about open source licensing you are not alone. The good news is that the Free Software Foundation has a highly informative and well-maintained list of licenses, not only for software but also for documentation and for other works, drawing a distinction between free and non-free.

    The fact that that the Personal Public Licence Version 3a and the Anti-996 Licence have both been added to the non-free list isn't really the important bit of this news item. It is that the existence of the Various Licences and Comments about Them that deserves being better known.

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