Subject: RMS on Plan 9 license, with my comments
From: John Cowan <>
Date: Sun, 23 Jul 2000 01:56:59 -0400 (EDT)

RMS wrote an article on the Plan 9 license, available at .
I have made excerpts from it here as a matter of fair use.

> First, here are the provisions that make the software non-free.
> > You agree to provide the Original Contributor, at its request, with
> > a copy of the complete Source Code version, Object Code version
> > and related documentation for Modifications created or contributed
> > to by You if used for any purpose.
> This prohibits modifications for private use, denying the users a
> basic right

I agree with RMS here.  Not allowing the private use of private changes
is way unreasonable.

> > and may, at Your option, include a reasonable charge for the cost
> > of any media.
> This seems to limit the price that may be charged for an initial
> distribution, prohibiting selling copies for a profit.

I don't think this is really a problem; a "reasonable" charge can be
whatever the buyer is willing to pay.

> > Distribution of Licensed Software to third parties pursuant to this
> > grant shall be subject to the same terms and conditions as set
> > forth in this Agreement,
> This seems to say when you redistribute you must insist on a contract
> with the recipients, just as Lucent demands when you download it.

I don't think this is a problem either.  The license doesn't say that
your distributees must explicitly agree to the terms, just that those
terms are imposed on them.  (Lucent might have a hard time enforcing
them on contract alone, but copyright will probably give them most of
what they need.)

> > 1. The licenses and rights granted under this Agreement shall
> > terminate automatically if (i) You fail to comply with all of the
> > terms and conditions herein; or (ii) You initiate or participate
> > in any intellectual property action against Original Contributor
> > and/or another Contributor.
> This seemed reasonable to me at first glance, but later I realized
> that it goes too far. A retaliation clause like this would be
> legitimate if it were limited to patents, but this one is not. It
> would mean that if Lucent or some other contributor violates the
> license of your GPL-covered free software package, and you try to
> enforce that license, you would lose the right to use the Plan 9
> code.

As others have posted, this is unreasonably broad.

> > You agree that, if you export or re-export the Licensed Software
> > or any modifications to it, You are responsible for compliance with
> > the United States Export Administration Regulations and hereby
> > indemnify the Original Contributor and all other Contributors for
> > any liability incurred as a result.
> It is unacceptable for a license to require compliance with US
> export control regulations. Laws being what they are, these
> regulations apply in certain situations regardless of whether they
> are mentioned in a license; however, requiring them as a license
> condition can extend their reach to people and activities outside
> the US government's jurisdiction, and that is definitely wrong.

I think RMS is overdoing it here.  The EARs apply only to goods exported
from the U.S., not to those exported from other countries, no matter
what this license says.  It does *not* say that you must follow the
rules in the EARs, no matter what country you are exporting from!

> A part of the distribution is covered by a further unacceptable
> restriction:
> > 2.2 No right is granted to Licensee to create derivative works of
> > or to redistribute (other than with the Original Software or a
> > derivative thereof) the screen imprinter fonts identified in
> > subdirectory /lib/font/bit/lucida and printer fonts (Lucida Sans
> > Unicode, Lucida Sans Italic, Lucida Sans Demibold, Lucida Typewriter,
> > Lucida Sans Typewriter83), identified in subdirectory
> > /sys/lib/postscript/font.

The fonts are distributed with Plan 9 as a convenience, but are not
themselves open source.  (The same is true of the Squeak distribution,
BTW.)  This is "mere aggregation".

> Aside from those fatal flaws, the license has other obnoxious
> provisions:
> > ...As such, if You or any Contributor include Licensed Software
> > in a commercial offering ("Commercial Contributor"), such Commercial
> > Contributor agrees to defend and indemnify Original Contributor
> > and all other Contributors (collectively "Indemnified Contributors")
> Requiring indemnities from users is quite obnoxious.

This protects non-commercial contributors from being sued for their
part in defective software.  Users who are not commercial contributors
are not at issue here.

> > Contributors shall have unrestricted, nonexclusive, worldwide,
> > perpetual, royalty-free rights, to use, reproduce, modify, display,
> > perform, sublicense and distribute Your Modifications, and to grant
> > third parties the right to do so, including without limitation as
> > a part of or with the Licensed Software;
> This is a variant of the NPL asymmetry: you get limited rights to
> use their code, but they get unlimited rights to use your changes.
> While this does not by itself disqualify the license as a free
> software license (if the other problems were corrected), it is
> unfortunate.


John Cowan                         
C'est la` pourtant que se livre le sens du dire, de ce que, s'y conjuguant
le nyania qui bruit des sexes en compagnie, il supplee a ce qu'entre eux,
de rapport nyait pas.               -- Jacques Lacan, "L'Etourdit"