Subject: Re: RFC on this situation
From: gnu@cygnus.com
Date: Wed, 03 Feb 93 00:25:07 -0800

> 					   For myself, I'd like to
> distribute it completely under the terms on the GPL, but I realise
> that if I do this, the library will be restricted in the uses it will
> be put to.

This is a valid concern, which can be addressed pretty easily.  For
people who won't accept the code under a copyleft, you can sign a
license with them that allows them to ship binaries, requires them to
pay you something, and in addition, requires them to send you back any
changes they make to it (e.g. simultaneous with any release they
make).

If you add one more term, which requires them to notify people who
receive the software in binary from them, that redistributable source
code is available from you for some nominal price, then this is a very
interesting compromise.  The company can treat it much like
proprietary software, you collect something from them (per copy, or
per year, or per release, or whatever you agree on) to pay for your
trouble in merging their changes into your own sources, and the
end-users still have the option to get the sources at a minimal price
(from you).  And end users who are serious about this can maintain
it themselves, pass copies around, etc.

There are some companies that won't stand for this -- e.g. if they are
gluing your code into the guts of some much larger piece of proprietary
software -- but most companies who won't deal with copylefted software
simply don't want the hassle of making source releases of the firmware
for their logic analyzer or toaster-oven.  If you take that burden off
their shoulders, and make it look much more like a standard source code
software agreement, then they can maybe be happy.  And you can spread
your software into another user base, and pay the rent in the meantime.

You might want to make a provision that handles what happens to the
"commercially licensed" software when you die or retire.  One
advantage of the FSF copyleft is that in that circumstance, anyone can
pick it up from the original maintainer and carry on from there without
any negotiation, probate, interruption, or anything.

> 	      The money part is really not that important, but if someone
> is going to profit from my work, I'd like a piece of it. 

Now this is a whole different issue.  Examine your motives here.
You are profiting from the sendmail software that moved this message
from my screen to yours.  Did Eric Allman get a piece of that profit?
(answer: no; he was paid to write some of it, but not per-copy-shipped.)

I take the let's-stand-on-each-others'-shoulders-instead-of-each-others'-toes
approach: The computing environment gets better and better over time
(like human society) because of the efforts put in by the previous
generations.  I have them "pay me forward" by giving me some good
tools when they come into their own, rather than having them "pay me
back" by charging them rent on the work I did.

>  							    Also, I want to
> maintain control of my work. These two reasons are why I'd never put 
> anything into the public domain. 

This is yet a third issue.  Realize that if you let a copy out under
copyleft (e.g. FSF license), you will not be able to maintain control.
Any person or a dozen people can make alternative versions, and if your
version isn't the best, and the other folks continue to maintain the
software, they will gradually squeeze you out.  If you're really spooked
about this idea, free software is really not for you.

For myself I'm glad that by the time I get tired of some software,
there are usually other people who want to keep moving it on.  I wrote
the first public domain "tar" program, which was posted to
comp.sources.unix back in the mid '80s.  I maintained it through
various versions and ports.  Eventually GNU picked it up and made GNU
Tar based on it.  About once a month or so I get a query from some
poor user who got a binary version of my old "tar" program, ported to
MSDOS by a low quality programmer, and can't figure out how to make it
work with their DOS-specific tape drive card or something.  I can't
help them -- my version never even ran on DOS, and these losers
invariably lack sources -- and it annoys me.  But I also think that my
software has been incorporated into a bunch of commercial systems
(e.g. turnkey accounting and CAD systems), and it wouldn't have been,
had it been copylefted.

Overall, were I writing a new piece of software from scratch, I'd
copyleft it today rather than public-domain it, to encourage the
changes to drift back toward me (or around the net to the end-users),
but that's just a personal choice.

	John Gilmore