Subject: Re: A company's appeal to the community
From: Frank Hecker <frank@collab.net>
Date: Sat, 15 Jan 2000 22:46:30 -0500

Jonathan Ryshpan wrote:
> (2) BigTech has licensed code from BibbleCorp and BobbleCorp.  BobbleCorp
>     is objecting to the release of its code along with BigTech's.
> 
> KS> AFAIK, yes.

This sounds similar to the problem that Netscape had when releasing
Communicator source code -- the Communicator source code contained a
fair amount of source code directly or indirectly licensed from others
that had become mingled together with the Netscape-developed source
code. Netscape was able to sublicense this code to Netscape OEMs and
others under conventional proprietary license agreements, but of course
did not have rights to publicly release it. (I remember seeing an
internal document generated during the Mozilla source code
"sanitization" effort, and the number of Communicator source files with
at least some third party source included was quite large.)

In the case of Netscape most of the included source was in the form of
header files and the like, and in most cases licensors were willing to
grant permission for public release under liberal terms. But a few cases
could not be dealt with in this way, one being the code needed to access
various mail-related files. That's why the Mozilla mail/news source code
that was eventually released wouldn't even build, much less run.

This is a hard problem in general, and it's going to be faced by a lot
of companies wishing to convert proprietary software products into libre
products. I don't see any ideal solution for it in general if the
third-party licensors aren't inclined to be cooperative. "BigTech" could
release just the source they have rights to, even if it's not complete,
and invite the wider community to help supply the rest; however they'd
risk being criticized like Netscape was ("Didn't they read CatB! Release
something that runs!"). Alternatively "BigTech" could wait to release
source code until they could replace the third-party code from the
uncooperative licensors; however in some cases the third-party claims
protection for the API specifications themselves, so "BigTech" might
have to rewrite the calling code as well to use different APIs.

I'm not sure exactly what kind of "pressure and/or persuasion" (to quote
Karsten Self) would prove most effective in solving this problem. The
third-party licensors have a right to license their software as they see
fit, and in many cases they would have to drastically change their
business model to release their source under libre terms. It's not an
easy sell, especially since from their point of view everything was fine
until "BigTech" wanted to make changes.

But to answer Karsten Self's original questions:
> - Is there interest in supporting this company?

Of course.

> - What if any preconditions would be attached to such support?

I think mainly that "BigTech" end up releasing its software under an
OSD-compliant license. It's not clear to me that we're in a position to
be demanding lots of preconditions, given that we don't have any
plausible evidence yet that we can in fact help "BigTech" in its
dealings with its licensors.

> - What if any concerns are there about rallying to the support of a
> company which has not yet made a broad and firm commitment to free
> software?

Well, none to my mind. Every company has to start somewhere, why turn
away from helping one get further down the road?

Frank
-- 
Frank Hecker            work: http://www.collab.net/
frank@collab.net        home: http://www.hecker.org/