Subject: Re: Licenses vs. public domain
From: "Tim O'Reilly" <>
Date: Mon, 29 May 2000 11:31:01 -0700 wrote:
> This is not, incidentally, a hypothetical example.  IIRC at one point
> Microsoft did indeed take Perl, and port it to Windows from Unix (as a
> move to help them break into the web market).  They spun off a small
> company (or hired them to do the work, I don't know and I am sure that
> I am about to be corrected anyways) call Hip Communications for this
> purpose.

They hired Hip.
> Hip, for obvious reasons, did not want to give up their changes.  Even
> worse, they could not do so because Microsoft had incorporated some of
> their intellectual property to allow Perl to be integrated into IIS.
> (Look up PerlScript.)  OTOH they most assuredly were not meeting
> either the GPL or the Artistic licenses - not even close.  This was
> the cause of some...unpleasantness shall we say?
> As things worked out the situation did get resolved peacefully.  

This didn't happen by magic.  O'Reilly invested in ActiveState on the
condition that the windows and UNIX versions of perl be reunited, and
instigated and project-managed an effort called OnePerl to make it so.

The main point is that licenses give you a place to start, but unless
you have tools to enforce them, they don't have a lot of strength.

The Artistic license is intentionally weak; it requires persuasion and
moral authority rather than legal enforcement to make it stick.  In this
case, we combined Larry's moral authority with some financial
inducements to ActiveState to get the desired outcome.

If Microsoft or Hip/ActiveState had been really hostile, this wouldn't
have happened, though.  At the end of the day, no free or open source
license has been tested in court, and many of them are thought by
lawyers to be relatively unenforceable.  I'd hate to see them tested,
since ultimately, what we are promulgating is a set of social norms for
which the various licenses are actually just proxies.

> The
> upshot was that the Microsoft stuff got moved into PerlCRT.dll, the
> changes that had been made were integrated back into the main Perl
> (resulting in perl 5.005), Hip changed its name to ActiveState, the
> pumpking who shepherded all of this through was hired by ActiveState
> (and has continued to do good work), and ActiveState has since been
> far more careful about respecting free licenses.  Oh right, and all
> sides agree that they will let bygones be bygones and there will be
> no lawsuits over past transgressions.
> So you see, the Artistic License rather different from public domain
> both in theory and in practice.
> Cheers,
> Ben

Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
101 Morris Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472
+1 707-829-0515, FAX +1 707-829-0104,