Subject: Re: Ransom (long) (was: Mandatory donations...)
From: Adam Theo <>
Date: Mon, 15 Oct 2001 04:26:02 -0400

Kevin A. Burton wrote:

> BTW. I am working on a package right now that I am *considering* ransoming.  The
> ransom would be small as it would be just an experiment.

Sounds excellent. I, too, have a project about to be released under 
Ransoming terms, also mostly as an experiment. It is my JabberSMTP 
project, a program that will automatically translate between email and 
Jabber messages, with attatchment and logging support. It will enable 
Jabber users to receive, read, and send emails from within Jabber, and 
vice-versa, even.

Kevin A. Burton wrote:
> I was thinking that we could put software under a proprietary license until the
> ransom is met, then we would release the software under a specific OSS license
> that would be choosen before hand (or let the purchasers decide the correct OSS
> license).

Yes, my exact thoughts, too. First, a special "Ransom License" would be 
used. It would have proprietary, shareware, and "viewable source" 
elements, and would be used to allow potential payers to try the code, 
look at it, play around with it, etc (the viewable source aspects), as 
long as they didn't re-distribute it, especially with any modifications 
(the proprietary aspects). Then the code would be automatically 
re-licensed under a pre-specified Open License like the MPL, GPL, 
Artistic, etc, once the Ransom had been met.

> There is one problem here.  A company could lie to maximize profit (shocking
> huh).  We would need to use a 3rd party to handle this or just go on the
> reputation of the seller.  If you really trusted the seller then it would
> probably work.

This bothered me, too. But then I thought about including those 
stipulations into the Ransom License itself. The Ransom License would 
not only obligate the user to not re-distribute and such, but also 
legally obligate the programmer to release the code. That way the payer 
can have the full legal system to back them up if they ever run into a 
dishonest programmer who uses Ransom.

My question, though, is can a copyright license legally obligate a 
author like that? I'm going to hope so, since I believe copyright 
licenses can obligate them to warrantees and liability, although those 
are usually "striken out" in OSS and FS (hell, nowadays *all*) licenses.

> Also.  Users could "purchase" additional features.  If we had a public TODO list
> and bug tracking system users could use their money to prioritize certain
> issues.

Hmm... this would be a very good "add-on", and one of those "tools" I 
mentioned in a earlier post. I should start making a list of these 
add-ons and such that the programmers could think about employing to 
promote and enhance their Ransomed code. Careful thought and planning 
would need to go into this, of course, but it's doable, and at least an 
interesting experiment to try.

I've set up a mailing list specifically for developing Ransom further:


I could really use your (and others) help.  :-)

>>yes, this was a consideration i'd thought of while designing it, too.  i'd
>>thought the GPL would be a very common Open License to use with Ransom, but
>>had not thought of a license that is copyleft yet can be
>>ransomed. interestiong...
> I am working on an e-mail to stallman/stanco about this.

 > This kind of breaks the ransom model.  Thus (at least for GPL code) we
 > would need to get the approval of the FSF to do this.  I only think
 > this approval would come if we included a time limit.
 > I talked to stallman abou this a while back about something I called
 > "Time Bomb Software" (similar model) and he didn't seem to opposed to
 > the idea as long as the time frame were defined in advance and wasn't
 > a large value like '20 years'.

Execellent! I think it would be great for a FSF-endorsed Ransom license 
to exist. "GNU General Ransom License", anyone?  :-)

Better yet, what does everyone think of some Ransom properties getting 
into a future version of the GPL itself? This would not happen without 
alot of work, but is it a route to investigate? Mr. Burton, in your 
letter could you ask what forums and processes we should do though to 
try and get this model adopted by the GNU community? Official mailing 
lists, high ranking GNU "officials" we'd want to convince, etc?

> I don't think it would be a new license but an adaptation of GPL.  All the other
> licenses work just fine for Ransom but the GPL seems to forbid this type of
> behavior.

Forbid it with the "Shareware Ransom" model, yes.

> The only problem is GPL code.  Most authors would object to this.  Ransomed code
> would need a timeout period so that the code eventually becomes Free Software
> *even* if the ransom has not been met.

Yes, I like this. I'd originally included this "Time Bomb" quality in my 
earlier drafts of Ransom, but took it out at this early stage so I (and 
others) could clearly see the real heart of Ransom, and not be confused 
by other factors. I do want to add this back in, and will as soon as I 
have the core of Ransom itself described better on the website (working 
on that over the next week or two, with everyone's help, I hope :-).

>>As an example, here's a very basic copyright "Ransom License" I whipped up. i
>>don't know how "legal" it is, i'm not a lawyer o, and have only read other
>>licenses. I am calling this "Simple Ransom License", and it's really just to
>>show as examples of what I imagine Ransom to look like, not to actually use:
> <snip>
> Looks good as a start.  Would need to have a lawyer give it his stamp.  :)

Thank you, but I was not intending that to be an actual Ransom License, 
only to provide everyone with an idea of what future Ransom Licenses 
would need to cover. I want to make a couple of "real" licenses that 
others could use.

> I do not expect to publish the source or API documentation to ransomed works.
> Would you?

Well, I think it can be done. You don't have to open source code when 
you let the public look at it. You can still very much keep it 

With that said, there will be cases when letting the public look at the 
still-Ransomed code before it's opened will be desirable, and other 
cases when it will not be. So this here is a situation for making two 
Ransom Licenses: one with "Shared/Viewable Source" qualities, and the 
other with simply "Closed Source Shareware" qualities. After all, few 
companies would want to risk looking at source code when they are not 
sure they'd buy it.

> I don't know if this is possible.  There are economic and technical problems
> here.  If bob extends alice's ransomed code, does alice get a share of bobs
> ransom funds?  Does alice include source and API documentation for her ransomed
> code?

Here, I would say first, the code must be opened before any 
modifications and derivations can be done. When it's still under the 
Ransom License (before the payment's been met), it cannot be modified 
and released/re-Ransomed. Only once it's become Open Sourced, in which 
case Alice would not get any share of Bob's Ransom payment. I will 
specifically exclude this possability from the Ransom model, to prevent 
original authors from holding "extended Ransom" over derivatives.

>>oohhh... that is a good line of thinking. i now realize something that had
>>been lacking in my Ransom so far is "fringe benefits" to those that pay. i had
>>one idea: that payers could have their names in a "thank you" section in the
>>open sourced version of the code. but i probably need to include others, like
>>your CD one. any other ideas for these benefits?
> In a network based on distributed reputation, their karma would go up.
> (BTW... we are looking for funding ;).  Hopefully we can get our whitepaper out
> soon.  

Yes, reputation and karma will be important forces in Ransom, I think. 
And the Ransom model should help with this, but publically announcing 
(maybe even praising/thanking) these Ransom payers.

    /\    -- Adam Theo, Age 22, Tallahassee FL USA --
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