Subject: Re: Ransom GPL Licensing: ethically and legally viable?
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <stephen@xemacs.org>
Date: 18 Feb 2003 15:46:42 +0900

>>>>> "Adam" == Adam Theo <theo@theoretic.com> writes:

    >> I think that rather than develop a new Ransom License, why not
    >> simply assign to the FSF, effective at some future date,
    >> possibly even counting from commercial release date?

    Adam> The problem with simple promises like this is that they are
    Adam> too easily abused or avoided.

Er, no.  My point is that this is a contract between two parties,
involving consideration paid for a clearly specified property right.
Trust, futures, and entailment contracts are well-developed legal
ideas.  It is _not_ simply a promise.

Furthermore, unlike the Ransom license, or the "dated conversion"
license described below, there is a _single_ party with a strong
interest in making sure the contract is carried out faithfully.

    Adam> Ransom is a formal contract that legally binds and clarifies
    Adam> everything about the agreement and transaction, like any
    Adam> good contract.

Well, not really.  I believe that you _can_ write a Ransom license
with terms varying based on accumulation of the ransom amount and/or
date.  But after that, things become quite unclear, to me at least.

For example, suppose the vendor violates the ransom agreement in some
way.  Who has the right to sue?  Does each individual paying customer
have to do so separately, or is a class action possible?  How about
the non-paying customers (eg, the FSF)?

Suppose a customer violates the license.  What actions can the vendor
take against the violator?  If it involves an illegal transfer of a
copy of the product, what remedies do you have against the recipient?
Do customers have cause for action against each other?  Illegal
transfers, after all, deprive paying and non-paying customers of the
time value of an earlier conversion to free software.

How about side deals, eg, selling non-ransom licenses to people who
want protection of their own monopolies via the vendor's copyright?
Or simply screwing the ransom customers by selling a non-ransom
version at a lower price?  How are patents held by the vendor to be
treated?  Liability for infringement of third party patents?

All of this becomes much easier to figure out (ie, it's mostly already
been litigated) if (a) the copyright is assigned in trust to a single
entity or (b) instead of one customer's rights depending on how much
another pays, the customer simply buy a convertible license (eg, MSFT
EULA-like until DATE, automatically converting to GPL on DATE).


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