Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Open Source

Pushing Back Against Licensing and the Permission Culture 320

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the who-has-time-for-caring-these-days dept.
kthreadd writes "Luis Villa has an interesting discussion on the topic of not licensing at all, what he calls POSS or Post Open Source Software. With a flood of new hackers flocking to places like GitHub which doesn't impose any particular requirements for hosted projects, the future of Open Source may very well be diminishing. Skip licensing, just commit to GitHub. What legal ramifications will this have on the free and open source community going forward?" From the article: "If some 'no license' sharing is a quiet rejection of the permission culture, the lawyer’s solution (make everyone use a license, for their own good!) starts to look bad. This is because once an author has used a standard license, their immediate interests are protected – but the political content of not choosing a license is lost. Or to put it another way: if license authors get their wish, and everyone uses a license for all content, then, to the casual observer, it looks like everyone accepts the permission culture. This could make it harder to change that culture — to change the defaults — in the long run. So how might we preserve the content of the political speech against the permission culture, while also allowing for use in that same, actually-existing permission culture?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Pushing Back Against Licensing and the Permission Culture

Comments Filter:
  • Uh ... What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:12PM (#42739863) Journal
    Am I missing something? From the article via Twitter:

    younger devs today are about POSS – Post open source software. fuck the license and governance, just commit to github. - James Governor (@monkchips) September 17, 2012

    Ah, yes, eloquently stated. And, you know, it's totally okay to do that but let's assume that you've "fucked" the license and governance and your code is great and popular. Now, what stops a company from taking your code and making massive changes to it and shipping that code for mad moneys? What forces them to give back their changes that might make that code better? What did you and the community gain by contributing to that company's revenue? What if I just took your code and put it on a CD and started selling it with no credit to you and no link or reference to the source code? Wouldn't that rub you the wrong way? Just a little? Well, what if that company then claimed that your code was an unlicensed version of their code and moved to have it remove?

    And that's why we have open source licenses. So those are out there and if you're lazy or whatever you can just download this file [gnu.org] (or the corresponding OSS license you like) and put it in the root directory of your source tree. Are you really too lazy to include a simple txt file in your source tree? At the possible expense of your $MOST_HATED_COMPANY turning the screws on you?

    This article seems to focus on just the "hey browski, I heard you liked code, here's my code" hippy hacker mentality and grievously ignores the "did Facebook just use an altered version of my library to track its mobile users?" possibilities.

    To follow the analogy started by the twitter post: OSS licenses are like a condoms. Stop being lazy and just use one.

    • by Khashishi (775369)

      If a company decides to use my code for mad moneys, good for them.

      • by vlm (69642)

        If a company decides to use my code for mad moneys, good for them.

        Actually its bad for them, very bad, because they can't prove they are allowed to use it.

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          Really? They can't just ... ASK? The only code on github which you can't ask permission to use is code written by dead people, and then its relatively safe as they aren't going to be suing you anytime in the near future.

          • How am I supposed to know if the author of some code somewhere on them intarwebs is still alive? How am I supposed to contact them to ask permission? Why is this better than them having stated clearly what their intent was? Such a statement would be called "a license". A three paragraph BSD license, just to pick one, would have stated that for everyone, for all time -- and be clear for all the lawyers exactly what was intended. By not using a license, you've guaranteed that your code will rot in obscur
      • by idontgno (624372)

        And if they decide to sue you for taking their code?

        If anyone decides to assert ownership, properly or otherwise, everyone without a valid counterclaim of ownership using the code without the newly-blessed "owner" will have difficulty defending themselves.

        Sorry. You can't wish away intellectual property any more than you can abolish handguns or nukes. If you claim not to play the game, that just means you automatically lose when the game comes to play you.

        • by Khashishi (775369)

          Then I would countersue. Public domain does not allow a company to assert ownership of the work, only their derivative works. If they are willing to commit fraud, then a license isn't going to stop them.

    • ,em>To follow the analogy started by the twitter post: OSS licenses are like a condoms. Stop being lazy and just use one.

      I had a similar conversation a while back. Quite a few people use github for things like config files (and SSH keys apparently). It's basically personal use and so noone takes the time to license them.

      There's also lazyness (for bigger thing) and ignorance, too.

      did Facebook just use an altered version of my library to track its mobile users?"

      Well, Facebook would be in trouble for that:

    • Re:Uh ... What? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Cid Highwind (9258) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:29PM (#42740085) Homepage

      Now, what stops a company from taking your code and making massive changes to it and shipping that code for mad moneys?

      Their legal department. Without a more permissive license, they're stuck with default copyright terms (no copying except for narrow "fair use" exceptions) so they can't distribute it. Ethical companies wont touch it, unethical ones would have no qualms about pirating BSD/MIT/GPL/whatever licensed code anyway, and the hackers and hippies don't care about licenses will use it and carry on not caring about licenses.

      • Now, what stops a company from taking your code and making massive changes to it and shipping that code for mad moneys?

        Their legal department. Without a more permissive license, they're stuck with default copyright terms (no copying except for narrow "fair use" exceptions) so they can't distribute it. Ethical companies wont touch it, unethical ones would have no qualms about pirating BSD/MIT/GPL/whatever licensed code anyway, and the hackers and hippies don't care about licenses will use it and carry on not caring about licenses.

        Sorry I should have been more clear. What you're talking about is the permission culture (you need permission to use our code). I was making the argument under the assumption that by committing unlicensed code not everyone needs permission to use it. From the article:

        In other words, those people choose not to use a license because, on some level, they reject the permission culture and want to go back to the pre-1976 defaults. In this case, publishing without a license is in some way a political statement – “not every use should need permission”.

        Therefore my discussion was formed using the pre-1976 defaults. Which the article also covered:

        In the US, prior to the 1976 Copyright Act, you had to take affirmative steps to get a protectable copyright. In other words, you could publish something and expect others to be able to legally reuse it, without slapping a license on it first.

        So yeah you're right the current premise is post 1976 Copyright Act but I was talking about what it would be like without using an OSS license an

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          Wrong.

          Using someone elses stuff without asking permission first is rude.

          Pre-1976 it simply wasn't illegal to be rude. The 'change of default' you refer to is to make it clear that just because I didn't say you couldn't use it doesn't mean its okay for you to use it because you happen to come across it. The change was made to prevent things from being co-opted by snakes.

          The change occurred for the same idiotic reason the original rubbish about 'pushing back against a permissions culture', idiotic people tw

    • Am I missing something? From the article via Twitter:

      younger devs today are about POSS – Post open source software. fuck the license and governance, just commit to github. - James Governor (@monkchips) September 17, 2012

      Ah, yes, eloquently stated. And, you know, it's totally okay to do that but let's assume that you've "fucked" the license and governance and your code is great and popular. Now, what stops a company from taking your code

      Copyright law.

      And that's why we have open source licenses. So those are out there and if you're lazy or whatever you can just download this file [gnu.org] (or the corresponding OSS license you like) and put it in the root directory of your source tree. Are you really too lazy to include a simple txt file in your source tree?

      Yes some people are too lazy for that. And that's because more people are writing software and putting it up for other people to look at. Which is great!

      You are free to copy that software down for your own use if someone uploaded it to github. The only problem you have is redistribution. Just ask the author if he or she would be happy with you re-using the code under a BSD/GPL license. Usually if they don't care about uploading a LICENSE file, they are happy with anyone using it. With their ag

      • by vlm (69642)

        You are free to copy that software down for your own use if someone uploaded it to github.

        That makes no sense at all. Thought experiment, I upload microsoft windows to github/vlm then you magically have a license to download and use it, just because it was on github.

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          It's more accurate to state that practical considerations make enforcement actions against your own personal usage unlikely. If you are quietly using someone's stuff at home, no one is going to know you are "stealing" from them.

          The minute you start re-distributing stuff, you become visible. Any interested party can examine what you are doing and determine if you are "stealing" from them.

          • Why would I even want to do something, just for my own use, that is "unlikely" to result in enforcement actions?

            By using software in compliance with an open source license I can be assured of no enforcement actions -- and my use is then not limited to secretly doing it for my own use as you suggest.

            In short, if you don't give me a license to use your software, then I am not going to touch it. It will just rot in obscurity.
      • > If you are only making software for your own use, that's a non-issue.

        First, Newsflash: The vast majority of persons making software are making it for other people to use.

        Nevertheless, that statement is wrong. It IS very much an issue. I don't necessarily want to study your code and then re-implement it. If it works, and is suitable to my purposes, and you are making it available for my use, then I want to just plug it into my project and use it. If I have no license from you, then I have no
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      that's the FUCKING POINT! the company is free to do it for mad moneys - at least they can try!

      "do what fucking ever" license is the best. also it's the only license that allows you to give the code away and not have to care sh** about what people do with it. and you know, if you had it on github before the company then that's just what the github release is for.. for acting as proof that you did it already - as publication, working as prior art. I don't see how gpl'ing protects you from a company lying abou

      • The "do what-fucking ever" license is abbreviated MIT. If you cannot take the time to add one sentence saying your code is MIT licensed, I figure you don't care about other people using it.

    • And just to add, as a commercial ISV why would I ever in a million years either donate code/work to your code base when I have no reason to believe I'm even allowed to use it or that it will continue to be available to me in the future, or that my competitors won't just skeef that code and use it to beat me in the market. Anyone who thinks "POSS" means jack seems full of it to me. If you can't be bothered to find a license you can live with and expect the rest of us to just hope we won't be screwed or walke

    • by ljw1004 (764174)

      Now, what stops a company from taking your code and making massive changes to it and shipping that code for mad moneys? What forces them to give back their changes that might make that code better?

      Nothing stops them, and I'm happy with that.

      I've had friends in entirely different companies tell me that they saw a "(c) Lucian Wischik" header in some of their company's codebase, which had used some of my public domain work from 10 years ago. I've seen popular iphone email software with certain email-rendering bugs that I recognize from another one of my old public-domain code snippets.

      My past work has helped people, and I'm delighted about that. I also do random acts of kindness. Despite being well paid

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      What forces them to

      You've missed the point.

      These younger devs DON'T CARE ABOUT FORCING PEOPLE TO AN AGENDA.

      You're what if's are based on something these younger devs don't care about. You care about a political movement and forcing others to behave in a way you see fit. They don't. If you don't want to give back, they don't care.

      They also don't tend to have this silly 'using my code without giving me your changes is stealing from me!$!@$!@%' silliness going on either.

      Sometimes people are actually just sharing, not pretendi

      • The irony is that these 'younger devs' you talk about are the very ones trying to force people to an agenda.

        If you're actually sharing, not pretending to share, then use an appropriate open source license. Pick something like BSD. Very short. Says exactly what you want. And assures everyone, and for all time, including after your death, of exactly what you meant.

        The other things you said seemed to assume that you are thinking only of the GPL license which does force you to give back. There are ot
    • by icebike (68054)

      Now, what stops a company from taking your code and making massive changes to it and shipping that code for mad moneys?

      Or equally likely, taking your code, change a few dates, tweak it just barely enough and post it as theirs own licensed code and demand you stop posting their copyrighted (copylefted) code, and pay license fees.

      The reason people open source license their code it to prevent others from claiming your creation as their own invention and copyrighting it as their own and extracting fees from others.

      Even stuff you no longer wish to maintain has value, and adding SOME FORM of a license protects those users to whic

    • [...]

      Now, what stops a company from taking your code and making massive changes to it and shipping that code for mad moneys? What forces them to give back their changes that might make that code better?

      Nothing. Giving stuff away for free means you don't expect anything in return. Not all forms of FLOSS are GPL-like.

      What did you and the community gain by contributing to that company's revenue? What if I just took your code and put it on a CD and started selling it with no credit to you and no link or reference to the source code? Wouldn't that rub you the wrong way? Just a little?

      Some people just don't care about all that. All they care about is creating a good software for people to use. Period.

      Well, what if that company then claimed that your code was an unlicensed version of their code and moved to have it remove?

      The same can ocurr if the code had a BSD banner on top of it - a license doesn't keep companies from making up lies.

    • > Well, what if that company then claimed that your code was an unlicensed version of their code and moved to have it remove?

      That could happen even if you release it as open source. So it's best to think ahead about that one.


      > Now, what stops a company from taking your code and making massive changes to it and shipping that code for mad moneys?

      Copyright. If you can prove you are the copyright owner, you can now show that they are using your code without a license. In fact that is the exac
    • but not to lazy to write a slashdot article.

      The reason there is the GPL and other copyleft is to prevent abuses by large entities that don't like to share code. The problem is there are a whole mess of copylefts, some are not compatible with eachother, and prevent code merging.

      There is always BSD, MIT, and even further, public domain.

      The worst option of all is using no license at all, because it adds a great deal of ambiguity to the terms, and people in other semi-large projects, and institutions that re-us
    • Now, what stops a company from taking your code and making massive changes to it and shipping that code for mad moneys?

      Nothing. So what? Seems like it'd be good for the economy.

      What forces them to give back their changes that might make that code better?

      Nothing. So what? Why do you assume it is appropriate that I force anyone into anything?

      What did you and the community gain by contributing to that company's revenue?

      If the community did gain something, perhaps a healthier company, better security for its

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:15PM (#42739893)

    From TFA:

    the open license ecosystem assumes that sharing can’t (or even shouldn’t) happen without explicit permission in the form of licenses.

    This is because our legal system makes this assumption. Wishful thinking does not make laws go away. If you release software with no license, then it is legally presumed to have full copyright protection. You need to explicitly give up your rights.

    • Exactly. There are effective ways to change the law, but ignoring the law isn't one of them. People who ignore licensing issues mainly give the impression that they are lazy, are kids, or don't really know what they are doing.

      Also, don't ignore the wisdom embedded in the saying, "Good fences make good neighbors."
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      that sentence should have the wording "in the form of complex licenses".
      if one sentence is enough to convey "free to use, no attribution needed" in other words "do whatever". this doesn't actually need complex contracts, though lawyers would probably like you to do one(so they could sell it to you) .

      though this problem seems to just be that github doesn't have default license.

      however.. what about stackoverflow? how many posts have you seen that have a license attached to them. friggin zero. that's how many.

  • The point of F/OSS licensing is to use copyright and license terms against the commercial software makers who presently hold a very tight and expensive control over business, government and individuals.

    It doesn't make anyone "look bad" and even enables them to take from the unlicensed software pool and take it private.

    • No, it isn't.

      The point of F/OSS is to share your code. For some people that means sharing in such a way as to encourage others to share too, for others it means to share in such a way that as many people as possible can make use of it.

      The 'unlicensed' idea ignores the legal system. Using something that is unlicensed is a very bad idea because the default status is full copyright.

      • The 'unlicensed' idea ignores the legal system. Using something that is unlicensed is a very bad idea because the default status is full copyright.

        Which is why anything I release F/OSS is explicitly public domain. I agree that unlicensed or ambiguously licensed is a bad idea. Not that I have all that much to offer, but if you want a copy of my spam filter, it's public domain.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      No, it isn't.

      Your agenda is to use OSS against commercial software makers, but that isn't the point of open source.

      Thats what RMS tries his absolute hardest to corrupt the term to mean, along with Free and Libre but that doesn't mean thats what everyone with a brain thinks.

      • by erroneus (253617)

        I should have been more detailed in what I said. ...to use the F/OSS license against commercial software makers who would take from the community and give nothing back.

        If I put something useful out there, I wouldn't want Microsoft or Oracle to take advantage of what I wanted to give to the public and have them pervert it in some way... you know, like the way they presently do with public domain and BSD licensed code.

  • by cjjjer (530715) <cjjjer@hotmBOHRail.com minus physicist> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:17PM (#42739927)
    By default all code that does not have a license is "all rights reserved" http://www.infoworld.com/d/open-source-software/github-needs-take-open-source-seriously-208046 [infoworld.com]
    • by reebmmm (939463)

      I was about to say, saying "no license" doesn't make it freely available to anyone. It's quite exactly the opposite -- it's not usable by anyone. And it puts a taker in jeopardy since the materials contributed will (or may depending on the contribution) be copyright of the contributor automatically. Github's position for license-less contributions is the default rule.

      Of course, someone making code available online may have zero desire to enforce that copyright. However, a subsequent user of that code cann

  • Perhaps one of our resident "IAAL"s can clarify this, but in the absence of an explicit license, doesn't copyright still apply to a code snippet by default? So rejecting the use of the GPL or other FOSS doesn't mean just any corporate asshat can come along and steal your work - Quite the opposite, it means no one can legally use your code.

    Which works out perfectly for the hobbyist coders - including these so-called "POSS" coders - who really don't give a damn about who "owns" a given code snippet. As th
    • Perhaps one of our resident "IAAL"s can clarify this, but in the absence of an explicit license, doesn't copyright still apply to a code snippet by default? So rejecting the use of the GPL or other FOSS doesn't mean just any corporate asshat can come along and steal your work - Quite the opposite, it means no one can legally use your code.

      No, not quite. Copyright licenses can be express or implied. You can't have an implied exclusive license, but implied non exclusive licenses are a dime a dozen. There are also things that aren't covered by copyright at all. For example, if you legally own a copy of someone's software, the copyright on that software doesn't preclude you from modifying it so that it runs on a computer or backing it up.

      Still though, I think the original poster would be better served for now by using at least a basic license, a

  • One very good reason to use a license is its liability disclaimer. If you release your software without one, there is always the danger that some idiot will find a way to use it in such a way as to remove all his files, consequently suing you for damages. With the astronomical costs of litigation in the US, a lawsuit, whether you win it or not, is a financial death sentence. It is worthwhile to take every measure you can to defend yourself from this.

    • by vlm (69642)

      One very good reason to use a license is its liability disclaimer.

      This is denial of service technique #2 that anyone with a little money can use to bankrupt or destroy or at least profit off anyone with less money who posts unlicensed code to github.

      Lets say I am a bored unemployed lawyer or somehow have some "edge" where I can prosecute cheaper than the author can defend. All I need is to file a lawsuit blaming the code for something bad, doesn't matter if its true or even likely, that will cost an absolute minimum of $X to defend against. Then offer a pre-trial settle

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        Do that more than once or twice and I'll have the grounds for suing you for using predatory practices and abusing the legal system itself.

        There are solutions for trolls even if you don't always see them.

  • by dalias (1978986) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:40PM (#42740215)

    If you think your personal making-a-statement against "permission culture" is more important than the practical ability of others (including distributors) to use the code you produce without exposing themselves to legal risk, then you're part of the "permission culture" - you feel entitled to deny others permission to use your work.

    If you want to make a responsible statement against "permission culture", release your work into the public domain, and include a one-clause BSD license for use in jurisdictions that don't recognize public domain.

  • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:40PM (#42740217)

    There's an interesting hack you can do against unlicensed / unattributed code. Slap your name on it, now tell github to stop violating your copyright and remove "your" code from their server that someone else stole and uploaded. After all, the original author didn't care enough about his work to put a license on it, so you have a minor moral and ethical permission to take it as yours, after all, its abandonware, and if you no longer want your code distributed on github, well...

    I imagine the trial would be hilarious.

    "He stole my code and deleted it from my github account"
    "its not the plaintiffs code, the only known licensed version of it in the whole world is from the defendant. The plaintiff himself repeatedly stated the code he was publishing was not licensed, our position is the plaintiff stole the defendant's code, deleted the copyright and license from the headers, and uploaded it to his pirating account, which we shut down"
    "..."

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      In the US ... the point is ... EVERYTHING is licensed the instant its created and the creator holds ALL rights. That is by default.

      Just because you 'slap a license' on someones code doesn't mean you hold copyright on it. What you're implying is no different than taking the Linux kernel and putting my own personal license on it.

      Having a 'license' doesn't mean you hold the copyright.

      You completely utterly fail to understand basic common sense about the way the world works.

  • Licensing is all about protecting the creator of the work. It can lay down explicit allowances for the consumer, but make no bones about it, they are not there for you the user. Regardless of how software is licensed there needs to be some protections for the consumer. Things have gotten absolutely ridiculous. How about regulation that enshrines: 1) Separation of hardware and software in all devices. Both from the "bundling" standpoint as well as the right to move software without permission or notification

  • Read the GitHub EULA [github.com]. They do not currently claim ownership of uploaded content. However, they claim the right to modify the agreement: " GitHub reserves the right at any time and from time to time to modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, the Service (or any part thereof) with or without notice. ... GitHub shall not be liable to you or to any third party for any modification, price change, suspension or discontinuance of the Service.

    A classic example of a formerly open database becoming close

  • I've had enough of the permission culture.
  • is called "public domain."
  • The author mentions that most people think personal use copying is ok.

    I would say the same is true of companies, but only for open source, for some reason.

    Companies often download open source, modify the software, copy the modified software among hundreds of people, demonstrate the modified software publicly, then say they will release the software when the product is released.

    But, there was no copyright or licence that granted the internal copies of the modified software, as the modifications were not publ

  • like most of us i've self-published a bunch of crap in the past fifteen years or so,
    ranging from music CDs in actual stores to numerous personal software components,
    and i've intentionally kept them bare of any licensing information for two reasons:

    1. as a small protest against the permission culture.
    2. i feel that incorporating the permission culture into the creative work cheapens the work.

    when folks have re-purposed my work (that i know of), they've always asked first and have always offered to include at

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      So basically you released everything as 'All rights reserved for copyright holder', which is the default.

      Your small protest against the 'permissions culture' just contributed too it, as did your ignorance of the world you live in. Congratulations.

      • by cathector (972646)

        no: i chose to omit licensing. you're choosing to interpret it within the permission framework. congratulations.
        also i think i made it clear that my omission was made intentionally rather than out of ignorance, so screw you.

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. -- Jerome Klapka Jerome

Working...