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Re: lynx-dev Licensing Lynx: Summary

From: Klaus Weide
Subject: Re: lynx-dev Licensing Lynx: Summary
Date: Wed, 6 Oct 1999 07:54:20 -0500 (CDT)

I am not speaking to the question of what the GPL should do but doesn't,
find a better forum for that.

I am not speaking about the needs of blind users either, since I am not
qualified, and they can (and do) speak for themselves.  I wish you would
let that blind friend of yours you so conveniently use in your arguments
speak for himself/herself too, on this list.  Some of the alleged problems
might get resolved that way.

On Tue, 5 Oct 1999, Brett Glass wrote:

> Well, I and my fellow developers have reviewed the online responses 

You seem to have missed a lot of them.  You don't seem to have read
either <>
or the whole "More on lynx copyright" thread.  There are some questions
waiting for an answer.

If you can't even take the time to subscribe to the list OR read all
the messages in the archive, what are we to think about your seriousness?
Or if you saw them, but chose to pursue only those threads of discussion
that you can use as vehicles for voicing discontent about the GPL, what
are we to think about your seriousness?

> Some of those involved with Lynx development welcomed our efforts, but a
> few vociferous ones have decried them.

You haven't shown any efforts yet.

Some gripes about the state of user interfaces in the Windows world,
a vague promise to make it all better, no plan.

Nothing in what your wrote so far, in many messages, indicates that you
are familiar with Lynx.  Neither as a programmer nor as a user.  You have
avoided any technical questions or answered extremely evasively.  No
details.  You don't bring up any specifics on your own (RA was thrown
your way),  you don't seem to know about the concept of external helper
 -> either you haven't even looked at the code (beyond grepping for the
    word "copyright"), and are only vaguely familiar with its interface,
 -> you like to keep every detail secret, you don't believe in freely
    sharing "for mutual benefit" at all, except when you are a recipient.

You don't talk to us as a fellow programmer (although you like to appeal
to that when it suits you), or as a fellow Lynx user, but as some new(?)
kind of software entrepreneur.

> These people seem to have adopted
> Richard Stallman's extremely negative view that allowing one's work to be
> used by someone who derives any form of income from it -- however slight or
> necessary -- it is somehow "selling out."

This seems to be a gross misrepresentation of Richard Stallman's view.

Afaiac it doesn't matter whether you make income from the Lynx code.
What matters is whether this would require giving you special rights
that others don't share.

> (This despite the fact that we
> weren't asking for "something for nothing" but rather offering to
> compensate authors for the use of their code if they so desired.)

That's why it would be "selling", duh.

 From all I've seen your offer is not serious.  From all I've seen you
don't have the money, nor a realistic and acceptable idea of getting
it or how much it would take.  You can safely make this "offer" since
you know it's unlikely anybody is going to take you up on it.  If
someone did, you could start retracting, defer the compensation until
your product makes a profit etc.

Not that it matters much.  Afaik nobody has the code for their
contributions to sell to you, in an original form without being
"encumbered" by code from others, and in suitably large portions.
You'd end up paying people for writing their code again.  You might
as well pay for programming directly.

[David Wooley:]
>  >Commercial prices are set by what the market will bear.  He has already more
>  >or less admitted that Lynx is in a monopoly position.
> This is another unfortunate consequence of the GPL: It is likely to be 
> better, in fact, than Microsoft at creating entrenched monopolies. (GCC, 
> which is in the process of monopolizing the compiler market [...]

You bring in "Microsoft" purely for the effect of negative name
recognition.  *If* in fact there are monopoly-like aspects here -
which so far is just your assertion -, to make your comparison stick,
you'd have to show that the monopoly position was (or is being) gained
by unfair means, and/or that someone is exploiting that monopoly
position by unfair means.  I remind you that being in a monopoly
position, itself, is nothing illegal (or morally detestable).  It's
how you get there and what you do with it that counts.

Besides, some of your your rhetoric is just a bit silly.  GCC is a
computer program, it is not a company or group of people.  It cannot
do any of those things you claim, people can.  If you want to accuse
some people of unfairly exploiting a monopoly position, name names.
(But find a better forum for that.)

Monopolies are not created "entrenched".

> If Richard were truly to take his notions regarding Microsoft to heart, 
> he'd applaud the existence of code which was free for all to use for any 
> purpose -- as are books in the public library. (The provisions of the GPL 
> are analogous to barring individuals and companies from using what they 
> learned in the library to make a better living.)

No they aren't.

You cannot take a book from a library, add a few sentences here and a
chapter there to "improve" the text, and then publish your derived
work as your own.  That kind of "making a better living" is indeed
prohibited.  It's just basic copyright protection.  The GPL gives you
a license to do *some* things like that - under some conditions.

There is nothing in the GPL to prevent you from reading the Lynx code
and using the *ideas* you find there to make a better living.  It is
a copyright license.  Copyright protects the expression of ideas, not

> As for the legal status of Lynx: At least some of the source files that 
> comprise Lynx (though, thankfully, not all of it) appears to be

Which parts have you been able to isolate as parts of that "not all of it"

> legitimately licensed under the GPL, though the package as a whole cannot 
> be. (Bellcore and CERN/W3C would be within their rights to protest the 
> release of the code under the GPL if they so desired, but only they -- not 
> a third party -- would have a cause of action.) 

Support your claim in that last parenthesis.  I already asked you before.

> Nonetheless, the GPL 
> accomplishes its "poisoning the well" effect in that the addition of GPLed 
> code muddies the legal status of the whole and hides authorship. (This, 
> too, is inimical to the interests of programmers; since they're not being 
> paid for code they allow to be freely reused, they should at least be given 
> credit.)

It is not the GPL or the addition of GPLed code that hides authorship.
If authors of contributions wish to be more clearly mentioned, they
are free to ask for it or simply insert appropriate comments in their
contributions.  To my knowledge no patch has ever been refused because
of such a thing.  The fact that folks usually don't bother shows that
it's not of high priority to them - probably because they feel secure
that their contributions will be available to anyone who accepts the
GPL, and have no reason to make it easy for people like you to contact
them for special deals.  For pre-existing packages - if their authors
publish them in a way that allows incorporating them in GPLed code,
yet are unhappy with their authorship "being hidden" - let them spell
out their requirements in notices.  In any event, show an actual
example of an author not being properly given credit as he/she wishes
(not as YOU wish - unless you are that author).

Many package not licensed under GPL have equally unclear authorship.

> Under the circumstances, however, it appears that a few approaches to the 
> problem are still on solid legal ground. We can use the Bellcore and CERN 
> code without impediments, 

You don't know which parts are of pure CERN origin without Lynx changes,
unless you do a lot of reviewing of old versions to discover the history.

As for "using the Bellcore code", that code is irrelevant for any
practical purpose.  It's such a small piece, if you are serious you
and your fellow programmers could probably replace its function in
half an hour (and maybe do a better job of it).  But you cannot just
use the portion from the Lynx code as-is.  You forgot about the

    /* Some of the following is taken from: */

note, you don't know how much of what follows is covered by the
Bellcore copyright notice _and only by it_.  You can delve into the
code history to find out, or write your own in a fraction of the time.

Yes, you can easily uss the CERN code, by going back to an original
copy of the CERN Library as published by CERN; or alternatively use
its successor from the W3C.  You can take code from the original
metamail if you want it.  If you are serious you will do this (or
find something equivalent that suits you).  See the Line Mode Browser.
Good luck.

> and are still soliciting the use of other parts of Lynx for which
> authorship is clearly defined. (If anyone who is reading this list
> would be willing to license substantial modules of code which he or
> she has contributed -- anything other than the screen rendering code
> -- we are still interested.)

There are no substantial modules that have single authorship and have
remained untouched by substantial modifications from others.  Live
with it.

(If anyone familar with the code disagrees, I'd like to know what
portions you think would qualify.)

> We may hire programmers to "clean room" some of 
> the code whose status is less clear, and will almost certainly have to 
> rewrite the rest.

Again, its not the status itself that's unclear, it is individual
ownership of lines of code.

> The blind, as a rule, don't have great financial resources (as a previous 
> poster mentioned, some 60-70% cannot even find employment), so none of what 
> we're doing is any sort of "get rich quick" scheme. We'll probably lose 
> money on whatever we do (if we can make minimum wage for our efforts, or 
> enough to hire some full-time telephone people, we'll be happy). And the 
> prospects for upfront funding are bleak. (A few groups have said they MIGHT 
> buy the finished product if they get some funds for it.)

You speak of "hiring programmers", and "some" telephone people, and
dangle the promise of compensation in front of our noses.  Where's all
that money going to come from?  What makes you think getting the
special lincenses from authors would be cheap?

> So, the GPL and 
> the hostile, spiteful attitude behind it (originally spawned by resentment 
> of commercial spinoffs of taxpayer-funded academic work at MIT) are 
> particularly damaging in this case.

This seems to be your central message.  It seems you want to show that
(1) yours is a case where

 - (2) licensing under GPL prevents creation of some software that
   would be created if it weren't for the GPL,
 - (3) the world (or a suitable class of people, like blind people,
   as a whole) would be better off if that software existed.

So far,

 - ad (2): You haven't shown that.

   You have shown that YOU can not create that software as a program
   derived from the Lynx code because you are not willing to accept
   the license.  You have not shown that you are forced to not accept
   the license.

   You have not shown that you are prevented from creating software
   with the same functionality by another route.  In fact you claim
   you will do just that when you say "we will persevere".

   You have not shown that someone else cannot create the software,
   or that it is less likely to be created because of the GPL.

 - ad (3) You haven't shown that.

   It seems some of the blind who have written in response don't
   believe that your approach (or what little you have divulged)
   is useful.  Some of what want to create already exists
   (and is available).

   You haven't shown that your software would be available or
   affordable to those that would benefit.

   You haven't shown that you have any plan for adequate support,
   or that people using your product would get at least as much
   support as they get for lynx from lyn-dev (and other places).

But that's all secondary.  So far we don't even know about point (1),
which is whether YOU have any serious intention, qualification, and
resources for pulling it off, with or without the GPL conditions.  I
don't think you are, your presentation of your case has been just too
short on detail and strong on generalities.

Since we don't know that YOU would create that software, we have no
known case where the GPL has the evil effect you ascribe to it;
all your arguments are at best a theoretical exercise.

The questions whether you are serious and "qualified" and have
resources don't matter for your rights regarding the lynx code, of
course.  They do matter, a lot, for evaluating whether your argument
is realistic.  They also do matter because you are trying to sell us
something, whatever exactly that is: a promise of future improvements
in exchange for license rights; a sorry tale of your troubles caused
by spiteful people; or just a regular rant against the GPL spiced up
with some human touch.


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