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<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//IETF//DTD HTML 2.0//EN">
<TITLE>BSD License Problem - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation
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<BODY BGCOLOR="#FFFFFF" TEXT="#000000" LINK="#1F00FF" ALINK="#FF0000"
<H3>The BSD License Problem</H3>
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ALT=" [image of the Head of a GNU] "
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The two major categories of free software license are
<A HREF="/copyleft/copyleft.html">copyleft</a> and
non-copyleft </A>. Copyleft licenses such as the <A
HREF="/copyleft/gpl.html"> GNU GPL</A> insist that modified versions
of the program must be free software as well. Non-copyleft licenses
do not insist on this. We recommend copyleft, because it protects
freedom for all users, but non-copylefted software can still be free
software, and useful to the free software community.
There are many variants of simple non-copyleft free software licenses,
including the X10 license, the
X11/XFree86 license</a>, the FreeBSD
license, and the two BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) licenses.
Most of them are equivalent except for details of wording, but the
license used for BSD until 1999 had a special problem: the ``obnoxious
BSD advertising clause''. It said that every advertisement mentioning
the software must include a particular sentence:
3. All advertising materials mentioning features or use of this software
must display the following acknowledgement:
This product includes software developed by the University of
California, Berkeley and its contributors.
Initially the obnoxious BSD advertising clause was used only in the
Berkeley Software Distribution. That did not cause any particular
problem, because including one sentence in an ad is not a great
If other developers who used BSD-like licenses had copied the BSD
advertising clause verbatim--including the sentence that refers to the
University of California--then they would not have made the problem
But, as you might expect, other developers did not copy the clause
verbatim. They changed it, replacing ``University of California''
with their own institution or their own names. The result is a
plethora of licenses, requiring a plethora of different sentences.
When people put many such programs together in an operating system,
the result is a serious problem. Imagine if a software system
required 75 different sentences, each one naming a different author or
group of authors. To advertise that, you would need a full-page ad.
This might seem like extrapolation ad absurdum, but it is actual fact.
NetBSD comes with a long list of different sentences, required by the
various licenses for parts of the system. In a 1997 version of
NetBSD, I counted 75 of these sentences. I would not be surprised if
the list has grown by now.
To address this problem, in my ``spare time'' I talk with developers
who have used BSD-style licenses, asking them if they would please
remove the advertising clause. Around 1996 I spoke with the
developers of FreeBSD about this, and they decided to remove the
advertising clause from all of their own code. In May 1998 the
developers of Flick, at the University of Utah, removed this clause.
Dean Hal Varian at the University of California took up the cause, and
championed it with the administration. In June 1999, after two years
of discussions, the University of California removed this clause from
the license of BSD.
Thus, there is now a new BSD license which does not contain the
advertising clause. Unfortunately, this does not eliminate the legacy
of the advertising clause: similar clauses are still present in the
licenses of many packages which are not part of BSD. The change in
license for BSD has no effect on the other packages which imitated the
old BSD license; only the developers who made them can change them.
But if they followed Berkeley's lead before, maybe Berkeley's change
in policy will convince some of them to change. It's worth asking.
So if you have a favorite package which still uses the BSD license
with the advertising clause, please ask the maintainer to look
at this web page, and consider making the change.
And if you want to release a program as non-copylefted free software,
please don't use the advertising clause. Instead of copying the BSD
license from some released package--which might still have the old
version of the license in it--please copy the license from XFree86.
You can also help spread awareness of the issue by not calling a
license ``BSD-style'' unless you mean specifically the old BSD license
with its troublesome advertising clause.
You see, when people refer to all non-copyleft free software licenses
as ``BSD licenses'', some new free software developer who wants to use
a non-copyleft free software license might take for granted that the
place to get it is from BSD. He or she might copy the license with
the advertising clause, not as a firm decision, but just by default.
So if you would like to cite one specific example of a non-copyleft
licenses, and you have no particular preference, please pick an
example which has no particular problem. For instance, if you talk
about ``XFree86-style licenses'', you will encourage people to imitate
XFree86 and avoid the advertising clause for certain, rather than take
a risk by imitating one or the other BSD license.
<H4><A HREF="/philosophy/philosophy.html">Other Texts to Read</A></H4>
Return to <A HREF="/home.html">GNU's home page</A>.
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There are also <A HREF="/home.html#ContactInfo">other ways to
contact</A> the FSF.
Please send comments on these web pages to
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Copyright (C) 1998, 1999, 2001 Free Software Foundation, Inc.,
59 Temple Place - Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111, USA
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is
permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.<P>
<!-- hhmts start -->
$Date: 2001/07/30 04:14:21 $ $Author: rms46 $
<!-- hhmts end -->
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