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Re: Mathworks-hosted GPL'd software

From: Jaroslav Hajek
Subject: Re: Mathworks-hosted GPL'd software
Date: Mon, 15 Feb 2010 08:13:04 +0100

On Mon, Feb 15, 2010 at 6:35 AM, Richard Stallman <address@hidden> wrote:
>    "All content contained in the MATLAB Central File Exchange may only be
>    used with MathWorks products."
> I am sure many of these programs could be adapted for use with Octave,
> even if they do not run on Octave as written.
> I don't know whether the restriction they seek to impose is legally
> valid, but it is certainly nasty.  In effect, Mathworks is trying to
> treat the work of these volunteers as its own property and use it as a
> weapon against Octave.

BSD is not a copyleft license, so it's allowed to add restrictions
like this, isn't it? I agree this was probably a strong reason to get
rid of copyleft licenses, which would not allow them to do this.

> You can bet it did not ask them if they wanted
> their work to be used that way.

I think the users are under impression that their code is offered
under the BSD license, while in fact it is not - it's the BSD license
+ this important usage restriction. I wonder whether it means that I'm
not allowed to open the code in ViM :)

> I think it would be useful to plan a careful campaign to contact the
> contributors and point out to them how Mathworks is effectively
> treating their work as its own property, and asking them to complain
> and move their programs to other hosting.

Here's a plan: we'll setup a simple hosting place. I think we can use
OctaveForge. Then we start browsing the contributions that are usable
in Octave, and email their authors, warning them about the restriction
imposed by MathWorks on the BSD license and asking them to provide us
with a copy of their software (under a free license of their choice),
so that it will be available also for Octave authors.

Here's a possible template, anyone please correct my English where needed.

Dear Sir/Madam,

we are writing you regarding the software <package name> hosted at the
MATLAB File Exchange service, provided by the MathWorks. We think your
code could be useful not only to users of MATLAB, but also to users of
GNU Octave or other similar software. Although your code is being
offered under the BSD license from the File Exchange service, the
MathWorks add through the Terms of Service
( an important
restriction that the code downloaded can only be used in MathWorks
products. The BSD license allows adding such restrictions, so we are
effectively unable to use your code in Octave when downloaded from the
MathWorks service.

We therefore kindly ask you as the author of the code to provide us
with a copy of the software that is free from this restriction, under
the BSD license or any free software license of your choice. We intend
to make your software part of the OctaveForge project so that it can
be used freely with GNU Octave or for other purposes.

The above represents our best understanding of the legal situation
regarding the File Exchange service. If you believe our understanding
is inaccurate or have any further doubts regarding the service, we
encourage you to contact MathWorks as the author asking for
clarification and provide us with any useful information you may
collect to help us clarify the issue.

with best regards
<all signatures, or just the sender?>

RNDr. Jaroslav Hajek, PhD
computing expert & GNU Octave developer
Aeronautical Research and Test Institute (VZLU)
Prague, Czech Republic

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